Day 1278, A Writer’s Journey
If this is your first time here, this is Day 1278 (give or take a few days) of my writing journey. I first started exploring the idea of writing a novel in late 2017. Three and a half years later, I am working on the third draft of my first novel and the goal is to finish by August. (Fingers crossed.) (I’m hopeful).This is my first attempt at writing a book. Over the last 3-4 years, I’ve read many different kinds of instructions on how to write. I’ve definitely learned from these resources. By showing up to write and persisting in the writing, even when it felt like the book wasn’t going anywhere fast, I learned what didn’t work for me. In this post, it is my intention to share some of these ideas (from the perspective of one beginner writer to another) and my hope is it will be useful to anyone embarking on a writer’s journey. Here are my 5 must-knows for the aspiring writer!
Five Must-Knows For The Aspiring Writer
- Start writing I was disappointed to learn that in spite of being a lifelong reader I did not automatically know how to write a book. Being a reader does help but there was more to the art of writing than I’d anticipated. Thankfully, there are many resources online on how to write just about anything. In fact, if you google it, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of help available. So, I tried to learn everything I would ever need to write a novel. Because I wanted to know everything there was to know. For a few months, I was stuck in a kind of limbo, figuring out technique, style, and structure, the how-I-am-going-to-tell-the-story, and I almost didn’t notice that I kept postponing the actual writing. It’s good to know if you need an outline and if yes, how detailed you want it to be. But it’s been my experience that once we’ve created a basic structure ( you might even start with something as simple as the beginning, middle, and the end), it’s helpful to start writing. Start writing. Because obsessing over the hows may also be a kind of procrastination that keeps putting off the act of sitting down and writing. Don’t get me wrong. Procrastination can be helpful in many ways and is an essential part of the creative process but occasionally, procrastination is just that… procrastination. Be your own best friend and gently inquire what’s really at work. Then, start writing.
2. The infamous, all-important, first draft is the gateway to riches. By riches, I mean the real wealth every writer craves :), of having told their story with clarity and eloquence. In early 2018, when I first started writing, I was under the impression that I would write and be done with my novel in 6 months -1 year. Fighting my self-doubt and perfectionism took so much of my energy that I couldn’t allow myself to think beyond writing the first draft. I just have to finish this, I told myself repeatedly, and I’ll be done with the book. In my case, I had to write as though my first draft was the final draft because there was relief in thinking that it could be done so easily, and that the end was in sight. And if I had known that multiple drafts might be needed, I may not have started at all. So, the first draft can serve many purposes. For one, it’s the skeleton of the book you are writing. It’s upright! It can walk! But the first draft can also provide reassurance to an aspiring writer that just maybe this writing thing is possible. I did complete the first draft but what I didn’t know was, as I wrote, I would’ve better ideas, that I would want to add more depth to the characters, or that characters would escape me and become someone else altogether. That I might want to change the ending or start at a different beginning. The first draft is your gateway. Don’t judge it. It’s a lot like mining in that what we see on the surface might be part of a more valuable whole and the exploration starts when we start writing.
3. Pay attention to your muse and be kind to yourself. There are some lines in my book that I have never needed to edit. They were perfect when they were formed and they captured and conveyed what I had in mind, and with more elegance than I knew I was capable of. I’m convinced that was the muse giving a helping hand. Whether you believe in divine, other-worldly help or think of a muse as accessing a part of yourself, I think we can agree on the existence of muses though each of us may describe it in a different way. When I think of accessing the muse, I see it as ignoring the chatter of my mind until I can feel a little quietness inside of me. Like any lifestyle habit where repetition increases the chance of success, the muse is more accessible to the writer who writes often. In any case, pay attention to your muse. As with any creative endeavor, there are ebbs and flows to the writing process and as a writer, it’s our job to self-nurture through this process. For example, if you haven’t been able to find time to write, don’t beat yourself up. If you said you would write 1000 words every day but you’ve only been able to come up with 157 (this is me today), it’s okay. Because here’s the wonderful thing: the muse is generous with her time and she might just as easily visit while you are in the shower as she is likely to visit when you are writing. In fact, I can testify that the shower is a favorite muse-visit spot as are walks among trees or on the beach. I would go as far as to say she loves to visit when you are doing absolutely nothing. All this to say, be kind with yourself. Take your time and take breaks when you need them. After all, you are on your own hero’s journey. Sure, it will be fantastic to finish the book but enjoy the journey of getting there. I remember reading this quote attributed to Helena Bonham Carter, and thinking how true the words are: “I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.” Let your life seep into your writing and let your writing permeate everything in your life.
4. Forget about who’s going to read your work (with a caveat). There’s an ad that I’ve seen for a master class on writing that’ll teach you how to write without worrying about what your mother is going to think when she reads it. We want to express our truth in words and to get to that place of authentic, creative expression, we have to forget about what other people will say or think. There is a power and ferocity to the words that may otherwise be tamed if we worry too much about other people’s reactions. Here’s the caveat: a story is meant to be read, and is a bridge between the writer and the reader. It’s my opinion, especially with fiction, that writing a story that a reader will enjoy (for lack of a better word) reading is also part of the process of telling a story well. So, yes, it’s your story but it becomes something bigger when it reaches the other, your readers. I don’t know if that made sense but I think what I’m trying to say is, for all that it is conceived in solitude, writing is still about reaching another.
5. Listen to all the advice and discard what doesn’t work for you. You knew this one was coming. For example, while I know a lot of experts advise that we keep going with the first draft until we reach the end, I’ve found that I need to write a few pages and then double back to change this or that or fine-tune something else. It’s like I need to bring the whole book up to speed before I can move further. I’ve tried to keep on writing but I can’t seem to do it. So, I write, I double-back and correct, and I write some more. I’m moving forward but at a slower pace that works for me. Figure out what your process is and ignore what everyone else says.
I hope you enjoyed reading my 5 must-knows for the aspiring writer. While I’ve repeatedly talked about writing as it applies to writing a book, what I’ve said here could just as easily apply to an article or a thesis or any other writing project. Wishing you all the best for your writing adventures!
PS. It’s only as I was writing this post that I realized I’ve written more on this topic (I haven’t been regular here and sometimes, I forget what I’ve already written. Apologies!) If you’re interested, here are some related posts (1, 2, 3). Thanks for reading!