Well my fingers are weeping with joy as I am closing in on the end of my first novel, Wastelander: The Drake Legacy. The book is a post-apocalyptic jaunt taking place 30 years after the nuclear fall of the United States. A few more chapters and the first draft shall be complete! *maniacal laughter*
I‘m approaching the seven month mark and it looks like it will be living in 80,000 word land. Depending on your level of writing badassery/experience you are either saying, “Damn, it took you long enough to write 80,000 words,” or “Damn, I wish I could write 80,000 words in seven months.” Probably the former.
If you are in the latter category (I feel your pain), here are a few tips from an amateur cutting his teeth to help speed you along.
Rewriting completely derailed my progress. I probably spent at least a month of my time going back through what I had written, making modifications, and trying to ensure the story was chronological, plot holes were filled, and everything was hunky-dory.
The problem with this was the more I went back into the writing to fix it, the more issues I found and more time I spent living in the past. Also, my addled brain had trouble transitioning back into writing the current story after spending so much time regurgitating what had already happened. Re-writing is essential, but finishing the book first is more essential.
Outside influences destroying my dreams. Ambiguous sounding right? My book is in a post-apocalyptic world and there is no shortage of television, movie, and books living within the same realm. I would be watching or reading one of these mediums, see something that felt to similar to what I had written, fall to me knees and scream, “Now I have to re-write an entire chapter (or the whole book) or people are going to think I’m an unoriginal fool.”
Then I listened to a podcast on Writing Excuses about the The Problem of Originality. While I will let you draw your own conclusions from these seasoned authors, my takeaway was, just write you own content and don’t stress what other people are doing. Your writing style or viewpoint of a subject, even if the subject has been done many times, may be interesting enough to make you stand out. Your own twist may be enough to take something unoriginal and make it something new and fresh.
Not enough writing time, thus, all progress stopped. During the seven months I’ve spent toiling away, my wife and I had a baby (check out his cuteness on my Instagram, and yes, his name is Thor), and I quit my job to be a stay at home dad. Add to the onslaught the fact my wife is active duty military, so the bulk of childcare falls on my shoulders. Additionally, I work as a freelance copy editor and as the personal editor for another author. Eventually, all of these excuses were enough to halt my progress on a few occasions. There were weeks of time where no progress happened whatsoever.
The solution was to find ways to generate progress even if I couldn’t sit in front of the computer. I’m talking about using my phone as a recorder while crapping on the toilet and talking through chapters. Walking around with my son strapped to my chest and explaining to inanimate objects various scenes. And orating while doing chores around the house.
This, from an outside perspective, made me look like a madman. What was important is it kept my mind in the story. It let me keep creating, even when I couldn’t sit down and devote keyboard time to it. The result, was lots of audio clips (with interesting background noises) that allowed me to speed through chapters because I wasn’t creating, I was simply transcribing.
Putting too much stake in outside opinions during the writing progress. That tasty moment when you break down, tell someone you are working on a book, and they say the most useless and counterproductive thing ever. Or you decide to email someone a copy of your progress for feedback, only to have them not read it – or worse – tell you why it doesn’t work and provide no other form of feedback. Then you are tempted to rewrite.
Asking someone to read and give their opinions on an unfinished piece of work is the same as asking someone to tell you how a sandwich tastes, but only giving them a single piece of bread to make that judgement. Wait until you have finished your first draft, do a second pass, then send it to Beta Readers to give you feedback. Then you can begin lamenting – but hey – at this point you’ve already finished the book so you won’t have to worry about rage quitting.
Lastly, writing for other people and not writing my story. My book is from the viewpoint of a broken vulgar man. I’ve had one person tell me, “Only mysteries work written as first person narratives.” (False. But let’s not get into it.) I’ve had another person tell me, “Maybe tone down the language, it will turn off some readers.” This is true. It will turn off some readers. But who cares? I can’t imagine pristine vernacular is very important to the people who are surviving in my post-apocalyptic world.
Not every book is going to appeal to every reader. Do we need to understand our genre and what the expectations are – absolutely. Do we have to use a cookie cutter to replicate those successful books in our genre? I don’t think so. When I started listening to the naysayers and rethought my premise, my writing sputtered. Once I shut out everything else and let my characters gain their voices, my writing increased in speed tenfold.
Good luck finishing your first books and crushing more of them! Once I wrap up these last few chapters I will start posting some teasers from the book and share with you how crappy the whole rewrite, beta-reading, editing, agent finding (or not finding), and publishing (or self-publishing) thing goes. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!