Iona, one of my students, always wanted to write a book. She’s a teacher, so one summer she told everyone she was going away, but she stayed home. She didn’t want any interruptions. She’d decided to spend the time alone, finally sitting down to write her book.
“Thirty pages,” she told me. “That’s all I managed to write, in five weeks. Everything I wrote was awful. Why did I ever think that I could write?”
I commiserated. Ioan hadn’t heard about shitty first drafts. If she had, she could have written 300 pages, rather than just 30. The 300 pages would be “awful”. but they’d be a starting point.
The trouble with writing books is that we all read books, and fail to realize (or remember, if we’re writers), that the writing process is always messy.
I’m writing a novel. I’m 12,000 words in, out of a proposed 80,000 words, and it SUCKS. It’s truly horrible… I’m telling, rather than showing, and the characters, while they have their moments, are less than memorable. I don’t even want to think about the woeful “plot”…
Sigh… At this point, if this were my first rodeo, I’m trudge away, convinced that I CAN’T WRITE. I’m hopeless. I will never be able to write. Maybe it’s not too late to become a lawyer, the way my parents always wanted… Another sigh…
Thank heavens I know better.
It may suck. It’s supposed to.
It’s hard to convince yourself that your novel is taking shape, word by word, no matter how horrible you’re convinced it is at the moment.
Think about what happens when someone builds a house. There are several homes going up in our little town. I stroll past the building sites on my daily walk. These sites are messy. They start off with a big hole in the ground, then stuff gets put into the hole. Eventually the framework goes up… weeks or months later, there’s a house, or several townhouses.
Writing your novel is much like building a house. You write and write, and what you’re writing isn’t much. It doesn’t read like a book, does it? You read your favorite writers, and the mess you’ve got can drive you to despair.
Take courage. Your ugly duckling will become a swan. Your mess will grow into a novel. Every word you write is important, even if you delete the word or the scene or the chapter a month from now, because it’s only framework, and you don’t need it.
How to live with the horror of writing your novel
Here are some tips to help you to get over the sheer “suckness” of your novel as you’re writing:
- Keep writing. Every day. No matter what. Your novel is growing. It may be ugly, but that’s just a stage;
- Keep learning. Learn what makes a scene. Do you have conflict on every page? Are you bored? Spark it up;
- Keep reading. Read great novels. Read junk. Just read, every day. You’ll learn a lot via osmosis;
- Get some exercise. Writing is stressful. Exercise gets rid of the stress hormones which can damage your health;
- Tell yourself you’ll do whatever it takes to finish your novel and get it published;
- Do your best today. And tomorrow. That’s all you need to do.
Before you know it, your novel will be written. You’ll feel GREAT. Writing a book is a little like childbirth. Once you’re holding your child, you’ll forget all the drama that got you there. And your novel, once it’s completed, won’t suck at all.
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