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11 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Writing A Book

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1. The Rules Of Writing Are Actually Guidelines, And Nobody Knows What They Are Talking About, Not Even Writers

Know the rules so you can break them. I am a massive advocate of research and understanding the various facets of writing and storytelling. It's useful to know why writers (and some readers) are so against adverbs. What makes first person POV tick, or what on earth a crutch word is. Subversion of a trope is incredibly satisfying in most forms of media, but you can’t subvert any expectations if you don’t understand how it works.

“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” Doris Lessing. Writer Quote

2. Writing Ruins Reading

This is by far the biggest drawback of being a writer. I get itchy and annoyed when I can't find anything good to read. It's my favorite thing to do. My stress relief and my solution to a bad day. When you start writing, you run the risk of becoming an overly critical editor who approaches a book with a red pen and highlighter. Good books are more inspiring, but instead of sinking into them, they make you want to write. Bad books are depressingly numerous.

Things that never bugged you before might develop neon lights flashing around each word. Head hopping, choppy dialogue, predictable storylines. If I'm being honest, I might not have gone down this path if I had known this would happen. It's too late now. I know how the sausage is made.

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson. Author quote

3. Writing Is So Satisfying When It Works

I don’t think there is a feeling that compares to reading a chapter or a scene you’ve written and going, “holy shit, this is actually good.” Tears—actual tears of joy. And that’s just thinking about the moment.

"Writing is the only thin that when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else." Gloria Steinem. Writer quote author

4. Being A Writer Is An Experience In Extreme Arrogance And Extreme Insecurity

Likely, most writers will sympathize with this experience, the fluctuation between believing yourself to be an unparalleled genius and the biggest fool that ever walked the earth. There is something I call the Writers Lilt—alternatively the Creatives Lilt—a strange nasally voice. Often it is accompanied by a nose in the air and superiority oozing from every pore. Sometimes—and this is embarrassing—I find myself doing it. The realization that I have fallen into extreme arrogance is almost always followed by the Writer’s Cringe: a bent head, self-effacing comments, and a panicked need to escape the conversation.

“It's not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”  ― Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot. Author, Writer Quote

5. Hurting Your Characters Feels Like Kicking Puppies

It might just be me, but every time I had to hurt my characters—emotionally or physically—I felt like the worst kind of heel. Some writers struggle not to drag their characters through the dirt, splitting their lips and breaking their arms and legs, but I had the opposite experience. I had to push myself to put my main character in dire situations. All I wanted was to settle her down on a comfy couch next to the fire, hand her a cup of tea, and write her some good-natured friends to chat with. Unfortunately, that does not make for a good plot.

“No book worth its salt is meant to put you to sleep, it's meant to make you jump out of your bed in your underwear and run and beat the author's brains out.”  ― Bohumil Hrabal, Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age. Author Quote

6. First Books Only Suck If You Let Them

This point got so long and involved that I'm going to make a separate article out of it. The crux is everyone who tells you your first book will suck can stuff off. Be the exception. If you go into your first book with the idea that it will suck, then it will suck. Take this from a chronic underachiever. There is no greater contributor to the certainty that your will fail than the belief that the outcome is predetermined. Edit it till you are blue in the face, rewrite, and then rewrite again. Aim to write a good first book, and you might achieve it. First books always suck... Pfft! Pfft, I say.

“Even if you write it wrong, write and finish your first draft. Only then, when you have a flawed whole, do you know what you have to fix.” — Dominick Dunne. Author Quote

7. There Is No Magic Writer’s Trick

Everyone is chasing the elusive trick or key to writing a good story. Whether it’s a hero’s journey, character arcs, or a plethora of love triangles, writers want that magic sauce that will make people love their books. There is no secret sauce. What works for me might not work for you; a formula that makes one book a best-seller might make another unreadable. Nothing can guarantee a good story or an easy writing process.

“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham. Writer Quote

8. You Are Not Going To Be Good At Every Part Of Writing

Action scenes, dialogue, exposition, and descriptions. There are so many different areas of writing, and you aren’t going to be equally skilled at all of them. Some areas will be a struggle, and you’ll likely need advice on how to proceed. Other areas will flow so smoothly that writing will be a delight.

I struggled with action scenes, and I love to write dialogue. We are all different.

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard Bach.  Writer quote

9. Not Everyone (Almost no one) Will Be Supportive.

Don’t be surprised when friends and family are less than supportive of your writing career. Telling people, you are a writer is often akin to telling them you work at Hogwarts. People would have reacted better if I had told them I was contemplating a life as a career criminal or joining an MLM. I placate the masses by letting them know I am a content writer that receives mild contempt, but it’s better than bringing up my magic book.

To a degree, I get it. I get that there is a ‘hobby’ feeling around writing. Like writers have mastered a particularly complicated crochet pattern. Many years ago, a friend asked me to read her manuscript. The idea horrified me. What would I do if I didn’t like it? How would I tell her? I read the first chapters, tears ‘thudded’ on the floor, and I was out. I regret that decision. I should have read it and given her honest feedback. It was an unedited first draft; of course, tears were going to thud.

“To defend what you’ve written is a sign that you are alive.” William Zinsser, WD. Author quote

10. Writing Is Hard For Ever Writer, Not Just You

There are moments of great despair when you write, moments when you will feel like you are talentless, artless, and without a single merit in your entire body. You will romanticize other writers' processes. Apply highly romanticized Instagram filters onto their day, envisioning steaming cups of cocoa and antique typewriters. Writers who sail through every page with nary a frown line to mar their day.

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Sol Stein or Ernest Hemingway. Author Quote

Console yourself with the knowledge that writing is difficult for everyone. Every author has scowled at their monitor and howled at the moon at some point. There is polished perfection to a final book, one that hides the tears and the drama.

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Thomas Mann. Author Quote

11. If There Is A Magic Writing Bullet, It’s An Editor

In my quest for the magic bullet, the secret to making writing easy— or at least marginally less frustrating—I stumbled onto a Brandon Sanderson interview where he and his three editors went through their process. Unfortunately, I can't find it anymore, but I'll link it if I do. It was a revelation. His books aren't written in isolation. They are written as part of a team. He has three editors, each of whom specializes in a particular section. His books are a collaboration of sorts, while a new writer is doing three people's jobs all on our own. Editors are an underestimated magic. The difference between a new writer and published writer might just be an editor.

An editor doesn't just read, he reads well, and reading is a creative, powerful act. H.G Wells. Author quote


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