The Weird and Wild World of Writing a Novel: looking back and moving forward
Writing is such a weird thing. While I will fully admit that I have my own mental struggles that I deal with, I don't think I'm alone in saying that writing is one of the few things I've found to be so fulfilling and so mentally crushing at the same time. The rollercoaster of emotions that you feel while working on a novel is almost unbelievable, if it wasn't so common. Writers all over talk about the same things: the pits of despair, the mountain tops of happiness, the crushing depths of imposter syndrome. I'm here to give you a peek into the process, so here we go.
First and foremost, I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT! The excitement is palpable. Just weeks ago, I was wallowing in the feeling that I would never be done, it wasn't worth finishing in the first place, why am I even trying? Now, I'm over the moon with excitement of what comes next. Finishing a first draft is such a huge accomplishment in itself that it's definitely worth celebrating. When you write - like really write - it's easy to forget that some people spend years working on a draft, decades even, and never finish it. Some people can talk all day about how "they could write a book if they really wanted" or "they just haven't found the time". I was one of those people when I first started toying with the idea of writing. When I was at work, tapping away at the story that became Fall Winds Blow, I thought it was easy. Just throw down some words, make up something here or there, toss it all together and it's done. At most, it came out to about 40k words and it was all I could do to get to that point. That was the first time I ran into the struggle of finishing. After the high of releasing it and seeing people read it, when I decided I wanted to do this for real, I ran into the first real bout of finishing a thing syndrome. I had no plan, no goals, I knew that I could write if I focused on it - I'd written Fall Winds in like three weeks between calls at work, how hard could writing another be? - but I thought it would come easy. Moving into a new job with less time to play around at work, I started trying to get it done at home, but I was writing "when I felt like it", which is another common writing mistake. Sometimes, you don't feel like it. Sometimes you just want to nap. So you do. And that nap ends up lasting months, until you don't even remember what story you're trying to tell.
Needless to say, the second book took me two years to finish. That was when I realized that I needed a goal. I tried a few. The lofty Stephen King goal (2000 words a day), the baby goal (500 words a day), the "for the love of God just do something" goal (literally just do something every day). I settled on 1000 words a day with a hit or miss clause. As long as I try, if I don't hit 1000 that's fine. Something is better than nothing. More than 1000 on a day? Awesome. As long as the progress is happening. That got me through the second and third books, and worked wonders for this new one. I published The Path of the Divine Order in March of this year, and I'm ALREADY DONE with the first draft of the next. It's July. That's 4 months. Which honestly is even a bit longer than it should have taken. 1k words a day for 60 days should be 60k, which is where I'm sitting word wise in this one, so you can see how many days of not reaching the goal happened. At the same time, you have to factor in outside stresses (can we say the last few weeks?) and internal stresses, and all kinds of other things. Also, I try and take weekends off from writing unless I'm really motivated. So that's even less working days. If anyone ever asks me for writing advice, I'm going to be one of those authors that says "Literally just do it."
"But it's hard!" you'll say back. Yep, sure is. If you want to write though, you have to push through that. "I've spent a week working on the same chapter 'cause I keep going back to tweak a paragraph I can't get right," you'll say after a while. And I'll slap you.
OK, maybe that's a bit harsh. Editing as you go can be a thing that people do. I'm guilty of it sometimes as well. Knowing that what I wrote doesn't work, or discovering something further down that line that changes something in a past chapter, or deciding on a fully different name for a character are all reasons that I'll go back and fiddle. The thing I hold myself to, though, is that I only do what's needed. Once I write a scene, or finish a chapter, it's done and I can cross it off my list. Forward progress is the only progress that matters when it comes to the first draft. Get the story out, and done to completion as best you can.
Then comes the editing.
The downside to never looking back is that I know, by the end of a project, that I have more writing ahead of me. Rewrites and edits and things that I discovered at the very end of the story that make no sense at the beginning. That's a downside of being a pantser, I guess. At the same time, though, it's exciting. Knowing that, by the end of the story, you have all these new ideas for the beginning. I also like to think that it's good to go back and rework the beginning after the fact. Inevitably, you become a better writer with every word and thought you express. You grow and change as a person. You learn. And then you can go back to the beginning of the story - when you didn't know the things you know now - and add that knowledge in. Make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.
That's where I'm at right now. I've got a hardcopy, printed version of the manuscript sitting at my writing desk right now, red pen resting across the cover page, ready to get into it. I have to force myself to wait a bit, though. The story is still so fresh in my mind. I need some distance, before I go back and find all the problems. Fix all the things that I didn't know when I started. Like a sculptor, I've got a rough shape, but I need to refine it. Smooth out the edges. So that's next on the list.
For right now, though, it's celebration time. Celebration that I finished a novel. Celebration that I made it through something that just weeks ago I thought would drive me mad. I started the project with a bare idea; a character, a setting, and a vibe. I knew what I wanted to capture. As I made it through, I could feel that it was taking shape in a direction I didn't expect, but I enjoyed, so I followed that path. Then I started thinking about the "let's try and submit it to real publishers this time" thing, and my world came crashing down around me. What's the point of this story? Why should people read it? Why would anyone buy something like this? Who's going to take this seriously? It was all questions and no answers. Every thought was negative, and every time I went to write, to try and push out the rest of the story that I was so close to finishing, I hated it. I hated myself. It was all pointless. Then I remembered, people buy all kinds of books. The books I read don't always have deep, literary meanings, or multiple layers of symbolism. They're fun stories that keep me entertained, bring me along for a ride, and maybe have some nice messages in there somewhere. I can do that. I've done that (at least I think I have). So why is mine so much different from what I look for in books? The answer is, it's not. It's a decent story with some depth and emotion, and I think there are people that would like it. So why not try?
Besides, I have to finish the edits first, and that's where I can make it really work.
Onward and upward and all that jazz.