From Imagination To Publication

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Things I've Learned About Writing

Maybe these tips will help you, maybe they won't. Every writer has their own experiences, their own process and techniques, their own beliefs, but here are just a few things I've come to understand through writing, editing, and getting The Descendants ready for publishing.

1. Get used to waiting:

If you plan to introduce your writing to the publishing industry, at some point you will find yourself waiting in suspense for something. Whether it is the response to a query letter or partial, news from your agent, or  (my current waiting game) feedback from your editor and/or publisher on your rewrites, you will catch yourself counting the hours, days, weeks, or months until you finally get word.

In all honesty, this is something I'm still working on. I'm an amateur when it comes to the waiting game. In fact, I've developed a bit of an addiction in my waiting. My poison? That little green light on my phone that tells me I have an email. If I think maybe it blinked, I stare at it like a dog who thinks he has seen something in the distance, eyes locked on target...In most cases no light blinks at all, and I realize it must have been the glare that caught my eye. Which means, I've been staring, waiting, not blinking for no reason. I wonder how many people must notice me do this at work. I swear, waiting makes me feel slightly insane sometimes.

2. Stop and write when lady muse comes to visit:

For some people, writing may come easily. If you are one of those people who can just sit down and write, whenever, wherever, no matter the circumstances, just write on demand like the flip of a switch...I envy you. For me, this is not how it works.

Most of what I consider to be good writing comes to me like an epiphany. Words just start flowing from somewhere in the universe, using me as the vessel needed to get them to paper. I've heard other writers speak of the same feeling, so I know I'm not the weirdo here, but when the universe starts writing through you, let it.

The other day I had one of these moments in my car. I repeated the narrative and phrases of dialogue over and over in my head as I drove, knowing that if I didn't get them out soon, they would be lost. The second I got home, I ran for my notepad and started furiously jotting down what I had been repeating. Just at that moment my husband of only two weeks walked in with a sweet greeting.
"Hey sweetie, how was your--"
"Sssh," I cut him off abruptly. "I have to write this down."
"Why what's wrong--"
"Sssssssssh," I snapped again. "Don't talk."
As I continued to scribble, he raised his eyebrows and walked over to the cat, who was more than happy to welcome him home with love.
"Hi Romeo, yeah, so cute..."
I sighed very heavily, clearly irritated, and walked out the backdoor with my notepad, looking for silence.

As soon as I finished, I thought, shoot, I was really crazy and mean just now. I ran up to the man cave to find my new husband and immediately apologized.
"I'm so sorry. I just had to get it out you know, or it would be gone."
"Yeah, whatever, don't talk!" he mimicked me with a smile.
I laughed. "I'm sorry."
He laughed too. "Don't worry about it. I get it. Writing emergency."
"Exactly," I said. "So what do you want for dinner?"

*Thank you husband for understanding and accepting my writing process, even when it makes me a crazy person.

3. Fall in love with your characters, not your first draft:

First drafts are special, because they come with a sense of accomplishment. After months or even years of writing your book, your baby, it is finally done, and in your mind, it is perfect. Wrong!
(Well, maybe a few perfect first drafts exist out there, but not very many)

For most of us, the first draft is our heart and soul on paper (or in Microsoft Word), but just because you are attached doesn't make it right, complete, or by any means perfect.  With The Descendants I was very much attached, and very much convinced it was the best it could be, and therefore was blind to its flaws, and even the possibility of making it better. It was a foolish point of view.

My best advice to overcoming this attachment to your story is to be open to change, don't be afraid of it. Get honest and brutal feedback from people that AREN'T YOUR FAMILY. Despite what your family will tell you, they are bias. Mom is too star-struck by you to believe anything you wrote isn't pure genius. Get another opinion. It might hurt, but it will open your eyes.

Above all else, as you go through the gut-wrenching process of CUTTING, editing, and re-writing, try and attach yourself to your characters. Attribute all of those "wasted" chapters that you'll end up taking out to character development. If you think of cuts/edits like this, nothing is ever a waste.

4. Learn to love editing:

For me, editing is the hard part. It is more work than the writing itself. I never liked the idea of editing. It was tedious, and I always found myself wanting to start writing that next chapter, something new, but editing is just as much a part of the writing process as the actually writing.

Instead of thinking of it as a chore, think of it as an opportunity to take your characters places they've never been, or getting to know them a little better. Editing and revising are worth every minute, so do yourself a favor and look forward to it.

Write on my friends!


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