Writing is hard. If you’re a writer, you don’t need me to tell you that. In the unlikely event that you’re not a writer, then all you have to do to be convinced that writing is hard is to take a quick sampling of writer humor: it’s pretty much all self-deprecating, masochistic, laugh-so-you-don’t-cry stuff. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.
(By the way, I totally stole the above from my critique partner Linda Yezak’s blog. Should you happen to be one of those unique individuals who actually enjoy self-deprecating, masochistic, laugh-so-you-don’t-cry writer humor, be sure to check out her “Especially for Writers” posts every Friday.)
I talk all the time about how more than half the joy of writing is found in its challenges. If it were easy, it would be boring, right?
Well, yeeees. And no.
Because as much as we relish rising to the challenges writing offers us, I think most of us just plain love the idea of finding a way to make writing your novel easier. Most of us also have it figured out that there’s no magic pill here. That’s the bad news. The good news? There are at least three things you can do to make writing your novel easier. But, first…
My Writing: The Hard Books and the Easy Ones
Let me share a little history on how I arrived at these ideas for making writing your novel easier. I’ve been writing since I was twelve and finished my first novel when I was fourteen. My journey as a writer looks something like this:
In which I have no idea what I’m doing: Woohoo! This is so much fuuuuuuun!
In which I start to realize there are a few things I don’t know: Okay, got to make this book even better than the last one. Hmm, this is a little bit harder.
In which I admit I don’t have clue what I’m doing: Yikes. This is so much harder!
In which I start learning there is actually a science to this writing stuff: This is murder! This is the hardest book I’ve ever written. This is the *worst* book I’ve ever written!
Fifth Novel: A Man Called Outlaw
In which I get a pretty good handle on all that stuff I learned during the previous book: This is fun! No, this hard! No, wait, this is fun again!
Sixth Novel: Behold the Dawn
In which I’m starting to get it all figured out (and, not coincidentally, when I perfect my outlining process), but am not quite sure I’m getting it figured out: This is amazing! How is this coming together like this? But, wait, *is* it really coming together? Is it as good as I think it is? *commences self-doubt*
Seventh Novel: Dreamlander
In which I overthink everything I know and start by chucking my outline out the window, only to have to go outside and diligently pick up all the pieces: Please kill me now.
In which I think I know way more than I do: Wow, I’m not such a genius after all…
Ninth Novel: Storming (coming this winter!)
In which I now understand story structure enough to purposefully apply it in the outline phase: Waaaaahooooooo! Easiest book ev-ah! I am now the MASTER. *commence victory dance* Writing will never be hard again!!!
Tenth Novel: Wayfarer (current work-in-progress)
In which I rinse and repeat the process from the previous book: This is so–wait, wasn’t this supposed to be easy now? This is hard again. Why is this so hard?!
4 Things My History Can Teach You About How to Make Writing Your Novel Easier
So what are you supposed to glean from that whirlwind glimpse into my writing life?
1. Writing is a process. It’s a journey that goes both uphill and down.
2. Every book is its own adventure.
3. Experience helps you avoid mistakes that made previous books difficult.
4. But experience doesn’t necessarily equal ease of writing.
That last is what got me to thinking. Why was Storming so easy to write when Wayfarer isn’t? The process is the same. My own knowledge has only grown in the interim. I am passionate about both stories. And with Wayfarer, I even have the added benefit of coming off a tremendously affirming and confidence-building experience with Storming. So what’s the deal?
In comparing the processes and the actual stories of Storming and Wayfarer, I came up with three important things you can do to make writing your novel easier.
1. Think About It
By this I mean: learn like crazy–and particularly about the mechanics of story as a whole. Learn story theory. Gobble up story structure and its relation to characters arcs. The more you understand how to form a solid story, the easier the actual writing will be and the less you’ll have to second guess yourself while in the throes of creation.
Now, it’s true that growth is a transformative, sometimes painful evolution. If you look at my writing history, you can see that some of my most difficult writing experiences have been those in which I’ve been in the midst of learning important new storytelling principles. But I’ve always reaped the benefits in the books to follow, by which time I’ve actually mastered what I was only just learning in the previous books.
You want this stuff to become second nature, to the point that the right story decisions flow from you effortlessly. Effortless=easy. Yeah, baby!
2. Don’t Think About It
Now, really, how could this be a self-respecting writing article without a little bit of contradiction thrown in here? As much as we want to gain a conscious understanding of story mechanics and good writing, we also have to be able to set all that left-brain stuff aside and let our creativity flow whenever we sit to actually write.
Something I learned during the revision phase of Dreamlander (which was arguably the biggest period of writing growth I’ve experienced to date) was the crippling power of perfectionism. I was overthinking myself like crazy during the drafting process. I’d write a sentence, re-read it, ponder it, re-write, write another. Agony.
Then deadlines started looming, and I had no choice but to write like Barry Allen on caffeine patches. My fingers flew, the ideas poured out, I stopped over-thinking myself, and the whole thing became nearly effortless.
As much as possible, do the heavy lifting of story planning ahead of time. Then when the first draft comes along, just write. Don’t think. Just flow. Thinking is hard. But flowing? Easy-peasy.
3. Marry Yourself to the Right Material
Now, here’s the kicker. This is the biggest lesson the contrast between Storming and Wayfarer taught me. Ready for this?
Some stories are just easier to write than others.
It’s true. Not every story is created equal. Storming was one of those special stories that set itself up in such a way to make usually hard aspects of writing easy.
- It came pre-packaged with the perfect plot hook that also (wonder of wonders!) worked as a great characteristic moment.
- Its backstory was positioned ideally to allow for just the right balance of set-up and forward motion.
- Its protagonist jumped onto the page with a fantastically fun and engaging voice right from the first sentence.
None of those things were due to my perfect planning skills in the outlining stage. None of those things were due to my knowledge of story structure and arc. That’s just how the story worked out. They were gifts.
Wayfarer didn’t give me any of those things. Making Wayfarer work, especially in the beginning, was more of a challenge simply because of the demands of the story itself.
If you want an easy writing experience, you’re going to need to make sure you’re choosing a story that supports that desire. If you can identify up front whether or not a certain story idea is going to set up its integral pieces in an effortless way, then you’re pretty much guaranteed an awesome writing experience.
But . . . Should You Avoid the Hard Stories?
My first reaction to the contrast between Storming and Wayfarer was to think, Well, something must be wrong with this book. It should be just as easy as it was the last time. So what did I do right with Storming that I’m doing wrong this time around?
A little more thought and I realized: I’m not doing anything wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a story that’s challenging. Most stories are hard. It’s the rare creation whose pieces come together effortlessly, to the point the story is almost writing itself. If you chuck out every other idea, just because it seems like it might be hard to write, you’re going to be missing out on a lot of great stories.
For me, Behold the Dawn was easy to write and Dreamlander was really, really hard. But you know what? I think they both turned out pretty darn good, and they were both extremely rewarding experiences for me as a writer.
Storming was easy, and Wayfarer is hard. But I have no reason to think Wayfarer won’t turn out to be just as good as Storming. And I can tell you right now that, even though Wayfarer is not easy, it is still wildly rewarding.
There’s nothing wrong with making the effort to minimize some of the more agonizing parts of the writing process. But there’s also no reason to run from the hard stories. Embrace them. Learn from them–and then enjoy the easy stories for all they’re worth when they come around!
Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What tricks have you learned in your writing journey to make writing your novel easier? Tell me in the comments!
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