If you’ve ever read Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds, you’ve probably seen his “Five Things I Learned while Writing…” series, where different authors list five things they learned while writing/ publishing their latest book. (If you haven’t read any, this is one of my favorites.)
I love those posts, and while my novel is nowhere near publication, I did finish the first draft, which is a HUGE deal considering how many novel fragments I have scattered in old notebooks. So I thought I’d write about the five things I learned writing my first draft:
I’ve been chipping away at my work in process, but right around the 37,000 word mark, I had this uneasy feeling that wouldn’t go away. I tried to ignore it, assuming that it’s just my doubts popping up — “Hey, this is terrible. It’ll never be good enough. You should really stop now. Blah blah blah.”
But then I realized how much I didn’t know when it comes to my story. I have the plot line and I know my characters (ish), but I skipped a lot of worldbuilding. This might sound counterintuitive for someone writing fantasy, but in the past I’d get SO BORED if I spent ages planning I’d bail on my idea completely. So this time around, as soon as I figured out the basic plot (or the “bones” of the story, if you watch those house-flipping shows), I decided to jump in.
While I worked on plot and dialogue and character development, the story-world was simmering on the back burner, and it started expanding in huge and unexpected ways. This was both cool and terrifying, because I was planning on a simple fantasy story, and suddenly it became this potentially huge behemoth. I felt way over my head.
Luckily, before I could get really panicked, Chuck Wendig tweeted about learning to write through failure and it was literally exactly what I needed to hear. My favorite tweet was: “Fail fast. Fail with glee. Fail better. Fail upwards. Build a ladder out of trying things and getting shit wrong.” So that’s what I’m trying to do.
At this point, I’m bound and determined to finish my first draft (ignoring the problems I know I’ll have to fix later). Right now I’m trying to look at my story like those house flippers on TV: if a story has good bones, you can tear out all the carpet and knock down some walls, and maybe even gut the bathroom later. And then you’ll be able to focus on making the story “pretty,” instead of trying to hide the tacky paint color the previous owner picked. The only bad thing about this metaphor is that I can’t be too mad at the previous owner since in this case, the previous owner is me muddling things up during the first draft. Oops.
Does the house-flipping metaphor make sense for you? Or is it too much of a stretch?
Ugh. Writer’s block. Out of all the things writers talk about, writer’s block may be the most-discussed topic. Some authors swear up and down that writer’s block doesn’t exist. (Seriously: Google “writer’s block isn’t real” and you’ll get about 2,320,000 results.) Those writers insist that you just need to power through it and keep writing anyway. Sometimes that method works — like when I’m tempted to scroll through Instagram instead of write. But there are days when the words just aren’t coming, and all my ideas seem terrible. People can argue about whether writer’s block is a “real thing” or not, but that doesn’t help me much when I’m stuck.
I tend to agree with Ray Bradbury’s idea that writer’s block is caused by writing about the wrong thing.
I love talking about writing. But since I’ve recently started working on my first novel, I feel like it’d be weird for me to give writing advice, because I’m still figuring it out as I go! So I thought I’d give you a snapshot of my process as it is right now, and I can give new updates the further along I get. I’m thinking it might turn into a fun series, and I’m excited to be able to look back at the process. And I’m always excited to hear about other people’s creative processes, so I’d love to hear about yours — whether you’re an artist, a musician, a baker, a crafter — whatever medium you use, I’m all ears!
What I’m working on:
A fantasy/ alternative history novel set in 17th centruy France. Expect lots of elves fighting over the throne with some humans who get caught up in the craziness. (You can read a little bit more about it here and here.)