Hello hello! In my last post, I discussed what it’s like entering and surviving the query phase with my current novel. The process has me feeling a bit nostalgic for my early writing days, and before I start drafting my third book, I wanted to share my biggest learnings from my very first book.
It took me a long while to complete my first book, longer than I’d like to admit. But for you, I’ll admit it: it took five years, on and off.
Everyone’s path is different. I didn’t really start writing until late into my college days; I wasn’t one of those kids who was writing short stories at a young age. I thankfully enjoyed reading and learned about storytelling in games and film (which I earned my degree in), but there were so many lessons I would need to learn about writing simply by doing.
I tried to prepare as much as I could ahead of time, though. In the beginning, I was reading a bunch of books on the New York City subways about the writing process, especially Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I owe Bell a lot, because I’m pretty sure my first book would have been a dumpster fire without him.
Still, there’s only so much you can learn about writing without, you know, actually writing. And failing. And fixing it. And realizing it’s still not quite there. And crying. And then fixing it again. And no longer crying, maybe.
There are days that I wish I’d written my first book faster, that I could have learned all of this faster. But I’ll say it again: everyone’s path is different. I’m a PR Director in the video games industry, and I’m proud to work with so many talented game developers. I built a career by starting as an intern, and that path had many of its own lessons that took time for me to figure out. I love to travel, read, play video games, watch movies, craft, draw terribly, spend time with my loved ones, you name it. Writing is a massively important part of my life, but it has always been important to have other parts of my life along with it. So I’m okay that my first book took a long time, and extra thankful that I’ve learned so much from it.
My biggest learnings from book one, in no particular order:
– Share ideas with trusted people sooner. I spent so long being scared my work would be awful, that people would judge me and my plot holes and my name choices and settings and blah blah blah. Fear of judgment cost me dearly, and it was so unnecessary. I’m not saying I’d share my first words with the entire world, but now I know to truly trust my confidants, because they also want to see me succeed. And their brilliance really could have helped me so much earlier on, if I hadn’t been afraid to ask.
– Spend the time to write an excellent outline, and have someone review it. Now, I did outline, but no one reviewed it with me. And when I had a plot hole or five, I just told myself I’d figure it out later. I eventually did, but it was WAY WAY later and affected big parts of my story, and it made me rewrite SO much more than I should have. Not that I don’t move away from the outline sometimes, but having someone else review it early would have saved me likely literal years of headaches. Note, this is specifically for how I best write: not everyone will feel the same about outlining or sharing so early on.
– First pages/chapters are hard and shouldn’t be exposition. I rewrote my first pages more than any other part in the book. The main issue was that I was never starting with the action. I was starting with what I thought was interesting backstory, but to be blunt, it was simply filler and took way too long to get to the good stuff. I read many times in various writing craft resources to start the story where the action is: for me, that was chapter four. So I had a grand old time rewriting all of that. Just grand.
– Set aside enough time to write and take it seriously. I used to think I was a slow writer. I’m not, I was just using my time terribly. Early on, I told myself I was writing, when in reality I had maybe written a sentence and spent the rest of the time browsing the net or eyeing the television. Eventually I realized that I’d probably be 55 by the time I finished my book if I kept at that clip. I knew I wanted to write a book, but I wasn’t giving myself enough time to do it, nor was I taking it seriously. So I started putting together little tangible goals to note my progress and know when I was going off track. I got rid of the distractions. I started writing offline and putting my phone in the other room. I blocked out time on my calendar that would be solely dedicated to writing. Whatever it took to make it work.
– Figure out what schedule will work for you. I’m really not a morning writer, or frankly a morning person. I like to think I’m a morning admirer. I can maybe write if it’s like, 8:30am, but I’m not one of those people who can wake at 5am and hit 2,000 words and start their day. I tried for a while and felt bad that I wasn’t doing enough. I needed to find what would work for me, not the other way around. Now, sometimes I do write at 8:30am, but more often, I write directly after work, usually before dinner. After dinner, my mind starts to relax into things like reading and Netflix, and I find I become less productive.
And that’s really the biggest lesson of all: finding what worked for me through a whole lot of trial and error.
In my next post, I’ll share the many more lessons I learned while writing book two!
Sending good vibes for your week,
Note: Image above taken by me, featuring my laptop and Doctor Who journal