Friday, February 24, 2012

Things I've Learned About Writing (Thus Far)

Bonn in London
Christmas 2006
The following are observations about writing and the writing process that I've said to friends over the past few years.  None of them are especially new or brilliant, and none are things that, had I heard them early on would have prevented me from getting involved in writing The Book.  Still, I think it's helpful to have these sorts of things all in one place to be able to reference every now and then.

Please feel more than free to add your observations about your writing and writing process in the Comments.

Tom's Observations About Writing and the Writing Process 

1. Come up with an estimate as to how long you think it will take you to write a book and get it published.  Then double it.  Then double it again. 
Now you're starting to get close.

2. Writing is 98% revision.
Although that number might be a little low.

3. There will be times when you absolutely love everything about your manuscript -- the characters, the setting, the story, the prose... and there will be times when you cannot stand a single thing about your manuscript.
This is natural.  Just resist the urge to delete/burn every copy of what you've written.

4. Writing a good book and writing a good query are two entirely separate skills.  
Queries are, somehow, even more soul-crushing than writing a book.  Condensing your book into two or three paragraphs, that focus solely on conflict and character) is to leave out all that is special about your story and unique about your writing... unless you're one of those brilliant, gifted query writers who can infuse your query with those elements.  Your job, as a writer, is to do that very thing.

5. Good criticism means saying what does and what doesn't work in a manuscript and why.
Simply saying "it's good" or "I didn't like it" to another writer is as helpful as not saying anything.  In order to be helpful you have to dig into the writing and your reactions and figure out the whys.  The best criticism you can give is the type of criticism you wish someone wonderfully wise and caring would give you about your manuscript.

6. You cannot write well unless you read.
Writers are not created, nor do they thrive in a vacuum.  Surround yourself with books by amazing writers and learn from what they have written.  Read mediocre writers and lousy writers.  Read genres that don't immediately appeal to you.  Take the time to verbalize why you like some writers and don't like other writers.  (See #5 above)

7. You cannot write well if all you do is read.  
At some point you need to put the books down and get to your typewriter/computer/pad of paper.  Then write.  (This goes for researching as well.)

8. First drafts are just that: First Drafts.  
They are meant to be the compost pile from which your more elegant story and prose grows.  Respect that.  (And if the thought of a First Draft scares you as much as it scares me, feel free to do what I do and borrow Cherie Priest's concept of Draft Zero for the first "finished" piece of work you do before slicing and dicing with your editing scalpel.)

9. When in doubt as to where your story should go, trust your characters.
It's easy to have your ego wrapped up in your story and your characters and think you're in charge of creating conflicts and getting your characters out of them.  When you get stuck, though, step out of the way and let your characters take over for a while.  You'll likely be very happily surprised.

10. Don't get caught up with writing analogies.
Do you want to know what writing is really like?  A box of chocolates?  Driving cross-country? Hiking the Appalachian Trail?

No.  Writing is like writing.  Period.

Have some others to add?  Let me know in the Comments!