I’ve been meaning to write this post since about February, but somehow am only just now managing to get to it.
As I mentioned a few times, I recently finished my very first novel. To put it simply, it was an eye-opening experience. Over the course of nearly four years when I was writing this book, I learned a great deal about myself, my abilities, and the process of writing an entire book. Now, I bring to you some of the most pertinent bits from my journey.
Throughout this post, I will be using my favorite meme of all time, Writer Leopard. Now, there have been times (SOOO MANY TIMES) when I have questioned whether I was meant to be a writer, whether I had any talent at all, if I was just wasting all my time. Then, one day, like a treasure chest of priceless gems in your own backyard, I discovered Writer Leopard, the most accurate meme I’ve ever found (aside from Socially Awkward Penguin). You may or may not know this, but I am OBSESSED with leopards. They are my favorite animal, hands down. When I realized that the meme for writers was emblemized by a leopard, I knew I had found my calling and that I was in the right profession.
Whether you are an aspiring writer, an avid reader, or just a kind person who is reading my blog, I hope you will find this useful. I cannot, of course, promise that this will be the same experience you are having, have had, or will have, but this is what it’s been like for me.
So get ready, because I’m about to hit you with a realization tornado.
1. You will have a whole lot of ideas for a novel.
Since deciding I wanted to be a writer somewhere between the age of twelve and fourteen, I would estimate that I have started approximately fifteen to twenty books. I have had ideas for about 1,000. The best source for these, of course, is when you’re in bed at night, five minutes from the verge of sleep, and you’re suddenly struck with most incandescently brilliant and utterly original idea for a novel that has ever blessed the mind of any writer ever.
Generally, if you don’t write it down, you’ll have forgotten it by the next morning.
Did I mention it was a leopard IN A MONOCLE?!
The idea for the novel I finished actually came from another book I was reading at the time. I was very frustrated by the interaction between the hero and heroine, and I felt a need to make it better (another great source of novel ideas).
Suffice it to say, if you are drawn to writing, you will see ideas everywhere and in everything.
2. You should not, under any circumstances, believe all those ideas are really as great as they initially seem.
There’ll be a whole lot of ideas that you have that never even make it to paper, and that’s as it should be. But there will be ideas that you love so much that you do find yourself starting them into a real, actual novel. But one of the hardest lessons you’ll ever have to learn is that some of your ideas are just not good, and even though you’ve written a hundred pages on them, they are never going to see the actual light of day. Some of your novels just need to be abandoned. As badly as it hurts, however, one day you’ll look back on them and wonder what in god’s name you were EVER thinking.
It’s for the best.
3. Writing a book is really hard.
Hopefully if you are really serious about being a writer, you’ll already have accepted this as obvious. I mean, the funny thing about writing a book is that you actually have to do all the work. Like, if you don’t write it, it just… sits there. It doesn’t go anywhere or do anything, because this is literally just stuff you’re making up. And one of the hardest things about writing a book is actually sitting down, picking ONE idea, and actually finishing it. Part of the reason I took four years to finish a book is that in that time I started five or six other ones, worked semi-seriously on two or three, and periodically lost interest and motivation in writing anything at all. But I think the way to know that you’re a writer for real is that no matter how tired of it you get, you always come back to it in the end, no matter how long it takes, because you just physically can’t stop writing. Even if it takes four years.
4. There’s no specific way to write a book correctly.
This was one of the big struggles for me. I googled all kinds of stuff to try and figure out how to motivate myself to write. When I was younger I felt sure that there had to be some specific method that was guaranteed to work. Like if you make an outline, type up a list of plot characters, and designate an hour every day when it’s time for you to write, you’ll have your book churned out in no time. I even tried making a timeline on a big piece of posterboard for one book I was writing, and you can figure out how much that helped me when I tell you that I’ve only written about twenty pages on that story to date. But writing is not like cooking (thankfully, because as you all might remember I am abysmal at cooking). There is no recipe that says, if you takes these ingredients in these quantities and put them together in this manner, you will end up with a product in a specific amount of time.
The more I read, the more I realized how personalized writing a book can be. Some people keep a notebook for each book they write, where they jot down ideas and impressions as they come to them, and create an outline and a character list. Some people start their book from the end, and some people start it from the middle. Some people write the big, important scenes in the story, and then just fill in and connect them together later.
There is literally just no right way. You simply have to work through the process of finding out what works for you. I wrote probably between 50-75 pages from the time I started my book as a sophomore in college to when I graduated, parceled out over three years. Then, after I graduated, I revisited the book and wrote about that same amount in a couple months. Then I got sick of my book and abandoned it, only to open it again in around November of 2013 and finish it in February of 2014, feverishly writing about 100 pages in four months. Writing just came to me in weird spurts and starts, generally in the middle of the night and in huge chunks. Anytime I tried to plan out my plot ahead of time or make an outline, nothing would come to me. Or, I would decide to write the story one way, and then suddenly I would just be writing something else and the characters would just be doing things and I would be just as surprised as someone who had never looked at my book before.
Three weeks, ha, try three days.
What I’m trying to say is that the only correct way to write a book is the way that gets it done.
5. You will hate your book at some point.
As I mentioned, this book took me nearly four years to write, and that’s partially because I hated it for a collective period of about two years. During college, I periodically worked on it and periodically hated it deeply and pretended it didn’t exist. The first half of the book was edited over and over again, because I would open it with the intent to write more on it, end up reading what I had, discover it was awful, and then go back and extensively edit what I already had. I fell back in love with it after graduation and managed to accomplish about as much as I had in the previous threeish years in just a few months. Then I read one of the best books I’d read in the past few years whilst in the midst of this writing fury (I DO NOT RECOMMEND), and subsequently fell into a decided and violent hatred of my book, essentially convincing myself that it was the worst ever and I would never be a talented writer.
The only reason I probably ended up finishing this book was because I reopened it months later and realized I had a really large chunk of a novel written. So I thought to myself, eh, might as well finish it! Then, after I reread what I had on my Kindle (an extremely handy editing tool) I fell back in love with it. The closer I got to the end, the more I loved it and wanted to finish it– until finally one day it was done.
6. Finishing a book is one of the most euphoric feelings a writer will ever know.
The night I finished my novel, I cried because I was so happy. It was like that feeling you get at the end of an amazing novel except times ten, because it was the end of MY novel. I couldn’t seem to believe it, that I had written an entire book from my own hands. The whole thing that makes writing hard, the fact that it comes entirely from you and you do all the work, is the same thing that makes finishing a book so amazing, because you have DONE IT ALL. When my best friend Skye read it, she told me that she would forget I had written it until suddenly she would think “SARA wrote this, HOW WAS THIS ALL JUST IN HER HEAD.” And the only thing I could say was that I didn’t know either. I don’t know where it all came from or how I had an entire story just there inside my head that I actually managed to translate into words and pages and dialogue. I read my own book and couldn’t seem to believe that all of that had come from me.
IT’S LIKE I’M POSSESSED
I used to scoff when I was younger at writers who said that the characters just did what they wanted and had a mind of their own, and they just wrote it down. I found the idea ridiculous; you’re the one writing the story, and making it all up! But I have been converted–I now know this to be the gospel truth. Most of the time, writing feels like I’m just watching this movie play out in my head, and I’m just frantically trying to keep up and write down what I’m seeing as it happens. To me, my characters are real and they exist, and I am as emotionally invested in their lives as I am in my own. The culmination of their story, therefore, affects me as much as if I’d found my own happy ending. In finishing this novel, I took a piece of my heart and soul and typed it into a Word document.
7. You can always assume that you have missed something while editing.
After finishing my novel, I knew I had a great deal of editing to do. I went through and read it on my Kindle, making notes of every mistake I made and every part I needed to change slightly, and spent a couple weeks fixing it. Then I read it again and edited it more. Then I read it AGAIN and edited it even more. Next I let my sister read it, and fixed all the new mistakes I had made while in the process of editing. By this point, a few people had asked to read it, but I had to make sure I’d edited it enough so that I didn’t embarrass myself.
NO NO NO IT’S NOT READY YET
Even after I let my friend Skye read it, she STILL found mistakes for me to edit. It is a seemingly endless process.
(Funny fact: the header for this said “You can always assumed that you have missed something while editing.” until I went back an edited it for like the third time.)
8. Letting someone read your book for the first time is the most terrifying feeling ever.
I am closer to my sister than any person on earth. We are like the same person essentially. But letting her read my story was even nerve-wracking. When I then turned my book over to my best friend Skye and next my best friend Tiffany to read, I honestly thought I was going to vomit. It didn’t matter that I loved it, that Rae said it was great– I was convinced that they were going to hate it and think it was the most awful book ever written, but worst of all they were going to have to pretend that it was good just because they were my best friends. Like I said, in writing this book I wrote part of my heart and soul on to every page, and I felt like I was essentially opening my chest and exposing it to them to crush if they so desired. It was AWFUL. But luckily, they were both wonderful and complimentary and very helpful in what they told me about it. It was a balm to my terrified soul.
What I eventually accepted was that I had written a novel, I was damn proud of the fact, and people would either like it or they wouldn’t. What mattered was that I loved and was happy with it– because if you don’t believe in yourself as a writer, nobody else is going to either.
Of course, that does not mean that I am one hundred percent comfortable telling everyone that my novel is a historical romance replete with things like kissing. For the people who I don’t expect to ever read my book or don’t want to let read my book, you just come up with the blandest description imaginable.
“It’s set in London in the 19th century and it’s about a girl whose sister gets kidnapped and she’s trying to find her andddd… ummmm…. Yep. That’s it. Nothing exciting, really.”
I’ve already told my parents that I’m very sorry, but they can never, ever read it, and that’s all there is to it.
9. Publishing a book is harder than writing a book.
Now, there might be people who quibble with me here, but as I am deep in the throes of trying to figure out how to publish my book, I am firm on this point. Publishing is terrifying, confusing, depressing, and overwhelming. What I have discovered is that most major publishing companies don’t even accept unsolicited manuscripts–this means you can’t send them your book unless you have an agent that can contact them and set it up. And from what I’ve managed to learn, getting a reputable agent is even more difficult than actually publishing a book.
I have found only three major publishers of romance novels that will even accept unsolicited manuscripts. And, let me drop a piece of information on you that I would have LOVED to know before I started writing my novel– all of these companies have specific word count requirements for the manuscripts they will accept.
As you probably know if you read this blog, I have a tendency to be rather long-winded. I have always been that way; when I was writing essays in school I always had to edit them down. I have never had a problem with meeting a word count, only exceeding it. I’ve just discovered that I have a lot to say. When I was writing my novel, I had no real idea exactly how long it actually was, because Word document pages don’t exactly translate into real book pages. I knew it was pretty long, and my word count was high, but I had no idea just how long it was until I finished writing it and started googling average lengths for romance novels. Apparently that average is between 80-100,000 words.
I have approximately 130,000 words.
Of the three publishers that might accept my manuscript, the highest acceptable word count was 120,000, and the other two companies highest were 100,000 and 95,000.
I don’t know how to explain to you just how difficult it is to consider trying to cut out 30-35,000 words from the novel you just spent four years laboring to finish. And of course it was especially disheartening to read these articles saying if your book is long then it means you’re a bad writer and you don’t know how to edit and blah blah lots of other depressing things.
Well, duh, I’ve never written a book before so no, I DON’T really know how to go about editing it. And even though it’s admittedly very long and I am sure I am biased, I don’t think the book really drags that much–it’s just that a lot of stuff happens and it takes a few pages to explain it. Of course I’m sure that there’s plenty of editing that could be done to it to make it shorter– but 35,000 words worth? I just don’t know if I can do that.
And so I started considering the option of self-publishing. It’s easier than ever for writers to self-publish their book cheaply with things like Kindle and Nook and the whole world of ebooks. If I self-publish, there would be no restrictions on the word limit. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.
But then I started actually reading about self-publishing, and I started getting just as confused and worried as I did with regular publishing. Which platform would be the best to use if I did self-publish? How do I format my book correctly? How do I create a cover for my novel? What is all this stuff about royalties and fees? And if I did self-publish, how big of an audience would I really be reaching?
Turns out self-publishing is not quite as easy as it initially sounds.
And so I find myself stuck in this strange limbo, wondering which direction I should go in. So far, the best I can think of is that maybe I will self-publish the full length version, try and see what feedback I can get on it, while simultaneously working on making a much shorter version that I could send in to publishers. Just when I find I’ve FINALLY completed my novel and I’m ready to share it with the world, it seems that I’ve got a whole world’s worth of work in front of me.
10. No matter how rough the first one was, before you know it you’ll be starting on your next novel.
Seriously, guys. It was barely two months from the moment I had finished the first one– not even like from when I edited it or let other people read it or started researching publishing companies– literally from the moment I finished it mid-February that I opened up a new Word document and started working on the sequel. I’M NOT EVEN DONE EDITING THE FIRST ONE. I just couldn’t help myself, the characters were already there in my head and clamoring to be heard.
17 pages already in that one, everybody.
At least this time, I know about the word count thing.
Go big or go home.