What I Wish I’d Known Before I Started

#1 There is a lot of writing that isn’t writing.

Okay, so by “next week,” I apparently meant, “whenever I can get myself to actually write this.” Seriously, I’ve just completely lost my mind as of late.

I’m just having an existential crisis. It’s fine. Really.
Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

What seems like forever ago, I explained a bit about what I’ve been up to. My struggle to get a freakin grip has been great, but it has allowed me to understand this part of the writing process all the better. Hopefully I can help anyone out there who is struggling or even keep someone from struggling like I have by explaining exactly what I wish I understood before I started this new career path.

Let’s just do this

There is a lot of writing that isn’t writing

This sentence may not make a lot of sense right now, but hang on to your hat. 

My current WIP is a novel I started a loooooong time ago and then kept putting away. When I finally decided that it was time for me to finish something, I did a lot of writing. But it wasn’t really writing. It was planning and analyzing and worldbuilding and character creating. I summarized and outlined. Explored different options. Journaled. 

This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but I used all of this to avoid actually writing the damn story. I spent months on this, and not in a constructive way. I was afraid to try again, afraid I was gonna mess up what I had, or I didn’t really have it in me anymore. Every time I sat down to work, my inner critic kneecapped my ass. So I kept procrastinating by writing casual thoughts instead of actual prose.

I’ve gone back to refer to some of it, since not all of it was useless. It’s good to plan sometimes, it makes for a more organized story. But I was obsessing over getting it perfect, and “Perfect,” as the saying goes, “is the opposite of done.”

Because I spent so much time on prep, I felt everything I wrote should be exactly what I wanted it to be the very first time around, making it impossible to have an enjoyable writing session. Every word was painful, every sprint a slog, and my productivity and mental health completely tanked.

This brings me to the next thing I wish I knew:

Don’t worry about the “correct” way to write

Part of the problem I had with all this prep was that I kept worrying about how “real authors” wrote. I still do sometimes, and it’s (probably) literally killing me. Don’t. 

It doesn’t matter if you write your book in one language and then translate it. It doesn’t matter if you write it all in order or in pieces. It doesn’t matter if you only write dialogue and then add in tags and actions later. Want to write a scene but don’t know what the scenery looks like? Fuck descriptions. Don’t know your character’s name yet? Gary. Their name is Gary now.

If you want to write utter trash in some dialect of Dumfuk and then translate it into Writer later? Ask yourself: “Does this advance my actual story at all?” If the answer is yes, do that shit.

This sounds like it contradicts the previous point, but it really doesn’t. The previous point was more “prewriting”: planning and scheming and building. This one refers to whether or not the actual book text has been added to, whether you end up keeping that text or not. The prewriting will help you understand where your writing will go (for now), but you have literally nothing until the actual writing gets done.

Finish your shit

YOU CAN’T GET A BOOK WRITTEN UNTIL YOU WRITE IT. Like all the way. For real.

There is a certain amount of encouragement that comes from having finished something. Anything. Once you can say, “I made this,” instead of “I’m planning of making this,” or “I’m trying to make this,” there is a slightly different flavor of pride there.

This doesn’t mean that if you are still working on your first book or whatever you aren’t a “real writer.” It just means you have something solid you can hold in your hands and show off, and that’s farther than a lot of people get.

I am struggling hard with this right now. I keep sitting down to write and then chickening the hell out. Because of this, today I promised myself that I will write however many words I can manage, no matter how terrible or casual or cliched or whatever they may be (and they will, I’m sure of it), just to get them on paper. This includes this post, so that’s a thing I guess.

Bonus tip

If you used to be able to write all the time, then you decide to raise the stakes on and improve the quality of your writing and suddenly stop being able to write at all, go back to how you wrote before. 

I used to imagine ridiculous scenarios that seemed exciting or scary and then wrote it down, editing for realism later. Then I tried to write professionally and something happened where I completely forgot my whole process, killing my ability to write much of anything for very long. The process turned into sitting in front of computer and trying to will words out of my brain that paint a picture. Spoiler alert: it was very unsuccessful.

When I finally remembered my old (useful) process, I felt so stupid. Don’t be me. 

Anyway

I feel like if I had known and understood all of these things from the beginning, I wouldn’t be in the state I am now. Maybe someone out there will read and internalize these ideas before they set out and have a much easier time, but more than likely you either already know these things or are already having a really hard go of it now.

Either way, unless you are literally depending on your writing to eat, it all comes down to: chill the f out and do what you gotta do. Which I am not very good at doing in the first place, so I have a long way to go. Luckily I have several writer friends who are helping me to remember this as I go, so we’ll see.

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