We’re nearing the homestretch of NaNoWriMo, and if you’re anything like me, you’re already dying a slow and painful death at the hands of Creative Overexertion — otherwise known as Mental Combustion. I don’t understand these people who get their 50,000 words done within the first two weeks.
You people are superhuman.
Anyway, in keeping with the writing theme of November, I decided to write down the ten most important things I’ve learned about writing over the last few years, the things that every new writer should know.
Basically, all the things I wish someone had told me when I was but a wee sapling.
Are you ready? (Probably not, but I’m going to start anyway.)
#1 — You actually are terrible.
WHOA, WHOA, don’t look so betrayed. No human being wakes up one morning, thinks to himself, “I’m going to try my hand at ice-sculpting!” and armed with nothing but his chisel and a handful of inspirational Disney slogans turns a hunk of ice into Elsa’s face.
Nope. That ice is going to look more like the mutated snow monster who pitched everyone off the cliff.
And you know what? That’s okay. Everyone is terrible when they try something new. Do you remember how awful your handwriting looked when your mother first taught you how to sign your name? Chances are, it doesn’t look like that anymore.
(I use this comparison with great trepidation, considering some people’s handwriting looks worse than when they first started.)
The point is, if you keep chiseling away at that ice, you’re gonna get better. It may take months or it may take years, but it WILL happen if you work hard. Hang in there.
#2 — You are not Tolkien.
And believe it or not, naming your characters Frydo, Araborn, or
Emolas Egolas isn’t nearly as subtle as you think.
#3 — LEARN HOW TO TYPE.
#4 — Anything above 50,000 words is considered a novel.
Yeah. You’re not the only one who used to think the category of “novel” only applied to cheesy mass-market tomes of Satan that old ladies read.
#5 — Criticism is not a personal attack.
One day when you’re old and haggard and CAN’T FIND ANYONE WHO WILL TELL YOU WHAT THEY ACTUALLY THINK ABOUT YOUR STUPID BOOK, you will appreciate the days of your youth, when a few brave souls mentally scarred you for DARING to mention the incorrect use of an apostrophe.
Criticism is the refining fire that will turn a rough draft into a polished novel. Yes, it hurts. Yes, you’ll hate it. Yes, it may leave you questioning life, the universe, and your entire self-worth as a writer. But no matter how bad it makes you feel, it’s necessary to make you better. Do not take it as a critique of your overall skill.
And please, PLEASE don’t dis what others have to say about your book. The more you treat them like their opinions are worthless, the more likely they’ll be to only tell you what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear to make you a better writer.
On that note–
#6 — When insecurity hits…
…just remember that Victor Hugo wrote a 1,200-page monstrosity of a book filled with excruciatingly long info dumps, random pointless characters who did nothing but die, and a romance that almost beats Twilight in the Insipid & Unrealistic department.
That book is named Les Miserables.
It is hailed as one of The Greats.
There is hope for your failure of a novel.
#7 — Your 1st Draft isn’t your Last Draft.
There’s this little thing called “editing.” It will probably consume at least seven more years of your life, so stop agonizing over EVERY SINGLE WORD of your rough draft. Believe me, you’ll have plenty of time to make them perfect later.
(And yes, I’m partly speaking to myself right now. #HypocritesUnite)
#8 — Just because you don’t know much about writing doesn’t mean other writers will judge you.
We’ve all been in the same boat at some point in our writing history. Most of us still are. I have openly admitted (numerous times) that I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing. I just wing it and pretend I’m right.
(Not exactly a method I recommend, but here we are.)
The point is this: Your ignorance only looks bad if you don’t want to overcome it. There is no shame in admitting to a more experienced author that you haven’t the foggiest idea what a character-arc is, or how to properly structure your plot. If you’re eager to learn, they’ll forgive you in a heartbeat.
#9 — If someone tells you there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with your book…
…they are lying to you.
#10 — God is looking out for you.
I saved this one for last because it’s the most important thing on this list, and I need the space to blather. Young writers, take heed:
Writing a book is hard.
You start with stars in your eyes. You start with nothing but a notebook and a dream bigger than your entire world, and in the seconds it takes to write those first few words of the first chapter of your first book, you are unconquerable. This story is your life. This story burns inside your brain, begging to be let out, begging to be shared with the world. And in that moment of your beginning, nothing exists but your dreams and this story.
Fast forward a few years.
You’re tired. Your hand throbs from writers’ cramp. Your forehead is permanently embedded into your desk from constantly banging them together. Writers’ block has become a loyal companion. Your characters won’t DO what you WANT THEM TO and your plot just collapsed into a plot-hole the size of the Grand Canyon, with no conceivable solution. Not to mention your most trusted proof-reader finally confessed that they hate your story, and now you’ve got a dump truck load of self-doubt and emotional baggage pouring over your head.
This story isn’t working. This story you loved so much is actually horrible. This story that held all your goals and dreams has slowly crushed your soul into the murky lagoon of frustration and hopelessness.
And you will find yourself asking the question:
Is this even worth it?
I’d like to argue that it’s not.
*and the masses gasp with horror*
Hear me out. The book of Ecclesiastes has quite a bit to say about the aimless pursuits of life. There’s nothing new under the sun, all is vanity, etc. You think your story idea is special? Well, NEWS FLASH! Someone else has already used it. You think your book will be remembered? Well, NEWS FLASH! That’s what every author thinks, and if you believe you’ll be the next Charles Dickens, you’re either deluded or inconceivably arrogant.
Life by itself has no meaning. All Christians agree about this. The only way to make your life count is to dedicate it to Jesus and let him make a perfect work out of your useless self.
The same holds true for our books.
Beginning authors, if you want your writing to be meaningful — truly meaningful — you HAVE to write for God. There’s no way out of this one. Maybe everyone will still hate your book, and maybe you’ll never make it past the status of Failed Self-Publisher. But the work that God will do in your heart through your book is more important than how successful you become. He will pull you through the insecurity. He will give you inspiration when you feel like torching your brain. He will give you purpose even when you struggle, even when you doubt, even when you fail.
With that kind of foundation, you really are unconquerable.
So YEAH. There you go. Sarah’s Big Ten. I’d like to think you learned something useful from all this, but the biggest takeaway here is probably that Emolas used to be a Legolas ripoff.
Key words = Used to be. I’m glad to say he’s grown a lot since those days.
And apparently it’s Thanksgiving, sooo… Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Eat turkey. Sing songs. Pretend you’re pilgrims. All that jazz. Today, I am thankful for my faithful blog followers. You guys are amazing.
*everyone dies of feelz*