I know I’ve been absent. It was spring break, and on top of spending time with family, I was trying to catch up on my writing. I’ve written an impressive 5.5k words over the past week (though it’s really only impressive because 3,000 of those words were written over this past weekend). Anyway, after struggling for quite some time on my writing, I figured I’d share with you some writerly advice that a friend of mine gave me.
The truth is, if you’re like me, you probably are doing whatever you can to make the best book possible. Which means you’re looking up writing tips on Google and Pinterest, reading the blogs of other authors, etc. You’ll note that one blog might contradict another, and vice versa, so you do what’s best for your book. Because in reality, that’s all that matters.
But, as you’ll know if you’ve kept up with my blog, I’m currently on Draft 4 of my W.i.P., and after it’s finished, I want to give it to beta readers. Which makes this draft feel like it’s the Big One, the one that needs to impress… almost like it needs to be good enough to hit the shelves of a massive Barnes and Noble bookstore.
I didn’t really feel pressured to make this draft Perfect, because I understand the whole reason we have beta readers is to take a mediocre story and make it better. I knew my draft wouldn’t be ready to hit the shelves. But I wanted to make it as perfect as possible.
And this meant I struggled over almost Every Single Word. Half the time, I was worried about speech. Is this how Character X talks? Is this in Character Y’s voice? Is this how one character would re/act?
These questions would inevitably lead me to draw even bigger conclusions. I.e. This scene is absolute crap or that scene needs to be scrapped and rewritten. The whole draft seems too plain, too boring; are the stakes high enough? Naturally, writing became a chore, and the writing itself suffered for it.
So I asked my friend (who is also a writer, one who is going through similar issues but can offer good advice nonetheless) what I should do: obviously, after spending several years on this one idea, I don’t intend to give up on it. Would it be more prudent to continue writing, or should I give myself a short break so I can perhaps continue with fresher eyes and a lighter heart?
She told me to keep writing, of course.
I’d told this writing friend that, after mostly getting the plot down, when I started Draft 4 I decided to focus on making sure it sounded the way people say books should sound… Examples: each character should be three dimensional, they should have their own voice, the author him/herself should have his/her own voice, etc. It’s true that an author should include these things in their books, but a reader shouldn’t be able to tell that they’re trying.
My friend suggested that I stop worrying so much about how it sounds, and focus more on just writing it. The character voices would come out on their own. This, of course, may seem like redundant or obvious advice, but sometimes a person needs a bit of obvious and/or redundant advice to figure out what needs to be done. I was so concerned about making it sound good, unique, et cetera, that it began sound forced. In simple terms, fretting about how it sounded was counter intuitive, because it made the writing sound forced. (Or it made me feel like the writing sounded forced, which basically results in the same thing: me, too worried about getting it right to be brave enough to actually write.)
Point being, after spending three complete drafts (plus half a dozen unfinished drafts) writing my book, I need to realize that I know the book. Its plot, its characters, even its narrative structure. I know this story. I went so far as to add a comment to my word doc, so I could later review it if I ever found myself forgetting my friend’s advice. I’ll share it with you in case you ever find yourself slogging through a similar swamp:
Today, I stop worrying about the sound. I stop worrying about the right words and wrong words. I stop worrying about ‘voice’ and its consistency, about whether my characters sound the way they’re supposed to sound and say the things they’re supposed to say. I KNOW this story. I KNOW these characters. That should be enough. Let’s do this.
And while we’re on the topic of advice and writer confidence, I might as well share a pin I found on Pinterest.