Writing is an intense process.
There are moments of pure joy and moments when you want to give up. That’s all normal. It’s all part of the creative process. But to a writer starting out, there are often some surprises.
Thing to Know #1: Keep your enthusiasm and brace yourself for the ride – because it’s one heck of a bumpy road.
The writer path is filled with ups and downs, with excitement and depression, with confidence and doubt – both before and after publication. And that is true whether you self-publish or are traditionally published.
Thing to Know #2: There is a Writing Community out there.
When I first started writing, I didn’t know any other writers. I was just happy to finally be finding the time to be creative again after a hiatus due to jobs, marriage, kids and other life stuff.
I wrote, and wrote, and wrote some more. Loving all my characters and exploring all kinds of situations. My multiple characters each had their own storyline. And filled up a first manuscript that was 230,000 words long.
I was thrilled. And – needless to say – very unaware of the market.
mini-tip 2a: Be aware of market norms if you want to publish traditionally.
After multiple rejections or just plain silence, I decided to learn about craft and do some market research. I bought books on writing and the market, revised the manuscript, signed up for an online class… and met some other writers.
For the first time, I had someone I could share with. For the first time, I wasn’t alone as a writer.
During that first experience getting and giving feedback, someone mentioned the benefits of joining a local crit group. When I admitted to having no idea how to find one, a fellow writer-now-friend suggested I join my local chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
I did. And discovered a whole new world: the writing community.
Not only were there crit groups but also workshops, conferences, opportunities to meet industry professionals and get their feedback – and most importantly, fellow creatives.
Joining SCBWI was probably the best thing I could ever have done for my writing. It gave me a network of fellow creatives to learn with, to share with. Here, I found other people with the same passion for children’s literature, all at different stages of their path to (and after) publication. We understood each other, the ups and downs, the various stages of excitement, frustration, hope and fear that we all feel – even after getting a contract.
And although it’s true that when you sit down and write you are alone, it doesn’t mean you have to walk the writer path alone. In fact, one of the things I have come to cherish as a writer is the writing community.
Thing to Know #3: Learn to use Word Count Goals as a tool, not an ultimatum.
When I did my first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – held every November) with friends, I set myself a goal of 2,000 words/day. The first day I exceeded my goal and I strutted around. Until I saw how many words some of my friends had written and all of a sudden my 2,300 words weren’t enough. So the next day I pushed myself even when I didn’t know where my story was going and I wrote even more words.
Only to delete most of them.
That was when I decided I didn’t like setting a word count goal. What was the point if I ended up deleting it all? After the third day, which included several one-hour sprints, I stopped. I was convinced word count goals weren’t for writers who wanted to write a good first draft.
Fast forward a few months later, all by myself in my writing cave… I had an idea I wanted to write, but didn’t have much time before I needed to dedicate myself to another project. So I explored the idea, jotted down the plot, and began to build the world. After a week and a few character sketches where I tested voice and tried to get closer to my characters, I sat down and wrote a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline. And noticed it was April 1st. Bingo. I would do my very own NaNo in April. I wanted the book to be 80,000 words long. If I wrote 2,500 words a day, I’d be good.
The first week, words flowed beyond expectation and I was psyched. And then I hit the murky middle with all its tangled plot lines. Screeeech! I started to add extra words to the following day so I could make up for ‘lost’ time and found myself drowning in an impossible situation. That was when I learned an essential lesson about daily word counts.
mini-tip 3a: ‘Missed’ word counts never get added to the next day. Each day is separate.
Yup. As simple as that might seem, that thought freed me from the insane pressure I was putting on myself. It no longer mattered if I made my goal, because it wouldn’t pile up and smother me the next day.
So, does setting a word count goal per day work? Sometimes it helps me get where I want to go. But other times it frustrates me because the words aren’t flowing and I’m not making my ‘count’. And when I have to spend the next day untangling an impossible mess I wrote myself into the day before, just because I decided to make my count instead of allowing myself time to think, was it worth it then? For me, no. For me, that’s when pressure to produce gets in the way of listening to the creative process.
mini-tip 3b: Learn to let go when it isn’t working anymore.
Learn to say ‘It’s okay, I can let go of that goal because I need to focus on something else’. Sometimes the goal you set no longer works, and it’s better to let it go. There’s never a good reason to beat yourself up over anything that happens during the creative process. Never. Find a different approach or try something else instead. Sometimes you might even need to put a project aside and come back to it later.
Thing to Know #4: Each book is different, so each writing process will be different.
As obvious as that might seem, it wasn’t to me at first. I thought that if I could figure out how to plot, or how to achieve word count goals, each process for writing a book would be similar.
Some ideas come as a plot arc. Some as a character. Some as a world. Some as a theme I want to explore. Some as a vague feeling that takes a year or more to figure out. But even if ideas always came in the same form, the process would still be different because each idea has a different set of characters and a unique setting. The creative process isn’t a formula.
mini-tip 4a: Trust yourself.
If you have an idea, there is something there worth exploring. Sometimes it will get transformed, sometimes it will turn out not to be enough for a whole book, but it still has value and is worth the time you will spend on it. As much as the first manuscript you finish writing will always have a special meaning to you, it may or may not ever get published. In fact, every writer friend I have has several manuscripts that never got published. But none of them were a waste of time.
Thing to Know #5: Have fun!
As you write, let yourself explore a wide range of ideas, themes, and settings.
mini-tip 5a: The adage ‘write what you know’ doesn’t have to limit you.
If you’ve never played handball, or shot a gun, or lived in the 18th century, it doesn’t mean you can’t write about it. You can research all of those things. You can interview people who have the expertise you lack, you can read about it, you can even take a class or acquire a new skill. You can learn about a myriad of things that will make your setting, or character background, realistic.
But if you’ve never been in love, or felt the pain of loss or wanted something you couldn’t have, how can you write about a handball tournament and make it not just realistic, but compelling?
Ultimately, when a story or character is compelling it hooks the reader. It’s what allows the reader to suspend disbelief and be drawn into the world you have created. Of course, if the details are off, a reader will be pushed out of the story world and put the book down. But being ‘realistic’ doesn’t make a story ‘real’. Having readers feel emotions does.
Writing is a long-term commitment you make years before you are published. And once you are published, you will have to spend a lot of time doing things other than writing. I no longer have the freedom to spend as much time as I want writing my next manuscript, as much as I’d like to. It’s all part of being a writer in today’s world: balancing the creative process with the business of being a writer.
Enjoy the journey!
Born in the US, Dina von Lowenkraft has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt – and still thinks the two are connected. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.
Her debut YA fantasy, Dragon Fire, was published by Twilight Times in August 2013. Drag-on Fire was a finalist in ForeWord Book’s 2013 Book of the Year Award in YA fiction. Dragon Fire was also a category finalist in the 2014 Eric Hoffer Book Awards and a Finalist in the 2014 Reader’s Favorite Awards.
[box] Dragon Fire
Some choices are hard to live with.
But some choices will kill you.
When seventeen-year-old Anna first meets Rakan in her hometown north of the Arctic Circle, she is attracted to his pulsing energy. Unaware that he is a shape-shifting dragon, Anna is drawn into a murderous cycle of revenge that pits Rakan and his clan against her best friend June.
Torn between his forbidden relationship with Anna, punishable by death, and restoring his family’s honor by killing June, Rakan must decide what is right. And what is worth living – or dying – for.
Finalist in ForeWord Reviews’ 2013 Book of the Year award in the category of young adult fiction.
“In Lowenkraft’s science fantasy novel [Dragon Fire], the Draak, alien shape-shifting dragons inhabit the Earth unbeknownst to humans, whom they regard as cattle to be exploited. Though nearly driven to extinction by war, the Draak are still consumed with old vendettas. …Lowenkraft seasons her tale with a critique of the abusive relationships seen in popular works like the Twilight series.”
~ Publishers Weekly