As I’ve mentioned, my WIP has been a work-in-progress for the past seven years. That’s not to say it’s the only thing I have worked on – it hasn’t been – but I have been working on it for seven years.
So, I feel qualified to write this post and give you all the ways to NOT write a book. I haven’t conquered the how TO write a book yet, but I’m working on it. Without further ado, here are your lessons in how NOT to write a book:
Numero Uno: Don’t write. Think about the book instead. Talk to your critique partners, your friends, the mailman about your story. Brainstorm until it hurts. Plan the scenes out, but whatever you do, do not sit your butt in that chair and write.
Duex: When the story gets tough, start another book. If you ignored the first lesson, this is your key to failure. As you work on a story and get deeper into the details, things will get hard. You’ll start to dislike your characters, question your plot, but don’t worry. Just when you think you’re sunk, a different, completely fabulous and ridiculously complete story will come to you. Be sure to write it down. Then you can focus on that for a while – weeks, months. Whatever it takes, go for it.
Three: When you finish the first draft (assuming you’ve ignored the first two lessons), let it sit for a while. A year or two is good. During this time you can focus on your family or one of those other stories or de-cluttering your house. By the time when you go back to the book, you’ll remember nothing about your plot or characters and will wonder why the heroine likes to work alone and how the villain came up with his dastardly plan. That takes a while to recover from, you’ll be set.
If you find you can’t wait that long, another option is to get stuck in the revision loop. For this, you revise the first chapter, or first three chapters for contests, submisisons, your critique partners, whatever. The key is to just keep polishing those few pages without ever getting to the rest of the book. This is a sure momentum-stopper.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Hmmmm… maybe I do know how TO write a book.
# 1: Write.
Of course, you need some time to plan, to think about your characters, your conflict, your plot. But unless you write, you will have nothing. Stephen King in “On Writing” says to take no more than three months to write the first draft. THREE MONTHS. A first draft doesn’t need to be perfect – it’s a starting place.
Yes, this process is hard. As your story gels and your characters become more clear you will have to re-write. But you’re writing. Don’t let other story ideas distract you. Write them down in enough detail so when you get back to them you know what you were thinking, but then go back to the original and finish it. Work all the way through it. The best way to do this is to read through it without changing anything, but making notes on what needs to be fixed. Then go fix it. Start with the biggest problems first (i.e. plot issues) instead of the easy stuff like word choice or syntax. Those sections might undergo bigger changes when your big problems are fixed, so don’t sweat the small stuff yet. You may have to make several passes to get it right, but don’t take years to do this.
Please. For your sake.
Finally, remember these things:
Thinking is not writing. Writing is writing. Revising is writing. Writers write.
This has been my mantra lately.