writing

What I’ve Learned About Writing

As I pass the halfway point in year two of taking writing seriously, I’m able to look back and see all of the wonderful lessons I’ve learned. It’s really something amazing that I can compile a good sized list of these things after such a short time. Since I am able to put together a list, I figure it would be best to share it, too. Maybe in another two years I’ll have even more to add to it. Without further adieu, here’s what you’re looking for:

1. Just write.

I’ve learned more about writing as a whole from just sitting down and doing it than I did from any video, story, or book. Sure, YouTube has great inspiration and a lot of really good interviews, but no one can tell you about your voice. No blog is going to be able to tell you how much time your mind will be able to dedicate to working on your story. Am I good at writing longer, elaborate sentences, or short ones that get to the point? Do I like to make my characters suffer, or do I prefer writing them as witnesses to suffering.

There are so many things that can’t be covered in videos and blogs that you will only learn by writing, it’s not worth it spending a ton of time on “research”. That said, reading as many books as possible has been a huge help in me finding my voice and style.

2. Finish it.

Finish the thought. Finish the page. Finish the chapter. Finish the book. Whatever it is, forget about the unrealistic dialogue and back-and-forth time line. If you think you’re going to edit while you’re writing a project, you’re never going to finish the project. Accept that your first draft will be horrible and write until you get to the end.

While working towards the end goal, I have learned to pay attention to the bigger picture. Who cares what color the curtains are right now? What matters is that all major plot points are covered. You need a beginning, and end, and the parts that put those together to make sense. This broader frame of mind helped me get to the point where I felt comfortable jumping around between parts in a novel sized project.

The reason I say that is jumping around has brought me major suffering in the past. The first project I wanted to work on is actually what I’m finishing up right now. After drafting up a crazy detailed outline, I figured I could write whatever section I felt like working on at the time. Once I finished everything I thought was interesting, I’d put the pieces together.

Well, that resulted in confusion, mass hysteria, and a complete rewrite. At this point, I think I actually used maybe 15 pages of the original material. Why was jumping around such a problem for me? I’d never completed a project of that magnitude before. The concept of what the completed product would look like was totally foreign to me. Sure, I’d read books of all sizes before, but not my own. Not this story.

Now, with two completed first drafts under my belt, returning to this one has been a billion times easier. It’s still work, I still have to make myself sit down and write, but I’m nowhere near as overwhelmed as I was on the first attempt.

3. Let things stew.

One of the first things I read somewhere in a writing tips list was Stephen King saying something like “Good ideas don’t need to be written down because they’ll stick in your head”. That’s definitely not the exact quote, but that’s what I needed to remember. While you’re waiting on the next big idea to come to you, or maybe you can’t decide which way an event should play out, work on a short story of some kind. Keep writing, but let bigger ideas sit in the back of your head. Here’s how my first year and a half have went:

One day while writing poetry, the idea for novel one popped into my head.
Power through fist novel’s outline in a few days.
Start first chapter. Quickly become overwhelmed, which I misperceive as bored.
Have the idea for novel two. Start thinking about that plot, working on one.
Jump around until I’ve become scared and confused. Don’t know where I am.
Set that project aside and write a much leaner outline for novel two.
With room to play, I enjoy writing novel two from start to finish.
Spend mid-March to Oct 31 completing first draft of novel two.
Somewhere in here I had the idea for novel three.
Nov 1 I start novel three with nothing but a single sentence as an outline.
Dec 1 novel three is done. Nanowrimo was horrible, I never wanted to repeat it.

Here I took a few months off to forget the hell that was Nanowrimo.
Mid-March, I’m back in the game. I open up novel one and start reading.
Decide it’s trash, rewrite starting at the first word.
Five chapters in, my editor hands me her edits for novel two.
I decide to finish novel one, but I have the idea for novel four.
One day, I wrote out a few notes and a small outline for four, just in case.

Now it’s August, I’ve got a draft of novel two back from my editor, 41k words into the rewrite of novel one, and I’ve been thinking about nothing other than the plot for novel four for months. That’s alright, because I’m going to finish novel one’s rewrite by the end of the month (hopefully), then edit two. November first, I’m starting Nanowrimo again, for some fucked up reason, and I’ll be shooting to complete 50k minimum of novel four.

This screwed up, mish-mash timeline gave me time to think about so much! The complex plot of novel one sat in my mind for so long that my rewrite is ten times better than the first draft. Novel four, a story that I’m really looking forward to writing, will have been stewing for almost a year by the time November first comes around. That stew has been distracting me from the edits I need to make on novel two, so now I get to read it with fresh eyes when I finally get to it. During all this time, I’ve been writing, but I’ve also had at least three books in my head. If something’s been lost in the mix, it probably wasn’t worth remembering. It especially wouldn’t have been worth writing down. Had I been able to start all of these projects when I thought of them, they wouldn’t be as mature as they’re going to turn out. I can tell that just because time has passed. Time that I’ve spent writing.

4. Ignore feedback.

I’ve been told that I need to stop writing poetry and/or novels. I’ve been told my editing sucks, I should find a different editor, that I need to read everything I write out loud before considering it done. Some of this is from strangers, some of it is from friends. Initially, sure, I’m butt hurt and think maybe those people are right. To be fair, I did try to see things from their point of view and give those people the benefit of the doubt. Then I realized this:

I write for myself, and maybe for you, but not for those people.

It’s been a long time since I started writing. Before that, I was making music. I’ve dabbled in drawing. What I’m trying to say, is that I’ve been an artist my entire life. You learn pretty quickly that not everyone is going to enjoy your art. Maybe it’s the endeavor into the unknown that threw me off this time, but I definitely duped myself. My friends like Vonnegut, and so do I, so they’ll like my stories, I said to myself. I love Bukowski, and it shows in my poetry, so people will love that. WRONG!

You know what, though? Feedback is stupid. There’s an art to giving it, and an art to receiving it, and at this point I’m not going to be bothered with learning either. I’m still learning to write. My work probably does suck. It will suck to some people even when it’s good, though. What’s the big deal if it sucks? I just like to write, pay for a cover to be done, and put a book up for sale. Besides, as they say, you’re writing for one person. That one person may not have found your work, yet.

5. The tools make (almost) no difference.

Every once in a while on r/writing, the question pops up. What program do you
write in?

People love to drop the name of their current favorite software into the comments, like it’s going to blow someone’s mind. Everyone’s got an opinion, etc. etc.

Here’s the skinny. George R. R. Martin writes on an incredibly old computer that can’t even connect to the internet. You think he’s using Word 2016? Maybe have a program to write in and a program to edit. Write as much as you can before you invest money, so you can properly evaluate whatever application it is you think you need. For example, when I was streaming on Twitch, I wrote my short stories in SonicPi. That’s a music coding program, but it’s easily the most aesthetically pleasing program that you can put letters into. I made some really good progress using it. Wouldn’t trade that adventure in writing for anything. SonicPi isn’t going to cut it as a serious text editor, sure, but it’s an example of bending tools to work for you. Writing isn’t a nail and Scrivener isn’t a hammer. If your program does everything you need, awesome. If not, awesome. The process is more about flexing your brain until you get that copy back from your editor and are pushing on publishing on kindle or paper.

I will say that I like having an editor like Hemingway. My sentences (in my novels and stories) tend to be shorter. Editing a chapter at a time in Hemingway really helps me maintain the style I’ve come to enjoy building my stories in. I promise you that your combination of tools will be totally different than 99% of those people on whatever forum. Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

So that’s it. That’s all I can think of right now. Some of this may end up meaning a lot to you, some may blow away on the wind. Like I said before, nothing is going to help you like pure, plain old writing. The rest is more supplemental, and really just what I learned from sitting down to do the work. Whatever this brain dump may turn out to be in the end, to you, or to me, I hope it’s helpful.

Keep an eye out for my next poetry book “In Your Gourd, Off the Dime” coming out this fall. After that, sometime towards the beginning of 2019, will be my second novel, “This Close to Sitting Ducks”. After that, there’s way more to come, so thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

Here’s my first novel:

Like what you read? Leave a comment below!

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