I’m writing my first book.
It’s a novel, a major departure from what I’m used to writing (especially as someone who majored in professional writing in undergrad and creative writing with a poetry concentration in grad school). I’m not used to writing things that require so much…commitment. A poem is not something you marry. It’s more like a one-night stand. When it’s done, it’s done, and you don’t spend years tweaking the same five lines, hoping they’ll pay your rent and keep you warm at night. (At least, I don’t.)
But a novel? To me, that’s more like a marriage. You have to commit to it. It’s not just something you do on a whim one afternoon when you’re bored or suddenly inspired by the clouds.
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Writing a novel takes planning, patience, and a thorough knowledge of your characters, setting, context, and subject matter. It takes time. And you have to know at least a little bit about what you want to write when you write it.
As a newbie novelist, I could worry myself right back into the blanket burrito I reluctantly pulled myself out of this morning. I could easily stress about this book that I’ve finally decided to write. I could worry that I’ll never finish, or that it will be terrible when I do. I could worry that I won’t find an agent or get it published, or that if I self-publish it’ll never sell. I could even worry that I’m writing the wrong book entirely.
But all of that would be a bigger waste of time than writing the wrong book would ever be.
A huge waste of time. And mental energy.
You know why? Because first drafts are supposed to suck.
Even first books sometimes. I’ve never written a book before, so there’s no way for me to really know what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter how many books I’ve read, even books about writing well, because you only learn so much from reading about how to do something. The real learning happens—the kind that sinks into your pores and makes you intimately acquainted with something—happens when you actually DO that something.
I don’t know about you, but that’s really comforting to me. And it helps me accomplish stress-free writing.
So in those moments when I’m doing the dishes or having dinner with a friend or trying to decide what kind of cereal to buy at the grocery store, when it hits me out of the blue that I could be completely wasting my time, that my book is crap and will never get published, that I’ll never really be able to do this for a living, THOSE are the moments when I have to get kung fu on my thoughts and say,
NO, YOU SHUT UP! I’M DOING THIS WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT!
(That’s the technical way to defeat bad thoughts.)
But you know? I’ll be satisfied no matter how my first book turns out. Whether it gets published or not. Whether it sells or not. Sure, I’ll be a little disappointed if it’s a desk drawer book forever, but at the end of the day I’ll be happy with myself for having finished at all.
Maybe that’s the real purpose of a first book: it’s a lesson. Book Writing 101. And although it’s an excellent idea to read and learn as much as possible from other people who have done it already, nobody can really teach you how to write a book but yourself. You have to learn a few things in the process that nobody else can teach you, like:
- What time of day you’re most productive and/or creative. (For me, it’s morning—and sometimes late afternoon on rainy days. Is that weird? Anyway.)
- How you write most efficiently, whether it’s in absolute quiet with no distractions or with the buzz of people around, the hum of humanity, the serenade of subtle jazz in the background.
- Your own best process. Do you outline before you write? Do you need visuals before you can really bring your characters to life? Do you just jump in and go for it, waiting to see where your characters take you? Do you write, then rewrite, then rewrite again?
- How to prepare. You have to learn for yourself how much research, outlining, and organizing you need to do before you begin, including what you need to eat for breakfast so your stomach isn’t growling at you the whole time. (It’s distracting, I know.)
- How to organize. Maybe you organize everything down to the last detail, and maybe you wing it. I’m a highly organized person, but I’ve found with this first book that I’m winging a lot—a LOT—of it. It’s a little scary and stressy, but again, it’s my first book, so I’m mostly relaxed about it. I’ll learn as I go.
- How to enjoy the process of writing a book. It’s possible, I swear. Even on the days when you want to
a) cry, shave your head, and jump into a lake;
b) go back to school for a nice, safe accounting degree;
c) throw your unpolished, disjointed, incomplete manuscript into a wood chipper; or
d) quit altogether.
Don’t quit. I have a feeling the good days will make up for the bad ones. Why not hang in there and find out?
When it comes down to it, I’m happy to be writing my first book. And I’ll be even happier when I finish it. If you’re working on your first book, too, please treat yourself (and your manuscript) kindly. Besides, if things go well, it’ll be the last time you ever write a book without a deadline. 😉 Be understanding. Be determined and persistent, but have grace with yourself. It’s only your first book, and whether anyone else ever reads it or not, you’ll be proud that you even finished it at all.
Are you currently writing your first book (or second, third, or seventh?) What advice do you follow to stay encouraged? Better yet, join the Ladies in Read on Pinterest for daily writing tips and inspiration!
*This post originally appeared on The Blissful Poet.