TEN THINGS I LEARNED AS I COMPLETED MY MANUSCRIPT FOR THE FIRST TIME
As you know, I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, I have to finish the first installment of my novella series. I’m not over the excitement yet about that accomplishment. I’ve begun outlining for the next. However, that is not the point of this post.
So, through my journey writing that book, I learnt some valuable lessons I think might help some people who want to be writers and have gotten to a place where they feel the writing sucks or that the endeavor is not for them. You’ll see that I felt every single emotion. I passed through different stages. I want to let you know that you are not alone in this.
So, let’s get down.
1. The best way to improve your writing is to keep writing
This is a fact, not just because I’m saying it. If you want to see improvement in your writing, the best way is to keep going on. No matter what, don’t cower to the pressure to stop. With every single word, every single sentence, you get better. The way the mind works is that with consistency in doing a particular thing, we get better at it. I’ve heard it takes twenty-one days to form a habit. Why is that? It is because, with consistency, it becomes clear that you love this path and your mind joins hands with you. As you keep doing those things, you get better. With the ten months it took me to write this first installment, (a bulk of which happened in the last month); I found I was getting better with every passing day. I was making fewer mistakes, getting better flow and churning out more words.
2. The first draft isn’t always perfect nor does it have to be
The mistake that many upcoming writers (I’ve found myself in a broad group here) make sometimes is they try to be perfect at the first draft. The truth is that no matter how good your English language is, you are bound to make mistakes in the first instance. That is the purpose of the editing phase.
So, get down to the business and write until you get to the end. If I had to go back and write again, I would look for ways to ensure that I’m even faster at getting the first draft down. This is one lesson I learned listening to established authors, reading their books, and experimenting for myself. The truth is the first draft is always going to suck. Deal with it and move on.
3. We are our biggest critics
This is true for most writers, even established authors. Many times, writers stop the writing process because they allow self-doubt to creep in. More times than not, we are quick to judge our works, thinking that because we don’t like them enough, others won’t. It isn’t true. Listen to renowned authors and hear for yourself. I’ve done the same, and I discovered that many times, we could be the worst judge for our work. What we judge as good doesn’t always resonate in the same frequency with our readers. Sometimes the works you think are imperfect are the ones readers prefer the most.
So, learn to gag your inner critic when writing (sometimes you need him though. Or is it her?) Let the words flow. If you make mistakes, there is always the opportunity to go back and correct them when you’re editing. Your inner critic will keep finding faults. Plug in your headphone, listen to music that blocks out the noise and just go, galloping with words.
4. Writer block only exists in the mind
This was something I believed when I began writing. Occasionally, I will come to a point where it seemed as though there was nothing more to write. The more I tried, the more I faltered and failed. I went online and searched. I got to know many writers face the same and it’s cunningly called writer’s block. I accepted it then as a norm.
Then, I remember going to meet with a friend of mine who has written several books and he is published. He even has a traditional publishing deal and is doing well. I asked him how he dealt with writer’s block. The response he gave me both shocked me and taught me a lesson. He said, “I can never have writer’s block.” He said it with so much confidence and audacity that I flinched. He told me that the writer’s block only the exist in people's minds. I’ve come to find out he was truthful. Plain but truthful.
The issue is that many writers never take out time to plan their writing before setting out (and yes, it is a journey and as such, we should prepare for it). The cure to writer’s block, as I found, is to have things clearly defined.
You should know what you’re writing about. You should know whom you’re writing for. You should know the aim of your writing, the beginning as well as the end. My best guess is that if you do this, writer’s block won’t be an issue to you. Try it and see the result for yourself.
5. Reading the work of other authors helps the process
So, after my last two posts, one of the comments I got was that sometimes even after planning for the writing process, you still can’t get the words gushing out. I have had some issues like that. What I think is the cause, as I found out in my case, is a lack of motivation. It happens to every writer at one point or another.
What I do is to take out the first fifteen, thirty minutes, or even an hour to read a work from my favorite author(s). The likes of Dean Koontz, James Patterson, JK Rowling, and John Grisham. The authors I admire have achieved a level of success that I aspire to attain.
I spend those moments getting myself soaked in their words and worlds. It gets me enough motivation to go and complete my word count for the day (remember I talked about goal setting). Sometimes, I don’t even have to go for fifteen minutes. Just reading a paragraph or two puts me in the right frame of mind to continue the writing process.
6. Trying to be perfect can hinder your progress
As I mentioned when I talked about writers being their biggest critics, one thing that hinders the writing process is trying to be perfect. Sometimes, you want to go back and ensure you’ve used active voice instead of passive voice. You want to go back and check if you used the right dialogue tags. You want to go back and check if your choice of words fits the message. All of these things are right but can hinder the writing process. In my case, I was always going back to check my use of adverbs. When I discovered that this was hurting my flow, I blindfolded my inner critic and kept on pushing until the end. There’s enough time for me now to go through the work and fix my errors. It’s okay not to be perfect in your first draft.
**7. Not every writing advice works **
One of my biggest pet peeves is listening or reading writers who give a piece of advice and makes it seem as though it is hardcore. This is one reason why I like and follow Dean Wesley Smith. That guy has done most of the things I want to do, and he advocates for doing what works for you while ignoring every other stuff, including the professionals. You go to writing workshops and seminars and come back feeling more confused than before you left.
The key is to stick to what works for you. Not everyone is a plotter, and not everyone is a panster. For example, Wesley Smith advocates for writing into the dark without an outline. I find it doesn’t work for me. So what did I do? I tossed the advice in the trash, and I’m sure DWS won’t be angry with me.
I stuck to what works for me (which is having my outline planned out and just going with it). You hear some writers say, “Definitely you shouldn’t use passive voice.” “You should write with the readers in mind.” And many more. My opinion, which isn’t in any way instructive, is writing what lets you finish the work as soon as possible. Nothing should stop the writing process.
If you found a piece of advice works for you, good for you. Get to work and don’t allow anything to stop you from achieving your goal.
I read many books on writing, but I take most of the advice with a pinch of salt. Would you do the same?
8. Setting goals work like a charm
Having a clearly defined goal for each of your writing sessions does work like a charm. I found out that when I set daily writing goals, I tend to be more focused and get more done than when I get bouncing with words. This is the same method or trick if you would have it that way that many Game programmers use. You have a goal you want to achieve at every stage of the game. It keeps you going despite the mistakes, failures, and obstacle that come along the way. You don’t stop until you can cross that threshold, stage or phase. It works for writing too.
Have clearly defined goals. For example, “I wanted to write 2000 words today.” You will find you will be more propped up and motivated to get the work done. It works.
9. You have all the materials you need
This is another issue some upcoming writers have. The fact that you don’t have the expensive software, gadgets, doesn’t mean the writing process won’t work. For example, I’ve heard about some useful writing apps like Scrivener, Pro writing aid, and Grammarly. I don’t kill myself or stop the process because I don’t have them. I use what I have and can afford. The writing journey continues. The good old Microsoft word processor works and produces acceptable results, sometimes as good as the others.
If you check, there are many free alternatives to some of these applications online. Just do a Google Search to find out about them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go for that software if you have the money. What I’m saying is the lack of fancy apps shouldn’t allow stop you from doing what you should do.
10. There’s no perfect mood for writing
Lastly, on this post, I want to let you know that there is no perfect mood for writing. The reason most people stop writing, the excuse they give most of the time is that they weren’t in a good mood. There is no perfect mood for writing.
Writing the first installment of my novella series, I came to the exciting conclusion that writing can work at any time irrespective of the feeling at any given moment. I wrote when I was happy. I wrote when I was sad. I wrote when I was hungry. I wrote when I had a full stomach. Going back, I couldn’t tell which was which.
This is a golden secret. It helps to know I can write no matter what’s going on in my life. You shouldn’t allow your emotional state to stop the words from flowing at any given time.
What I’ve said, briefly, in this post, is to keep writing at all cost. Writers are writers because they write. The sooner you get this, the better for you and for your readers who eagerly wait to read what you have for them.
Thank you for reading this piece. I do hope you’ve enjoyed it and learned a thing or two. Please drop your comments below.