writing

Things I’ve Learned about Writing

2016 was a whirlwind. In December of 2015, I was teetering on the brink of giving up ever getting published. I’d been working towards it since first grade, and missed every benchmark I set for myself–to be published before I started high school. Then before graduation. Before I finished my degree. Before I turned 25. I kept racking up finished manuscripts, but no one wanted them. Rejection after rejection flowed in. For one manuscript alone, I accumulated 42 agent rejections. It’s still sitting on my hard drive, read only by myself and a few beta readers.

For so long I’d identified myself as a writer–even an unpublished one–that when I started to doubt my ability as a writer, I started to doubt everything else about myself, too.

Torquere accepted THE SPIDER’S WEB the second week of December. Being able to sign my first contract was so thrilling. I was so excited, I hardly knew what to do with myself. That was only the start of the journey, though–a journey I’m still on. Like most adventures it hasn’t gone to plan, but I have learned a few things about the written word in the 20+ years I’ve been writing. I thought I would compile a few of those things here.

1. Time and place matter
I’m not talking about the setting of your story (though that’s pretty important, too). I mean, sometimes you have an amazing story in your head, but you’re not in the right place (mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even physically) for the story to develop itself correctly. I wrote the first 3/4 of the first draft of THE SPIDER’S WEB in about eight weeks. It was another three months before I could come back to finish it, and then I spent the next seven years rewriting every single word. The book that went to print bears very little resemblance to the book I started writing–long hand–one summer in a Montreal park, but it’s all the better for it.

Additionally, sometimes the market is in a different place. I love vampires and werewolves, but agents aren’t really taking them right now. They were done ad nauseum during the Twilight years, and that actually had a significant effect on THE SPIDER’S WEB (in one draft, the villain was a vampire. He didn’t last long).

I also spent a good chunk of 2016 querying a piece of historical fiction that got nowhere. Then, near the end of the year, some things changed, and it started getting a much better response.

Basically, what it boils down to is that things can change quickly. A mental switch can flip. The political or publishing industry can change suddenly. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

2. Rolling stones don’t grow moss
The best tip I can give anyone stuck on a manuscript? Don’t stop. I work seven days a week for at least an hour every day–shoehorned in around my day job, housework, and volunteering. Even when I’m exhausted or ill, I try to put in at least 500 words a day. It may not sound like much, but it’s 500 words more than I had the day before, and that’s progress.

If I don’t have the brain space or the time to commit to writing itself, I’ll outline, research, or promote. Anything to keep the story fresh in my head for when I’m ready to work the next day.

I’ve also learned that those first 500 words? That’s the hardest part of any writing session. I usually hit my groove around 700-1,000 words.

3. Know your style
If you’d told me ten years ago I’d be a dedicated plotter, I’d have laughed in your face. Nevermind the notebooks I have dedicated to outlines, research, and character profiles, or the notes I have stashed away in Scrivener. For some people, writing is not a linear process. They write scenes as the spirit moves them (Leanna Renee Hieber is one such example, and she does it brilliantly).

I’ve written a grand total of one novel using this method, and I never, ever want to do it again.

My original draft of THE SPIDER’S WEB was written Russian roulette style: I thought of a scene, and then I wrote it. When I though there were enough scenes, I typed them up, printed them, laid them all out in the order written and cut up the pages so I could rearrange them chronologically. I took a red pen and a stack of sticky notes and noted all of the scenes I would have to add or change.

Do you see now why it took me seven years to get a final draft?

I like my outlines. A lot. When it came time to write her second book, I made sure everything was completely outlined before I started, and it practically wrote itself. The story did change the more I put into the manuscript, and there were issues that needed working through in one or two places, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as the multiple, complete overhauls I had to do with the first book.

4. Focus is key
For a long time, I would have multiple works in progress on the go at any one time, and I never finished any of them. Now I’ve got a lot of story starts I can revisit if I’m looking to shake things up a little or take a break, but really, I work better when I concentrate on just one active project at a time. It’s also better if I concentrate on one editing project at a time. Usually I will write a first draft, then do a complete revision on something else, then write another book, then revise a book…

5. If it means enough to you, you won’t be able to quit
Back in high school, I thought I loved art enough to make a career of it. After my college graduation, though, I gave up drawing pretty much full stop. Four years of critiques had destroyed my love for it.

When it comes to writing, however, even when I receive criticism, it doesn’t stop me. Even when I wanted to give up, when it hurt so much to stare at all of those finished manuscripts I couldn’t get signed, or to see all of the rejection emails piling up in my inbox, I couldn’t stop writing. The ideas were always there, begging to come out on the page. My characters wouldn’t shut up. Even when I tried to evict them, they would pick the lock and sneak back in to whisper in my ear while I was trying to sleep.

A week after THE SPIDER’S WEB was released, Torquere first announced difficulties. At first, it just seemed like a bump in the road, but when things turned sour in the fall, I was devastated. I knew enough about publishing to know what was coming. Thankfully, I had a very good contract in place, protecting my rights. I wasn’t worried about a protracted struggle for return of rights. But to have my work go out of print less than a year after it was first published? To never receive a single dollar in royalties? It was a crushing blow. I wallowed. I thought about throwing in the towel completely.

I didn’t believe in myself, but I did still believe in Evie. We’ve been through so much, and I’m still not ready to give up on her, especially since I now know there are lots of other people out there who believe in her, too.

I’m writing this on Sunday night, and I’m still waiting for Create Space to approve my files (there was a problem with the cover and it had to be resubmitted). With luck, the ebook will be live on Tuesday as planned. The print version may take a few extra days, since this is going to slow down the galley copy. Fingers crossed it will be set by January 31. I’ll let you know when I find out for certain.

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