Learning to Write
I sometimes get the 'itch' to write, but most times I need schedule and routine to get in the zone.
When I started out to write my first book, Trace Over Her Heart, a short romance about a church worker who falls in love with a handsome, widowed pastor, I truly had no idea what I was doing. I had completed graduate school and had some talent, but I had no idea how to plot, structure or complete a book. And I didn't know who to turn to to get help. So I plugged along on my own, figuring it out as I went.
This is not a bad way to attempt a first book. It is also not a great way to do it. The book took me almost five years to complete. I use the word "complete" loosely because it was 4,000 words short from the minimum required for a Harlequin novel. But I was proud of it. And it taught me a few things.
1. I didn't know what the heck I was doing and really needed to seek some guidance.
2. I could (kind of) finish a book. And this is no easy feat.
3. Five years was way too long to spend writing an almost completed, not very good, novel. What was I going to do about that?
In the early days (and even in the not so early days) of my writing career, I was under the impression that I needed to wait for inspiration in order to begin writing. I thought I could wait to write until I was "in the mood". I thought I had to wait until I had a lot of time to begin writing.
I thought wrong.
My first book took me five years, because I would work on it for a three hour stretch (and truly enjoy myself) and then not return to it for three months. With each day that passed, the task of picking up where I left off felt too daunting. I would forget what I had written and spend some of my precious writing time re-reading what I had already written. Then I feel disappointed it had taken me three months to write eight pages. No wonder writing felt daunting. I couldn't see much progress.
Flash forward to book number two, Act of Love. This one was a romance set in a charming small-town theater. A lead actress falls in love with a headstrong stage manager. It wasn't my best work, but I had definitely improved. Perhaps one day I'll dust it off and tear it apart and rewrite it into a better story. Regardless of what I do with it in the future (if anything), I felt successful for finishing and in record time! I clocked in at three years.
I wondered how other writers could write and publish 2-3 books a year. How did they get motivated to write that much? What did they do when they sat down to write and they couldn't think of anything to write?
After Act of Love, I decided something. I needed to go on a pursuit for knowledge. I decided to watch every single webinar I could get my hands on and figure out what I didn't know. I would get a second Master's degree in the craft of writing - the curriculum would be everything I could find online. I wanted to know what other writers did to be successful. Have you ever heard the old adage, "Success leaves clues?" I was on a mission to search for clues.
Do you want to lose weight? Watch what skinny people do and eat every day.
Do you want to have more friends? Watch how friendly people talk and smile and engage with others.
Do you want to be a successful writer? Watch a few dozen webinars given by writers, agents and publishers and do what they tell you to do.
My mom always said I was coach-able. I suppose she was right.
One of my pet peeves is when folks argue with experts. Whenever I hear, "I shouldn't have to do it that way." Or "Not EVERY writer does it like that." I want to roll my eyes. When you are a successful writer, you can pitch your own method. But until then, listen to someone who actually knows, huh? Successful writers got successful for a reason. Amiright?
So I binged watched webinars on Writer's Digest. When I say I binge watched, I mean I plopped my butt down in my recliner every night between 7pm and 10pm and watched webinars with a notebook and pen in hand. I took notes. I typed out my notes and cataloged them. I told people who would listen what I had learned. I learned how to plot out a book. I learned how to show and not tell. I learned how to use dialogue to move a story along. I learned how to write a great first page. I learned when to end each scene. I learned what NOT to do. I did this for two months. And THEN...I began again.
Finally, when I felt I was ready to start writing a new book, I set a new schedule. I decided I would write every night whether I felt like it or not. I would not read anything I had read the night before since it was a huge time waster. And as I was the mother of two small children, time to write was a precious commodity I couldn't afford to waste. I would write until the book was done and then I would revise and edit every night.
So I did.
And A Promise Remembered, (TECHnically my third book) comes out in March 2019. And it took me nine months to write.
And the last book I wrote took five months.
And the book I'm working on now should take me three.
Because of all the things I learned (and continue to learn) about writing, the most important thing was this - I have to sit myself down in the chair every day and start writing whether I feel like it or not.
So what about you? What have you learned about your writing process? Where do you write? How often do you write? And how can you get better? We can all get better. I certainly know I can. But that's okay. That's part of the fun.