I’ve finished my book AGAIN. What I mean by that is that I just completed another cover-to-cover revision of my book. I’ve stopped trying to explain the concept to my non-writer friends because whenever I say I’ve finished a revision they immediately ask – ‘so what’s left to do before you upload it?’ (I’m self-publishing) That question made me think about what I learned from the experience of actually writing a complete 95,000 word novel. Here are five things that immediately come to mind:
1. The real writing comes in the revision process. I’m sure you’ve heard writers claim that they just sit down, put pen to paper and out it comes. Usually what comes out the first time is what comes out of Belle, my terrier mix, after she’s had a good dinner of people food. Sure there may be passages that sparkle, but most of it is going to work, and lots of it.
2. An outline is the writer’s friend. There a plenty of articles that debate the value of outlining. Some say its great because it keeps you on track, some say it inhibits creativity. My book is a legal thriller with a splash of romance – so I consider myself a genre writer. When you are writing a thriller or mystery where spreading clues throughout the story is important, outlining before you write is helpful. But what I realized is its difficult to keep track of intricate plot details once you’ve written about 30,000 words. if you don’t track your story you spend countless amounts of time trying to find certain events. I discovered after I was halfway through my book that there is software that helps make outlining a lot easier.
3. The right tools are essential. Having the right tools at your fingertips, makes the process easier and stops procrastination. How much time do you waste looking for things instead of writing. I bought a messenger bag that only holds my writing tools. I purchased a netbook, which at 10 inches keeps me very mobile. As a lawyer, who goes to court a lot, I have to write whenever and where ever I can. My bag is stocked with netbook, thesaurus, highlighters, research files and outlines. The bag stays packed and ready to go.
4. Writing really is a craft. Before I wrote my book I thought I was a fantastic writer. After the first draft, my ego was somewhat deflated. To be able to write a masterpiece in the first draft is the exception and not the rule. After I had finished the book, I took a fiction workshop and then realized how many things I had done wrong. I also understood why I had gotten those agent rejections. My work said amateur. I also saw that I had instinctively done a lot of things right. Reading how-to articles and taking classes on writing is helpful, but its only the writing itself that makes you better. Once I had written my book, a light switched on and I understood why POV, pace, and even grammar were important.
5. To be a good writer you need to be a good reader. Once I realized what caused me difficulties in my own book, I started looking at other novels, to see how other writers handled things. Francine Prose wrote an interesting book called Reading like a Writer. I’ve been a writer a long time, but now I’m a novelist. When I read now, I read not only for the enjoyment of the story, but I read for what I can learn about writing itself.
I’ve learned other things as well, but I leave you with this last one: When you run out of juice, just stop writing.