People often ask me how I finish a first draft so quickly, or how I manage to write at all. “It’s easy,” I tell them. “I sit down and I write.”
When I was drafting up my first novel failure, long ago, I don’t think I could have completed it without the help I received online. I had stumbled across some website while searching tips and tricks on writing a novel. The premise of the site was this: they would give you some inspiration quote every day, and you finish your novel in 100 days or less. I was still learning the industry, and figured that I would need 80,000 words to get to a finished novel that might be received well. That’s 800 words per day.
When I started, I tried to eloquently tart-up every sentence, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. I knew the steps in the story. I saw the whole thing in my mind, but I couldn’t get it down on paper. One of the first pieces of advice I garnished from my online searches was to “write something every day and keep the story moving forward.” Advice I took to heart. I stopped looking back to the previous chapters and paragraphs, I stopped editing myself while writing. I made a rule that I could read over the last paragraph or two, but then I had to move forward. I told myself that finishing the first draft was the most important thing, and I had the rest of my life to edit it.
Day after day, writing became easier. I stopped using needlessly wordy sentences, and started spitting story content. Up to 2,000 words per day. As the quotes kept coming, I realized that a first draft is nothing more than an outline with every detail hashed out. The sentences were garbage. I also knew myself well enough. If I didn’t finish in two months, I never would. I have this thing, maybe because I’m a Pisces, where I get bored easily, and give up on a new project or hobby if it doesn’t hold my interest.
Word by word, chapter by chapter, I finished that stupid book, picking up writing wisdom in the meantime. I made another rule at some point that I would read one blog post or article on “how to write” every day, so I could hone my craft, and learn “on the job.”
I went to start my edit. I remember very clearly staring at that first sentence and having paranoid thoughts that somebody intentionally sabotaged my work. “This is horrible!” In that instant, I knew what separated the novelist from the aspiring writer. You can take all the classes you want, spend all of your time reading about the art of writing, memorizing grammar and punctuation rules, but all of it will never teach you as much as the act of actually writing a novel. My writing progressed so much while drafting that I could no longer recognize my own words!
I did a full editing pass. Changed everything. Let the story rest. Then I went back to page one, and, once again, looked in horror at the paragraph I had assumed was tight. Start over, another editing pass, and then another. Every single time I went back to chapter one, my writing had improved, so it looked like garbage again. I haven’t looked at that manuscript in years, and frankly, I’m afraid to.
After learning the art of querying and agent hunting, a friend told me that maybe I should start on another book. I didn’t listen right away, but eventually I started a new book, and another, and another. I didn’t care about being published any more. I had stories clogging up my brain and needed them out. Before I published any of my current works, I had amassed several novels in various editorial stages, dozens of articles and short stories, and started freelancing.
Now I realize that all of it—the books, the articles, the rejection letters, and any success I’ve had—came from one simple concept. Write something every day. Even when I’m editing a big manuscript, I still find time to write. I keep a journal, I post blog articles, I freelance. I do whatever I can to get at least 500 new words on paper every single day. There is no substitute for writing, and just because the querying process has begun, it doesn’t mean you get to take a break. I can look at something I wrote 3 months ago and think of half a dozen things to fix. After a decade, my writing is still improving every day. There’s no substitute for words on a page.
This post is submitted as Guest Post by Martin McConnell