This is a bit late. Again. But at least it’s in the right month…
The first half of May was Michelle revising first draft of Cast in Deception (as noted below, I messed up the title because, umm, it’s not War >.<). so it could become submission draft. This took a bit longer than I had originally planned. The second half of May was War and the start of the as yet unnamed Severn story.
But mostly, it was War. Which is not finished yet.
I’ve mentioned that I work on two different books simultaneously until I reach the end of one of them, at which point, I don’t have the mental space for anything but the book that is ending. It’s just that the ending of War is longer than many short novels in this day and age, because while it’s the end of a book, it’s also the end of an arc comprised of seven books.
I think I should be able to finish it on my annual writing retreat in Brisbane.
Elsewhere on the internet, a piece of writing advice – such as it is – was posted. Authors across my various feeds have commented on it. The title of the article is: If You Want to Write a Book, Write Every Day or Quit Now.
I remember being a new author. I remember writing my first novel with an intent to submit it for publication. I was working full-time with Tanya Huff at the time, and she had sold her first novel to DAW (Child of the Grove). She was therefore, in the days when the internet was not what it is now, my resident expert.
She had thoughts. She had advice. She had fairly rigid beliefs in how a novel was written. For one, she thought a novel couldn’t be written without an outline.
I faithfully tried that method. Both she and I believed, because that method had been tested and had been successful – she’d sold her book, after all – that it was good advice; we both believed it worked because it had, demonstrably, worked. I wrote my outline. And then I started my book. After about ten pages (standard manuscript format, which is also almost an artifact of dinosaurs), I had to go back and revise the outline, because the part of the outline I was writing had changed. And of course that meant I had to revise the rest of the outline. So I did.
And the next day, after four pages, I had to go back and revise the outline again. And the day after. I think it was three days before I had to revise the outline again – but I was at the very beginning of the outline. And… this was frustrating, to me. I had spent way more time revising the outline than I had writing the book.
And I gave up on the outline. I told Tanya I had given up on the outline. And then I wrote the book. When it was done, I gave it to Tanya, and she told me that she honestly had not believed I would be able to finish the book because: outline.
So it taught us both something important: there’s no Right Way to approach a novel.
Neither Tanya nor I said “you must write every day if you want to be a writer”. We were both working full-time. We both, however, said you must write. And, if you want to be a writer, then yes, that seems obvious: you must write.
I think the “write every day” advice is an over-application of the “you must write” advice. I know writers who do not write every day, and they finished their books and went on to be published. I also know people who talked about the books they were writing – but who didn’t, ultimately, finish those books because they did not write.
It’s frustrating when you’re struggling. I get that. In fact, it’s still frustrating to me at times – if it weren’t, Touch and Grave would have been finished long before they were.
But a younger writer came into the bookstore where I work, and we started to talk about writing, and she asked me a question about writing process. And I realized that while I could talk about my process, it might be entirely irrelevant to hers.
So I said, “This is not meant to be mean or to be vague; I’m not hesitating because I have The Secret and I don’t want to share. Process at its heart is about how to start — and finish — a novel. But… You only start to understand your own process when you’ve found one process, any one, that gets your novel from page one to the end. If that process is standing on your head and typing with your toes, which might sound totally strange and impossible to anyone else, that’s ultimately your process. It’s what gets you from the beginning to the end. And… until you get to the end, however messily, you don’t really have a process yet. You haven’t discovered what your own process ultimately is.”
But the example of Tanya Huff and I is illustrative, here. We start on page one. We write. We get to the end. (There is whining in between, and frustration, and days where we drag our heels, or lose words to real life interruptions.) We don’t do it the same way. We don’t have the same process. Having to use each other’s process would not work out well for us.
It’s why I really hesitate to give writing advice. There’s a natural tendency to look at people you deem successful in one way or another and trust that they know what they’re doing. I’m always vaguely terrified that people will try to adopt what I’m doing the way I tried to adopt Tanya’s process and try to bend themselves around the wrong process–and feel like a failure because they can’t make it work.
And to be fair, once you have a process in place, you can refine it. You can even change it up completely later down the road, when you better understand what helps, and what hinders, you. You can look at the parts of a book that were agony to write, and you can try to figure out if that agony was story based or process, keeping what did work (more) smoothly, and shifting your approach for the painful bits. Even individual process can, and will, change. Tanya stopped outlining, for a while. Friends who never outlined in the past have started to find outlines really useful for a book or two.