If You Want to Write a Book, Write It However Works for You
I am, at the moment, juggling several projects because that’s how I roll. I’ve just started revisions for my next novel, the first in a trilogy, that I’m very excited about. I’m working on a short story that probably wants to be a novelette. I’ve also just yesterday started on a short nonfiction essay.
I don’t know yet what other people will think of it. I don’t know if it’ll be a commercial success. I don’t know whether I want to pursue traditional publishing with it or go indie. I don’t know if it’ll be the book that brings me fame. I don’t even know when, exactly, I’ll publish it.
I do know that, like me, many other writers are working on their novels. Whether continuing it or just starting it. They’ll be veteran writers and writers who’ve just started. Professional writers and fanfiction writers. Nonfiction writers and fiction writers. All of us, working on our books, alone and yet, in some way, connected for that we’re all in this together.
Someday, perhaps, we will be looking for publishing and readers at the same time and, of course, I hope that it’s my book that people pick and that they’ll fall in love with. But if it’s their novel? Then I’ll be happy for them because knowing readers love your books is one of the greatest feelings I have ever had and I wish that feeling upon every writer. (Except those who write only to spread hate. Those writers I hope will never have that feeling because they’re writing to make the world a worse place.)
Many of us will not writer a commercially successful book for… so many reasons. Maybe the craft just genuinely isn’t good enough to compete with other books. Maybe the writer fails at marketing. Maybe it was the wrong book at the wrong time. There are myriad reasons why books don’t sell. It’s not always because a book is bad and, anyway, writing is a skill which means you can practice and hone it, so keep writing!
Some writers, lucky people that they are, can write a little bit every single day. Writing every day is frequently given as advice without regarding, well, anything about the person’s life and whether writing every day is even in any way viable to them. For many writers, this process of writing every day doesn’t work. The reasons vary and the reasons don’t particularly matter to me. What matters to me is that it’s not universal advice and while it is fantastic and amazing if you can do that, it is not a requirement to becoming a Real Writer™. There is no One True Way to write and don’t let any successful author tell you otherwise.
I will finish my stories. Eventually. Hopefully, so will everyone else who was working on a book at the same time as me. Maybe, for whatever reason, they’ll have to put their writing aside for a while. They’ll go off to do other things. Maybe someone moved abroad and struggled with culture shock. Maybe they started a family and couldn’t find a way to combine everything. Maybe they’ll find another book to write that excites them more. Maybe they’ll be discouraged because they have no one to cheer them on. Maybe the research is too daunting. I’m still not working on the third peeweww story because evolutionary biology still short-circuits my brain, but one day!
One day, the story will be written. Others might not be. I’ve stuffed some of mine into drawers because I couldn’t even begin to imagine how to salvage them. I may never work on those stories again, but they live on. They live on in the next story. They live on in what I do because what I wrote has burrowed their way under my skin and taught me things I didn’t know, or didn’t realise, before.
Some writers may not write every day, but they’ll put a book down and aside and then pick it back up again a week later. Or a month later. Maybe a year later. Several years. From my own process I know that I can achieve 20,000 word days. I also know that, if I manage a day like that, I will pay and be unable to write (or do much of anything) for at least the next day. That’s just my body being… whatever it is being. I just know I need to recharge afterwards.
If you feel bad about giving yourself a day off writing for whatever reason, be kind to yourself. Maybe you needed it. And writing takes many forms. It’s not all about putting pen to paper (though, arguably, that’s the most important part). Sometimes it’s about taking a step back and working through an issue in your head before you write on. Sometimes you need to recharge. Whatever your process is, it is yours. If it isn’t working for the book you want to work on, try shaking up your process. Sometimes that’s what you need to jumpstart it and sometimes you need to work differently from what you’re used to.
The important thing is that you do what works for you as a person and as a writer. That’s not always building habits, though truthfully they can help a lot when you make sure the habits you’re cultivating work for you. And habits can change!
When I was a fledgling writer, my habit was to listen to music when I was writing. It was also, frequently, my habit to use the school computers to write between classes and to doodle in the margins of my notebooks.
When I left school, none of those habits worked anymore. I don’t know why the music stopped working, but I do know that my routine changed significantly and my habits had to change with it. For several years, I was no longer able to write while listening to music. It was too distracting. The novel I’m working on now? It has a soundtrack that I listen to while I write.
I write when my brain lets me, because sometimes depression and fatigue mean I can barely get out of bed, never mind summon up the energy to write fiction. Writing fiction is hard, even if it’s boring, mundane stuff that I know is terrible and will change later. Even if it’s gibberish. It’s hard. It’s work. It doesn’t matter what style works for you, whether you’re a writer with a ritual or not. Writing takes something out of you. Always. If you need to recharge afterwards, that’s fine.
Is there a risk that you’ll lose the voice and the book you were working on? Yes. I don’t know you, dear fellow writer, and I can’t promise you that if you put your book aside you’ll return to it writing the same book that you would have written a month ago, a year ago. Most likely, unless you’re an amazing plotter, you won’t.
I find that, nowadays, I often have stories that require me to be distracted, just a little, and the trick to find the right balance between too little distraction and too much. Eventually, if enough time passes, perhaps you’ll find that your concentration has gotten so good that you’ve zoomed through the writing session and surprise yourself with the word count you’ve achieved. And that’s great! Feel good about the writing you’ve done. Because, let me repeat, writing is hard.
It will not always feel hard. I’ve had story drafts flow from my pen like a waterfall. Rapid, tempestuous, roaringly, powerfully, leaving me in a slight daze. But they still took work and some amount of effort because writing is never, ever, effortless. Some days a writing session will be easier than others. No matter what your process is, there will be good days and bad days.
When you need to do research, there is a chance of getting sucked into it so far that you get distracted from your narrative. It is tempting to forego all research in your first draft and fix it all later. For some writers, that works exceptionally well. Not for others. There are writers who will get horridly stuck on the book if they don’t do background research first, if small things are misaligned. For all that you are, surely, selling people a product, you need a solid foundation and only you can decide for your story what that foundation looks like. Sometimes, that solid foundation requires you to research first and write later. Or to write, get distracted by research and get back to writing afterwards. All of it is valid, provided that you think it works for you.
It may be you’re one of those lucky writers whose first drafts are amazing. Most likely, you are not. I’m not, though I do long to be that good one day. That’s what revision is for. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll look upon your book and decide that it’s not worth finishing to you. Maybe you’ll reread what you wrote and hate it. Maybe you need a vacation in the middle of your book. Maybe picking up that particular piece, at that particular time, is making you depressed or anxious. Or both. It’s okay to put it away and do something else for a while. It’s okay to put it away and never pick it up again.
Only you can say what course of action is right for you. You get to make that call. Of course I would prefer you to finish your book! I like stories! I like learning! I would enjoy seeing your perception on the world and to be challenged by your worldview where it differs from mine. Books teach us. Books mirror the world around us or show us a window into something else, something different. So, yes, I would prefer it if you finished your book, if you wrote that first draft start-to-finish and revised it and sought to bring it to my attention.
But I am not you and I cannot make that call for you.
Whatever your process is. Whatever your decisions regarding your book: be kind to yourself. Writing is hard work, even when it doesn’t feel like it, and you did good. Self-care matters. If you don’t take care of yourself, if you don’t look at what practices and processes work for you, as an individual, that is when you ‘fail’. For that is when you’ve decided that there is One True Way to write and stopped considering what works for you individually. That is when the self-doubt and the anxiety really comes out to play because you’ll be so hung up on this idea of what a writer should be according to a Big Name Author you may or may not have heard of before that you’ll forget that you need to look what writing actually is for you.
That Big Name Author no more knows you than I do. They can’t tell you how you should write or what you should write or how you should approach the whole process because they don’t know you.
And, yes, maybe your book isn’t good enough to cut it in the market place. And, true, you won’t know unless you finish and try. But what if publication wasn’t your goal? Should you then pursue it because someone else told you that it’s what you must do even though you don’t want to? You can always improve your writing if that’s what you want to do.
But don’t let anyone force you into methods or ideas that don’t work for you. The truth is that there are a lot of writers out there who want to push their methods onto other people without pausing to consider that those other people? Are not them. They have different goals, different reasons, different challenges. All of which impact what methods do and do not work. None of which those authors sharing their wisdom know.
The truth is that, when it comes to writing advice, there’s only one kind of advice that is even remotely universal: figure out what your process is for the book you’re working on right now. Whatever your goal is, you’ll reach it faster if you know what’s making the idea (and you) tick.
No, I lied, sorry. There’s another piece of advice that’s pretty universal: writing is not a race. You can take it at your own pace. It is not a case of you versus everyone else (unless you want it to be). You can work together with other writers. Encourage each other, build a network, lean on one another when times are hard, share each other’s joys and woes. Have a community, in short, of people who understand you and who’ll help you achieve the goal that you’ve set yourself to achieve.
Writing is not a One Method Fits All thing. Writing is a mosaic of tiny little pieces of methods and thoughts and ideas that you’ve got to piece together for yourself. Others who’ve written books can show you things that work (or once worked) for them that you can try, but… That’s all we can do.
I’m sorry. This probably wasn’t the writing advice that you were hoping for, but it’s what I’ve got. Don’t let writers tell you what your process should be, not even me. We don’t know you. We don’t know your circumstances. You do. Try things. See what works for you. Toss out stuff that doesn’t.
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