Muhammad Ali once said that a man who views the world the same way at fifty as he did at twenty, has wasted thirty years of his life. The same premise holds for writing. The author who writes the same at 70,000 words as she did at the first, has wasted 69,999 words.
It's the mantra of creative writing teachers everywhere: you learn to write by writing. In this spirit, I'd like to share some of the things writing my first book has taught me, both about writing, and about myself.
1) Follow-through. I've stated it elsewhere on this blog: I've never finished a book before. Never even come close. Come to think of it, I've had trouble finishing lots of things in my life. I had gotten to the point where I questioned my ability to follow-through on anything.
It is perhaps the most important lesson I've learned from this process: I can finish something. I can plant my butt in a chair, day after day, with a toddler pulling on my clothes and spit-up on my shoes, and finish a book. That's pretty powerful, and it's something I'm proud of.
2) It's okay for first drafts to be shitty...
3) ... as long as you fix them. See my post The Value of Feedback
4) When editing, don't cut so much your readers get lost. One of my beta-readers pointed out to me that at the beginning of the
book, there is a distinct lack of essential information: the heroine
doesn't really make sense, the setting doesn't come through, not to mention she couldn't figure out just what the hell they were doing in between make-out sessions. I
immediately knew the problem.
One of the things you always hear when you're editing is that it's better to cut words/ phrases/ descriptions, than to add them. By and large, this is true. We writers can be blustery, long-winded bitches (or sons of them). During the creative process, it's easy to get lost in our own prosaic genius (see? Like that.). Editing is when you bite the belt and amputate whatever it is that doesn't serve your story. .
However, such revisions require a scalpel, not a chainsaw. During my editing, in an effort to avoid
sounding like I was lecturing readers, I cut out a lot of information
that was actually necessary to the book. Good news: these are pretty painless fixes. Bad news: if not for my beta-reader, I might not have seen this. Another good argument in favor of beta-readers!
5) Capture a place. Setting is important to a story. Duh, right? But somehow, I had overlooked this. In a romance, the focus is supposed to be on the characters, the love story, the emotions involved. Setting, while it plays a small role, takes a back seat.
If setting is supposed to take a back seat, my setting wasn't even in the car. As I mentioned in my previous post, a lot of writers get tripped up by the basics. Setting is about as basic as it gets. Where are your characters? Paris? Madrid? The moon? Figure it out. Then remember to inform the reader.
6) Build a story. I learned a lot about story structure that I didn't know. A well-written book has its own flow, and believe me, that flow does not come naturally. Many people who read books think they are relatively simple to write. Not super simple, but relatively. Anyone who's actually sat down and tried to write a book knows there is nothing further from the truth. Pacing. Plotting. Characterization. All these things are crucial to a good book. With few exceptions, no one is born with these skills.
This is only a smattering of all the things this process has taught me so far. There is an indefinite multitude of threads that go into weaving a good story. I'm still learning to work the loom, but I already know vastly more than I did a year ago. I'll say it again, you learn to write by writing.