When I first had the idea to write, I conceived of my idea as a TV series, a cinematic experience. Like that would ever happen. About as likely as getting published as a book. But then again, if profit was my motive and it didn’t pan out, I wouldn’t write past that. But I actually like writing! So my goal, my driving force is writing for myself and no one else.
A Draft Later
But I learned some lessons on that first draft. Oh boy, did I learn some lessons. I could just write a book on the lessons I learned, but I don’t feel like doing that. Ever. So I’ll settle for a blog post of few on it and call it done. Hopefully my struggles in writing can help you too.
Honestly, writing requires commitment and I admire authors who do this for a living. If I was a full-time writer, dependent upon making a living from it I would starve in a month. This is because to meet deadlines, one must write every single day and, for myself, that’s not always can be done.
I have a life and the people around me have lives. My employees depend on my at my job as much as I depend on them. So churning out words to make a novel in a month isn’t easy for me. In fact, I’ve missed more days of NaNoWriMo so far than I should and will most likely miss my goal. That’s okay.
As I said, this is for my enjoyment, not a chore.
So instead of a deadline or a word count as my goal, I am to write when I can, what I can and as much as I want to. It’s less stress this way and returns the writing to enjoyment instead of a chore to buck. In my first book’s first draft, this is easily clear. You can pick out the spots where I forced myself to write and places where I enjoyed writing. You can easily see the jarring jumps between chore writing and actual writing.
What I’m saying is this:
Don’t Beat Yourself Up. Just Write.
It can’t be forced. I’m sure there are people who can push out words on demand, but I think writing is better when it flows without force. I don’t know. It’s an opinion and I’m not a professional writer. I won’t assert anything other than what works for me.
Also, relax. Put on some good music, I prefer instrumentals of music so I can think without the lyrics adding to my thoughts. Over time, I managed to amass a collection of scores from films, television, games and what not. I make sure I’m in comfortable clothing, have something to drink that I enjoy. I want to be in a good spot when I write so I can write at length.
But I don’t always do this. I have written when I’m most upset too, redrawn whole scenes in the shower, and thrown sentences down while the thought crosses my mind at the wrong time. There is no single right way to write. Find what works for you and use it, but don’t be afraid to disrupt it either.
Getting Started is the hardest part. You have this great big sheet of blank paper or a blank screen on your computer. You know hundreds will come after that page is filled. It can feel monumental and deeply personal at the same time. What helped me get my head out of my ass and write something down was that I started writing everything that entered down. It might be useful.
- I had a dream, that went to paper.
- Thought of a witty reply to an insult a few hours after the fact, that went to paper
- Watched a really bad movie with a really easy fix, that went to paper too.
- Heard a name I liked, that went to paper.
- And so on.
No idea was disposable.
But it became a mess very quickly. But in that mess, in all of it, a small idea began to emerge that became a character with a need. A need that could only be fulfilled by a journey. –And yes, I’m listening to some fairly epic music while writing this. DON’T JUDGE ME!
I decided to treat myself to a reward when I drafted out about 8000 words of “One Small Step” and bought Scrivener. Best thing I ever did for writing and a few months later I had my first draft done. I barely use all of its features, but it helped get things organized and my mind in the right framework. Plus I can’t tell you how good I felt when I wrote the last scene. As such, I highly recommend Scrivener to people who need to organize things or want to write.
Some people like zen or zero distraction writing, I’ve tried it and it’s okay. But I normally like to be able to flip between scenes and notes easily so I can refer to and call back to things. I’ll write in one window and have my outline in another. It’s a habit I picked up from web design work.
I didn’t start with the first chapter. So instead I actually went to chapter three and started. Don’t get me wrong, the concepts I had for those chapters are ones I love — but for the first 6 months, I wasn’t in the mood to write them. I wanted to get to my protagonist’s story. Then I made it worse.
Remember when I mentioned I write when and where ever, well, I wrote the climax scene after I wrote half of the 3rd chapter.
I did that, then resumed writing normally from chapter 3. Now when I reached the climax scenes, they didn’t work. The outline for the first two chapters and the last two suddenly didn’t work. Everything just went into chaos.
So I spent more than a few months just rewriting those scenes and others to work.
The lesson I learned was you don’t need to start anywhere except where you want to start. I had this tiny scene in my mind that caused all that head ache, but it was worth it. My outline, while useful, didn’t survive the draft. I have notes, emails, stickies, bookmarks and things scribbled in the margins of the page. All of it useful.
I don’t read when I write.
They always say, read, read, and read if you plan to write. Read the greats, read what’s popular, read in your genre, read outside your genre, and so on.
I don’t read when I am writing. –Because I don’t want to be influenced.
I’ll avoid movies and shows too. I don’t feel it hinders me, but I don’t want the influence of other writings to appear in what I write. Plus, I also don’t want to be thinking about a bad movie I saw, or some crap on reality TV while I write. All of that crap needs to be out of my head when I write. So if you aren’t reading while you write, don’t worry about it.
So I Have my Rules.
- Don’t Worry About the Quality Until Later
My first draft sucks. Pacing is wrong, repetition, spelling, grammar, ham-fisted dialogue. But I finished my draft, that’s what mattered. I would’ve never written one word, let alone finished the first draft, if I fussed over doing it right on the first draft. So write however you please, edit later. Besides, most of what you will write not will be improved later. Early ideas suck, aren’t thought out fully, and fixing them leads to better product. No Worries! REWRITE!
- REWRITE ALL THE THINGS!
I’m proud of myself for finishing my first draft. Some chapters did get rewrites before I finished, but I’m ashamed to admit some spots was rewritten dozens of times before I could move to the next word. I know some spots, the forced writing spots, need even more work to fix. One the rewrite of one chapter, a whole new chapter emerged! Nothing should be safe from rewrites. That brings me to the next point.
- Dues Ex Machina is Grounds for Murder
Despite all the bad things I did to my characters, none of them died. I kept getting swept up in doing them favors to make up for all the bad things I did. The story sucked, sucked hard. So I went back and replaced one with a corpse. It changed the urgency of the entire story. Suddenly it wasn’t a story about “Power vs Responsibility”. It became “I am in danger and no one knows!” story. So I stopped doing characters I liked favors and starting leaving them high and dry. If I wrote myself into a corner, instead of editing in a fix to save the character, I simply let the scene play out. Many characters started dying off and my cast became much more dynamic. With each character lost, it felt like I was adding urgency and giving reason for them to act more irrationally with just cause.
- Editing is the Writing Killer: FINISH YOUR DRAFT NOW!
Every time I stopped to edit what I wrote, it broke my flow and I couldn’t get back into writing. I couldn’t catch good ideas as the escaped. Editing can wait, Good idea’s won’t. I wrote more once I turned the spell check and grammar checks off. All of it can wait until later, write now and write more now. My first story’s draft if a mess, a total disaster. But you know what, I finished it. How many people say they are trying to write a book can say that honestly? I don’t care if the plot changes halfway. I’m not worried about conversations shifting widely. Not wasting time on checking facts (have a trick for that anyways). I even had a character flip genders in one sentence.
And none of that would have happened if I kept editing and fixing as I went. I finished my draft, first draft I ever finished, and stuffed it into multiple back ups. DONE. Now I moved on to the next story and then I’ll think about editing in a few months the first draft. Resist that urge, refuse to give in! It’s a battle of wills and you MUST win that battle for the sake of your First Draft!
- No Ideas? Consume Creativity and Exercise
When I couldn’t write because I had nothing, not even a word to put down, that’s when I’d just consume books, play games watch movies, and everything else. I didn’t need to finish it, but sometimes just seeing that would get the gears back in motion. I rewrote two characters because I watched a movie review and the critic’s thoughts on how the movie could be better created ideas I didn’t consider. Exercise also helps. I don’t exercise much on the account I’m lazy, but sometimes a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood or cleaning up the house can find an idea or two.
- Writer’s Block? More Like Writer’s Prompt
I mentioned before that if I wrote myself into a corner, I wouldn’t edit and solve the problem. I refused to bullshit myself out of corners. Instead, I chose to play the scene out– even if it meant I lost vital characters and scenes needed later. This actions always triggered a boost in creativity and gave me new hooks for new ideas. Since this a draft, anything goes. But writing block happens. I realized this was because I wold get bored with the story I was telling or I retread the story ideas so many times, I didn’t want to write it further. Writing block is funny. Sometimes it goes away on its own, sometimes you have to muscle through. Whenever I hit the block, I’d just write off a writing prompt to try to get started. It didn’t work always, but I’d start asking questions. “Why am I following this scene?” and “What else is going on?” or “What is everyone else doing in the story now?” I had ideas to write from again. I would flesh out a scene or two for my supporting cast, give them problems and plots to deal with. Nothing subtracts from your story by doing this, only adds. Turning writing blocks into explorations of the story-universe works, and I recommend it.
- Until it’s Printed, It’s a Draft– And your plaything
And wage war on that draft. If your first draft is unreadable, that’s okay. You want to leave that behind you, not have it ahead of you. If it’s ahead of you, that means you haven’t written it yet. Just keep writing, tweaking, rewriting, editing, revising, researching and updating. Let others be the judge of your work if you are publishing, otherwise do whatever you like with all the drafts. It’s not like you’re publishing the drafts too!
- It’s not writing unless your writing.
I’m serious. Stop reading here, Stop attending workshops, Stop researching, Stop reading blogs, and Stop looking for an editor and agent. STOP IT! You mean well, you are looking for helpful ideas and all those things are good intentions. But just as I’m spending time writing this 2300+ word blog post, I should have written my book instead. I should be focused on it too. Just as your should be focused on your book as well. Leave everything else for editing phases and later, for now just WRITE THE DAMNED BOOK!
I’m not planning to sell my book. If it does, it does or does not. Maybe the next one or one after it might. But I’ll never know what I can do if I stop writing to do other things. Writing is about writing, not the fame of writing or awards or anything else, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. So good luck you glorious bastard and most of all: