What does it take to write a book? Creativity. Perseverance. A healthy dose of stubbornness and a dash of insanity, to say the least.
But what does it take to write a GOOD book? What does a writer need to do to take a single string of ideas and turn them into a full-length novel?
It’s more than just waking up a little earlier (or staying up a little later – yeah, we’re definitely feeling the aftereffects of the latter at the moment). It’s more than just planting yourself in the corner of a coffee shop for a change of scenery even if you don’t like coffee (or people). Writing a book requires some sacrifice. But not necessarily the kind of sacrifice you might be thinking of.
Here’s a list of a few things you’ll need to give up in order to write the best possible novel. Don’t worry. You get to keep all your arms and legs.
As we mentioned yesterday, characters like to take control of our stories. Pretty much the more we try to plan out what’s going to happen, the less control we actually end up having over what happens. This is not something that can be taught, but it’s still worth mentioning. You’ll learn the lesson again and again the more time you spend writing: you have to give up your control.
Why? Because a story has to go where it needs to go even when you don’t know exactly what’s coming. Your brain, somehow, knows your story better than you do. All those plans you had for your book are next to nothing compared to what it’s going to be when you finish it. This unpredictability, once you get used to it, becomes one of a writer’s most powerful tools. Not knowing what’s going to happen next is like the epic fantasy adventure you’ll never actually have.
Writing is not supposed to be comfortable. Fun, yes. Satisfying, yes. That’s what we do it for. But if you’re caught in the same old story over and over again because it’s what you know and it’s what makes you feel at home, you’re never going to be able to write the book you really want to write.
You have to give up your need to be comfortable for that good book to emerge from its place deep inside you. Write that scene that makes your heart ache. Weave in that theme you’re afraid to include. If you ever think, “Maybe I shouldn’t go this deep,” go even deeper. If you even for a moment think, “I can’t write this,” write it anyway. Your discomfort will change the way those words appear on the page. Your readers will feel it, and that is the absolute best thing you can ever do for your audience.
All your life, you see the world through your own perspective. You view everything through a specific lens, one that takes into account your beliefs and your values and your experiences to shape the way things appear. Naturally, as humans, we are closed-minded in the sense that what is easiest for us is to write stories that narrate through this exact same lens.
Throw it out. When you are writing, do not close your mind. Do not peek through that lens. It is your job, as a writer, to tell stories from the most unlikely of perspectives. Why is To Kill a Mockingbird such a classic? Because it tells a heartbreaking story through the eyes of a child who does not understand the implications of what is going on around her. That is what makes the story. You need to be able to open your mind, explore other viewpoints and change the way you, and your readers, see reality.
Notice we’re not saying you need to give up your social life or good old-fashioned fun if you want to sit down and write a book that has publishing potential (and more importantly, one that impacts real people who read it).
Writing a book is hard. You have to make the choice to shatter your own comfort zone. Go there, to that place another writer won’t. Send that thematic message no one else would dare to send. You have to let the story sweep you off your chair and into a completely new reality. If you try to control it, if you try not to go too far, if you refuse to look at something in a different way, you will write many, many books. But you probably won’t write a good one, which is what this world can never have too many of.
There is more, obviously. Perhaps we’ll write a second post later. But these are the most important barriers to reaching your full potential, and we believe you can overcome them. We believe you can take a risk, and never look back again.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.