Aug 29 2008
Writing’s not really an exact science. Everyone does it differently. There’s not really a one, right way to accomplish a good, finished book, and that’s not only for different authors, but for the same author in different stories.
Still, there are things that no writer should ever do, at least, in my opinion.
1. Say, “Oh, what a great idea! I’ll make sure to remember that!” – No, you won’t. You’ll forget it. No matter how stupendous or Earth-shattering the idea is, it’ll be gone sometime in the next fifteen minutes. Trust me.
Keep a notebook and pen beside your bed. Keep a little notepad and pen in your purse. And in your car. Write that amazing idea down rightnowthisminute. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
2. Be satisfied with your good idea’s first iteration. – Yeah, it’s a great idea. It’s an amazing idea. Push it further.
Make notes on it. Clarify it. Mull it over. Ask, “And then what?” or “And what else?” See if you can’t take it to the next level. No idea should ever get to rest on its laurels.
3. Get so attached to an idea that you can’t scrap it. – Ideas have to be reworked. So do stories. So does prose. Never etch these things into cement.
Plots, characters, and ideas, these things are your clay. They need to stay malleable until you can be satisfied with the final work. And sometimes, that means having the whole piece done, seeing that it’s not what it should be, and mashing it right back down into a lump so that you can build it up again. Edits happen. So do complete reworks of first drafts.
Never set yourself up for heartbreak. Love your ideas. Cherish them. Nurture them. Hold them in your heart. But remember that they’re going to take a beating before they’re ready to go.
4. Settle for less than the best you can do. – Yes, it may be good enough for your friends. Might be good enough for your agent, or your publisher. Is it good enough for you?
I think every writer’s come to a point with a manuscript where they were totally disgusted with it. Or where they had to make a hard decision: cut the plot a little short and get it out the door, or go through another 100 pages of torture? It happens.
The written word is a legacy, even if you aren’t Hemingway. And if you make a sacrifice you are not comfortable with, you’ll be mad at yourself for it. When that thing releases, you’ll want to crawl under your desk. Everyone in the world may love it to death, but you don’t, and you’ve got to stand behind it. So make sure you’re comfortable with what you’ve done.
5. Lose your wonder for storytelling. – Writing’s work. It’s a business. It’s filled with paperwork, unpleasant edits, waiting, anxiety, pain, torment, people who don’t perform to your expectations, and fickle trends. And it’s easy to get mired in that.
Never, ever lose your sense of wonder in the art of storytelling. Never forget that with your words, you’re taking your readers to a new and amazing place. Someone may read that thing next to a loved one’s hospital bed, looking for the comfort of an escape at a bad time. Someone may sit on their porch with a glass of iced tea and make an already good day better.
Words and stories are power. They are magic that only a wordsmith can make. Never forget that.