The Journey of Writing a Novel

The journey of writing a novel is different with every project. Each time you learn something new about your writing style, how you write or something new about the craft in general. With my latest book (a YA southern gothic mystery) I learned some invaluable lessons.

To date I've written eight books. Four are crap. Two are viable, meaning I can possibly do something with them in the future. And only two are publishable (South of Sunshine and current project.) Writing those terrible books was a part of the journey. I learned lots of valuable lessons. I learned I could write a book, what writing in different tenses meant, what POV was, writing with a plot, etc. These are basic concepts of writing, but I'm a self-taught writer so the journey was a bit longer, bumpier for me. It wasn't until I discovered voice that I realized I could actually write something worth publishing.

This latest book, I learned two new things that will change how I write all my future books.

Guys, this was the hardest book I've ever written. Part of it was due in fact that I've never written a mystery before so that in itself was a big learning curve. The biggest part, is the mindset I had going into this project. I laid it all on the line and went for broke. To do so was meant I was going to have to challenge myself like never before. Having outside motivators gave me the intent and focus I needed.

There are many things I did while writing this book that I think are invaluable to understanding who I am as a writer and what it takes to push my writing to the next level. Two things in particular stand out as key elements to what I learned, and I'll apply them to all future books.

It sounds simple, right? I'm sure you're thinking, "I work hard on every novel." I have no doubt that you do. Me too. But working hard is not the same as digging deep. There's something about pushing yourself to try harder, do better and go beyond anything you've ever done before that gives your work that extra edge. That's only scratching the surface at digging deep.

It's really hard to describe what dig deep truly means. Digging deep means not settling for good.  It means when you find something that works in the story (characters, plot, etc.), tell yourself there has to be a better way. Then find it. Keep doing that over and over until you come up with a best way possible to write your story and there's absolutely no other way to improve upon it...then dig deep and find a way to make it better. It means you're going to have to think outside the box. It means you're going to have to tell yourself good isn't good enough.  It means wanting something so bad you'll do whatever it takes to get it. It's exhausting and sometimes feels unattainable but despite the odds you find a way.  When you do, that's when you've dug deep enough.

"Follow your gut" sounds vague, but in actuality it's really simple. It means when you write something and that inner voice inside you speaks up, listen to it. For instance, when you tell yourself, "maybe the reader won't notice this tiny plot hole." Or "maybe the reader won't realize/care that I didn't put much thought into X thing." Or "my critique partner will point out if this is a problem" and then hope they don't.

It's something a lot of writers don't do and the hard truth is, we don't because it means more work. I get it, writing a book is hard. You spend so much time writing, revising, rinse, and repeat. These things seem so tiny and insignificant in the scheme of the book in it's entirety. And why is "following your gut" so important if you're going to have critique partners read it anyway?

Because following your gut from the get go is less work on the back side. It also shows you recognize your weak spots. (If you do, someone else will too.) It helps you write a better story the first time around. Not to say it won't still need tons of work, but it will have a stronger foundation. Following your gut while drafting will be the difference in writing a crappy draft vs. a good draft.  It will save yourself a lot of cutting and rewriting huge portions of your book. But also, following your gut will force you to dig deep, which ultimately will lead to a really well-written book.

How do you follow your gut? We're so used to ignoring our gut feelings, the first thing is recognize when that voice is talking. Acknowledge it. Then do something about it. Fix that tiny plot hole. Expand upon X thing. Don't let that chapter end fall flat. Don't expect someone else (critique partner, agent, editor) to do your job when you knew all along you're were going to have to address that problem at some point.

Every book I hope (and should) learn something new about the writing process or who I am as a writer. It's how writers get better. I always want my next book to be better than the last. If I'm not refining and honing in on my craft each time, then they won't. It's up to us to make that happen.

So what things have you learned while writing your books? Have you ever done something that you were like, "Oh no, I'm not doing that again."?