I’ve already shared my three top tools for making sure the writing gets done, it’s over on the NaNoWriMo blog, but in case you missed it the three things are – ergonomics, a timer, and rewards.
One thing I don’t address often enough is what it takes to pick a project from the dozens floating around in my head, in my notebooks, and on scraps of paper sitting around my desk. So I’m back with another top three, but this time it’s how I DARE write a book when there are so many better writers and better ideas out there, how I DECIDE which of the dozens of ideas floating around in my head, in my notebooks, and on scraps of paper all over the house. I even use messaging apps to send them to myself sometimes, in addition to actual note-taking apps. And I’ll go over how I BREATHE during and after the first draft is over.
Let’s be real, no matter what you do there’s someone better at it than you. Writing, as with all art, is so wonderfully and terribly subjective that your own opinion of who is better at it than you doesn’t match other peoples’ opinions.
So if you feel like your idea is inadequate, just remember that if all readers wanted from a book was the idea, no one would ever actually open the book. They’d look at the back cover, read it, and put it back down. “Wow, what a great idea,” they’ll say. “Glad I read that. It changed my life!”
Of course, that’s not how it works. The idea is the bait, your first chapters are the hook, and the story you tell is the boiling pot and the dinner party. (I’m working on a mermaid novel, forgive my really bad analogy.)
The idea can be the most mundane thing and still take the reader on an emotional journey. A lot of children’s books are great at this. If you’ve ever been a reader of classics like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, or countless other popular books and series set in the real world and covering everyday occurrences, you have evidence that the idea doesn’t make the novel; the story does. It seems like a lot of writers- novice and experienced, put too much importance on THE IDEA or the premise of the book. I could rant for hours about how wrong that is, but I won’t.
The story is the struggle. The journey, the pain, the human experience. That’s what people look for in a book. Whatever the genre, even in a lot of non-fiction. People want to connect. If you can connect them to the story (the struggle) your idea doesn’t mean anything.
But there are so many better writers out there!
If you learn the “rules” of writing, you’ll learn that all of your favorite writers break them. The thing is to learn them, then discard the ones that don’t actually improve your writing. Harry Potter is a great example of what you aren’t supposed to do. You aren’t supposed to write passively. You are “supposed” to stick with “said” instead of all the other dialogue tags. Most of Stephen King’s books are great examples, too. You aren’t “supposed” to have long expositions (or any) before the action starts. You also aren’t supposed to have prologues.
Writing is art. There is no such thing as “better”. There is such a thing as “more marketable” and “more successful”, so it’s better to get a lot of practice working with the rules before you decide to break them.
You can give a hundred writers the same idea and they’ll all come back with different stories. That’s what makes writing prompts so amazing. That’s why you should write your book. That’s why I need to write mine. That’s how I dare. Because I can’t pass the idea to someone else to tell the way I want it told.
Now, how do I pick, among the hundreds of half-done, half-started, and random scenes and titles I have all over the place?
I choose the ones that I think I’d actually enjoy working on, number them, and I either ask one person to pick a number from X to Y. Or I go into a random number generator and let it pick. Or I narrow it down to 6 and roll until I get doubles. Sometimes I roll until I get a number three times.
I have a LOT of ideas, and they don’t all sound fun all the time. Sometimes I know I won’t have time for the amount of research required. Sometimes the premise isn’t quite ready and I want to incubate the idea a little longer. Sometimes the project is a little precious and I don’t want to try to write it all for something like NaNoWriMo. Sometimes I want the challenging, almost daunting project.
I call it Fate. Let someone or something else choose from a few options.
So not you know why you have to write it, and what you have to write.
So how do you strike a balance between writing and life?
You just do. Ask for help, make time, wake up earlier, go to bed later, give up drinking (doesn’t sound like a time suck- it is), say no to things you don’t want to do. Check out the article I linked to for ways to stay motivated.
This month, I am participating in #Inktober, as well as a short story challenge. Every. Day. Before this month, I’ve written about two short stories in my life. Now I’ve written four in four days, and I think that three of them have actual potential. I’ve also done an ink drawing every day. And worked on revisions, and took care of my kids. And I’ve still been able to watch my favorite shows.
You can follow my Inktober progress over on Instagram
It sounds like a lot, right? And it is. The thing is, I can find a half hour to draw a picture while I drink my coffee, after I go over my to do list for the day. It takes my kids 300 times longer to eat than it takes me. I can say “Get back in your seat and finish eating or clean up your plate” while I’m drawing. My first two short stories were over 3000 words. Because I can write a short story while the dishwasher is running before I go to bed, instead of watching another episode of whatever show I’m into. I can watch TV while folding laundry, not that I actually do that, but, you know, I could. In the morning when the kids are entranced by the TV, or on the rare occasions when they actually sleep at bedtime, I can work on revisions.
All of this takes around 3 hours, spread out in little 20-30 minute increments, maybe an hour if I’m really lucky.
And if you don’t write 1666 words every day, that’s fine, too. I have depression and if I don’t get the magic formula just right to keep it at bay, writing any words can feel impossible and pointless. Bad days are okay. Good days are okay.
Let’s fast forward through the first draft.
Wow, that was easy, huh? You’ve got a big steamy pile of words in your computer (probably). You can’t wait to start fixing all the errors and making sure that it’s good.
Don’t. Instead, walk away. Put a poop emoji over all thoughts of touching it for at least a month.
If you try to fix it now, chances are you will see a big steamy pile. But if you let it cool off, you’ll come back with a fresh perspective, and you’ll see the little nuggets of gold buried in it. I
But how do you just walk away? You roll the dice again. You start doing some research on something you need to know for your next book. You do all the laundry that’s been piling up for a month. You don’t touch that manuscript until you forget which character suggested they cut the blue wire. Take a shower, visit your family, whatever you need to do. Let it go. You’ll be doing a lot of letting it go- whether you submit it to beta readers, an editor, an agent, a publisher, or directly to your audience. This is the only time you have control over what happens to it later. Make sure you have put enough distance between it and yourself before you start revising.
So there we go. Now go. Go DARE, DECIDE, and BREATHE.