“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” –Matsuo Basho
When I started writing I often wondered how anyone managed to write a novel. They’re typically anything from seventy to a hundred and fifty thousand words and that’s a lot of words even on the short end. As it turned out the first thing I wrote was novel length and although it’s never been published (I’m saving it to be “discovered” by my fans after I’m dead!) it turned out that it wasn’t as hard as it seemed. Just keep putting in the time, day after day and you get there eventually.
More Than A Word count
Then I started to question the plot and structure. How could I make sure that what I was writing was actually interesting and made sense. That was harder than achieving a word count and I started to realize that writing is about more than just accumulating words. So I started reading various books and articles on how to write. I studied fiction I’d already read to work out how they did things. I started redrafting pieces I’d already done; polishing and tweaking bit by bit until I was happier with them.
Beat Your Characters Into Submission
Then I started to obsess about characters. How could I make them feel real, make them engaging, self-consistent, motivated and a natural fit for the story? Back to the research. I looked at character archetypes, the hero’s journey, psychology, quirks and internal and external motivations. Characters are funny things. I find they have a habit of trying to take control of the story and move it their own way, so you have to keep beating them into submission. I suggest a bullwhip, or at the very least a cat o’nine tails.
After that I started to worry about details. Was my dialog working for the character; was it fulfilling the right need for the plot? Was my world self-consistent, logical, and rich? These took much longer to get to grips with. For one thing they’re highly subjective, so the advice I found was often contradicted by other well-intentioned and plausible advice. But again I’ve worked on it. I now have a redrafting procedure with built-in checkpoints designed to pinpoint my weak areas.
Never Let It Go
I’ve been working on all of this for over ten years now. Sometimes I’ve felt lost, sometimes overwhelmed. I’ve often not felt like a writer (something many writers seem to suffer from) and I’ve wondered sometimes if I really know how to be a writer. One thing I can honestly say though, is that I’ve never stopped enjoying it. I love writing and even if I won the lottery tomorrow I’d never stop not even if no one ever read what I wrote. Deep inside I know that I have something to say, and at some point, “maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon and for the rest of your life.”(hmm that sounds kinda familiar…) someone will connect and a special kind of magic will happen, the way it for me did when I read my favorite authors.
Good things take time, whether it’s writing or anything else. Billy Gibbons once said that ZZ Top were an overnight success – it just took fifteen years to get there. There will always be people who will try to tell you that you can’t accomplish something, that you’re no good, have no talent or worse – but they’re wrong; it just takes effort, dedication and love. It takes time to develop skills and become accomplished at anything worthwhile. If you love something, don’t let it go – keep doing it and do it the best that you possibly can
Some of the resources that helped me:
- Plot and Structure – James Scott Bell
- Conflict and Suspense – James Scott Bell
- Revision and Self-editing – James Scott Bell
- The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman
- Writing the Breakout Novel – Donald Maass
- The Craft Of Writing Science Fiction That Sells – Ben Bova
- How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy – Orson Scott Card
- Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint – Orson Scott Card
- The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers – Chrispher Vogler