This is my list of things I’ve learned about writing that I didn’t know the first time I wrote a book:
Sleep is paramount. I’ve learned the hard way that not enough sleep equals absolutely no energy to be creative with. If I want to write after work, I must have slept well the night before.
Reading feeds your subconscious. Where does writing come from? The subconscious. You have to feed yours if you want it to spit out amazing ideas. I’ve learned that if I don’t read new work consistently I sputter into non-creativity.
You must be true to the vision, not the words themselves. This is a tough lesson for every writer to learn, but eventually you do learn that your words are not sacred. And yes, you will have to kill your darlings. You will have to swallow the fact that your readers all agree a certain scene or phrasing isn’t working for them, and give up the individual words to make the brain-picture you desire come across clearer.
Speaking of readers, let me quote this article about John Green where he says, “We must strike down the insidious lie that a book is the creation of an individual soul labouring in isolation.” Everyone gets edited. Even presidents. Even the Pope. Even best-sellers. Even Stephen King. We all NEED editing because of the blindness in our own brains. We cannot create gold in the darkness. We need the light of other peoples’ eyes to make a great book. Good critique partners will improve your work every time.
I have also learned that people who love books but don’t have any publishing knowledge don’t make the best critique partners. Use people who know about selling books, not just reading them.
You should know acceptable manuscript lengths, and chapter lengths, BEFORE you start writing.
I was fine with being a pantser when I was younger, but now that my writing time is shorter and I’m more focused on creating a sellable product, I’m definitely a plotter. I want to make sure the story works, and is marketable, before I put hundreds of hours of effort into it.
If I can’t envision the first scene, the story probably won’t work out. This is something it actually took me 9.5 years to figure out. For all of the books I actually finished, I had a definite starting point in mind. For all the ideas that are glorious but occur midway through the story, I never actually figure out how to write.
Essentially, if I’m thinking of the book in sentences, we’re good to go. If I only have pictures in my mind, it’s a dead end.
Trust your instincts. If you get advice that doesn’t resonate, don’t take it. (Of course, sometimes you get advice you don’t LIKE, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t resonate.) If you get that suspicion your plot isn’t working, figure out why.
Let your characters tell you what they truly want, instead of trying to wedge them into your plot. Usually what they really want is far more interesting than what you had planned anyway.
Sometimes you have to be firm with your writing space and schedule, and not let anyone pull you away, and not give in to your own need for distractions.
Everyone works differently. You don’t have to be a word machine to be successful. You don’t have to write a 500-page worldbuilding document before you begin, although some find it helpful. You are not any other writer, and your path will not be the same.
There is no singular throne. No one has to be toppled for you to succeed. There is only your own glorious ascension ;-)
In personal news, I’m renovating my guest bedroom for when my BFF comes to visit for a week next month. I’m also finishing up the last edits on ACORAS (this battle scene was killing me omg). Other than that, I’m very boring right now.
What have you learned about writing that you didn’t know before your first book?