Six Things I Learned When Writing Bad Books.
Writing a book isn’t a dirty secret.
When writing Bad Books I tried to become more involved in the writing community, and it struck me how hard some aspiring authors found it to “come out” as a writer.
Many seem embarrassed about their work, keeping their cards close to their chest, hiding their fledgling novels from friends and family.
Perhaps you’re worried people will make fun of you? Maybe you think people will tell you that you can’t do it? So you hide your work.
You really don’t need to do this. It took me a while to open up to people about my aspirations of authordom, but after becoming so involved with my project, it was almost impossible to keep it to myself.
And you know what?
The overwhelming majority of people were positive. Most of my friends offered to read Bad Books when it was a work-in-progress, offering opinions and pointing out plot faults which proved to be incredibly useful.
The main takeaway from this point is: you require other people to help you finish your novel.
How are you going to find people to help you if they don’t even know that you’re writing?
Self discipline is your most useful tool.
Self publishing gives aspiring authors opportunities we could have only dreamt of twenty years ago. Most forms of e-publishing have virtually no gate keepers, no barriers, no hoops to jump through before freeing your novel from hard drive.
So what is an aspiring author’s biggest obstacle? I’m afraid to tell you my friend, that it is you.
Think about it. Who is actually holding you back?
Now you can write, get your work edited and upload it online – for free or very cheaply.
How easy is that?
Not very, as it turns out. If you’re anything like me, your mind will be saturated with about 5 novel ideas at any one time, and just picking one and sticking with it long enough to produce 90,000 words or so requires discipline as it is, before then staying committed to it again to go through two more drafts, or possibly more.
Discipline require sacrifice. You need to sacrifice your other ideas, at least while you work on your current book, to actually finish something.
There’s nothing more tragic than a document folder full of half finished first drafts, brilliant first three chapters which never get added to, and great plots which you never do anything with.
Many of us have a hard time with the word “discipline”, associating it with restricted freedom and being in bed by 8 as a young child when it was still light outside. Maybe we’d have a better relationship with self discipline if we instead called it “focusing”.
In this context, discipline and focus are much the same thing. What does it mean to focus? To constantly apply attention to one thing – in this case, your work in progress.
Without focus, nothing gets finished. And if you never finish, how are you going to publish?
There’s a “prime time” to write.
Is all the talk of self-discipline at bit too much for you? Having visions of having to slave away with grim determination at your laptop, hoping that it is going to pay off for you?
Many writers seem to think self-discipline means forcing yourself to write, but that isn’t true – that’s probably the worst thing you can do.
Some are capable of producing good work, all day, every day. I’m not among those writers.
I need to write in a certain window of time, when my creative juices are flowing at their most free.
For me, that’s from about 9am until 1pm. I’m not saying I always work solidly for all four hours each day, but if I’m going to write, that is when I always do it. When I do, the phones don’t get answered, emails are not checked. I’m in the zone.
I know that for many people, particularly those working 9-5, those very specific times won’t be possible – but you should still try and find a window which works for you.
Some work best early in the morning. Some can only write at night. If you want to be productive while you write, find this window of time when you can produce your best work, and guard it jealously.
If you’re planning on writing for a block of two hours or more, treat it like any other kind of work. Schedule in breaks, eat and drink if you have to. This isn’t about being a slave. You still need to be happy to be productive.
Sometimes you have to walk away.
Writer’s Block will get you at some stage. As certain as death and taxes, it will come, seemingly for no reason, and stop your flow, like an invisible barrier stopping your story from developing further.
What causes it? Who knows? Who cares? All we care about is getting over it.
A quick Google will give you many different takes on how to beat this invisible menace, from brainstroming, to forcing yourself to write something, anything which advances your novel.
What worked for me, was devilishly simple.
You will need:
One arse to get out of chair.
One laptop to put down.
Something else to do.
It really is that simple. Yes, it is contradiction of my second, and to a certain degree, my third point, but rules were made to be broken?
Writing a novel uses the brain’s creative faculties, which rather like the creative individuals it serves, works best when it is left to do its own thing.
This is one of those things I wish I’d known years ago.
Why do you think ideas come to you when you’re washing the car, cutting the lawn, in the bath, or out for a walk? Great ideas and flashes of inspiration often come to us when we’re in some activity we can put our brains in neutral to complete.
In other words, inspiration for any creative endeavour comes most often to us when we’re not pressuring ourselves to produce an idea.
Give what you’re trying to achieve a little bit thought, then do something else. Clean the bloody toilet if you have to: just do something that isn’t writing, and when you come back to it, nine times out of ten, you’ll find the blocks have gone.
For the love of God, don’t edit your work while you write it.
I know that it is tempting. You’re halfway through a chapter, and you spot an error. You want to go and fix it don’t you? Like picking at a scab or biting on ulcer, it’s difficult to resist, but the effects will be undesirable.
Editing my work as I went used to be one of my worst writing habits. Why?
Everything takes longer. Rather than diving in and advancing the book, you’re going over what you’ve already got. Not only does this slow your progress, and de-motivates you because it’s taking longer to finish pages and chapters. And it’s boring. You’ve only just written that. Writing will start to feel like Groundhog Day. Who wants to work like that?
It’s pointless. No really, it is.
If you are just starting out as a writer, and you are making progress on your first draft, you may not have considered this yet, but the first draft is exactly that: a first draft.
A first draft, more often than not, is nothing more than creative vomit, which spews straight out of your brain, onto your keyboard before soaking into the page on screen.
You will find plotholes, whole pages and chapters which don’t even need to be there and even characters which could end up being cut out your novel altogether. Bad Books changed so dramatically first the first draft, editing what I already had would have been wasted time and energy.
I only really needed to edit on the third draft, and only started once I’d finished it.
This doesn’t mean you should start doing silly things like ditch grammar or writing something into your drafts which you know full well isn’t up to task, because that is extra work you’re giving yourself (and/or your editor) further down the line for no reason.
But if you start your writing day by editing what you wrote the day before, you’re just spinning your wheels.
You my finish with something totally different to what you started with.
If you haven’t yet read Bad Books, I won’t give away any spoilers, but the first draft was a very different book – so different, 50% of it was scrapped a re-written because the plot changed so much.
Wasn’t that annoying? Not in the slightest. Reading that first draft through, I had a nagging feeling that it was lacking something. It lacked thrust and direction.
Then I had an idea. A radical one. It involved some characters getting killed off who were originally down to survive the book, some angels becoming demons and visa versa.
But it didn’t matter. I knew, deep down, that I now had a much better basis for a book (can you now see why it’s so important to resist editing as you write?).
If this happens to you, don’t get frustrated. It’s very rare that something leaves the drawing board in the exact form it was in when first conceived.
Second drafts have a way of ironing out plot problems and helping you think of better twists – when these changes present themselves to you, embrace them.
If you own novel surprises you, think about your readers will react.