So I’m writing a book. This probably comes to absolutely no one’s surprise, since I really wouldn’t have any right to talk about writing if I wasn’t also actively writing. I’ve been working on this project for over three months, and I’m finally at that threshold — you know, the one where you just KNOW you’re almost done.
I’M SO EXCITED! But also … ready to be done with Phase 1. Not just because I’m going to let myself take a small break when I finally close it out, but because I’m ready to go back in later this year and start to really shape this mess of a story into something I can share with the world.
What has surprised me more than anything throughout this process is how much I am still learning — about myself, about my creative process, and about writing as a whole. Let’s say I’ve technically been writing pretty consistently for 12 years. When I first started writing, I thought I’d be a master by now! I thought I’d know all I needed to know to succeed as a writer.
I’m so glad I was wrong.
There is a good reason I always make it a point to remind you that a writer should never stop learning — it’s almost impossible! Also, the reason I always tell you that writing is the only way to get better is because there is, in my opinion, no better way to learn to write than by writing.
Since I’m a little weary from that “almost done but not quite” feeling, I thought it would be fun to share a few things I’ve learned over the past three months. It’s okay to laugh. I’m laughing. On the outside.
I want ALL THE BACKSTORY. The project I’m currently working on started out as backstory for another character from another book I was writing (yes, I project hopped, I’m not proud of it, I will go back!). So naturally, I already loved these characters when they first introduced themselves to me, and I want my reader (and myself, let’s be honest) to know everything there is to know about them.
In many books and other storytelling mediums, backstory is an essential part of spinning a tale. It’s not always necessary, but it does help develop characters and can make a story more interesting if you put everything together right. But how much backstory is too much? That’s where a lot of writers struggle to draw the line.
You can’t put in or keep everything you WISH could go in your story. Even if you do over-tell in your first or second draft, eventually, some of it is probably going to have to go. Snip snip, bye-bye, no more. You need to know why Character X is afraid of water but you probably don’t need to necessarily read an entire chapter about their childhood. Sometimes, less is more. It’s heartbreaking. But it’s true.
The book … isn’t done yet? Like, I’m still going back and filling in all the details I skipped when “framing” the story and even at 1K words a day it’s taking FOREVER!
Many writers prefer to construct their stories linearly from beginning to end. I am not a linear writer and never have been — when I have an idea for a scene, I’m not going to wait to write it, I’m going to ride that inspiration wave and see what I can get out of it. That’s how I write so much so quickly. I’m all over the place. It makes for more editing later, but that’s just my process.
So basically I have a lot of scenes where the dialogue is there but a lot of the environment shaping description isn’t. Or I’ll start a scene and end it but go back later to fill in the middle. What I’m working on right now is filler, but not fluff. Tying up loose ends is probably the best way to categorize it. And it turns out I’m way less patient than I originally thought. I’m not going to rush through the rest of my book just so I can end it, but it’s certainly tempting.
This is why I’m only writing a thousand words at a time. I’m making sure that I don’t rush. It’s just a first draft, but at this point, there’s no doubt that I’m going to finish. It’s just a matter of WHEN.
Wow, time management is a thing I’m still terrible at. Yeah. I’ve given you tips. I’ve told you what has worked for me in the past. I’ve done my very best not to complain while remaining as real and honest as I could manage. Guess what? Even though I know how to make it work, IT’S STILL HARD.
What’s been hardest for me is learning to deal with the unexpected. There have been nights when I’ve felt more motivated to write than I have during all that previous week combined. But I can’t write at that present moment because of an unplanned interruption or distraction (often, but not always, from the fur baby).
Sometimes I also don’t prioritize well, and I end up doing my “fun” writing first instead of getting my actual work done sooner rather than not technically late-er. I know this causes unnecessary stress. I know work should always come first. It’s not my fault that inspiration is as tempting as a giant chocolate chip cookie sitting on the kitchen counter with no one else’s name on it.
Am I getting work done? Yes. Have I given myself enough time to rest and avoid burnout? Not even close. So that’s a problem. But it’s my problem, something I’m constantly working on. I may not have all the answers, but that’s the point. I’m in this with you. I’m learning as I go just as you are. I’m making mistakes. I’m doing my best to celebrate the small victories and bounce back from non-successes.
Basically, I’m just a writer trying to figure out how to thrive within the madness.
Join me. It’s worth the chaos.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.