Admittedly, very little.
I’ve flirted with the idea of writing a book for a long time. Not because I think I’m a gifted wordsmith or because I love the act of writing.
I’m not. I don’t.
I’m usually pretty good at abandoning grandiose goals when they get too hard, or when the consistency required to see them through becomes tedious. Or when a shiny new goal distracts me.
For some reason, I haven’t been able to shake the idea of writing a book, though. Maybe it’s because I see plot ideas everywhere. A 1-hour Zoom call with my best friends usually results in at least two ideas for chicklit novels. Or spousal murder mysteries.
For a good number of years, I brainstormed ideas as they came to me. Bought pretty notebooks to sketch out characters and plot lines. That’s all it ever amounted to – pretty notebooks with a few pages used, then abandoned in my notebook drawer.
(Yes, I have a notebook drawer. Doesn’t everyone?)
As I adjusted to being a mom and settled into the chaos of family life, the idea of writing a book continued to follow me through my days like a shadow. A very annoying shadow.
I mean, hello? Working mama of two very little, very needy, very energetic children. Does my subconscious really think this is a good time in my life to try my hand at novel-writing? Couldn’t it just shelf that notion for
ten fifteen years and make the little voice that keeps telling me to just do it already, just shut up already?
It turns out my subconscious is an inconsiderate little somethin’-somethin’.
Or maybe when an idea or a goal just won’t go away no matter how much time passes, it means it is a true Bucket List item.
2020 was a crap year in a lot of ways, I’m sure we can all agree. As much as I loathed many parts of it, 2020 was the year that I developed a whole new mindset towards setting and achieving goals. It was in that crap year – one when this mama, like every other mama, was stretched thinner than ever before in both time and energy- that I finally made the commitment to myself to write a damn book.
Four months in now, friends – check out my word count.
By my calculations, I’m just over a quarter of the way through writing my novel. [Bear with me to the end of this post where I address the narcissism that is implicit in the previous sentence]
Before I began working on this project, I scoured the internet for articles and blog posts from other aspiring novelists, looking for someone who could speak to their process while in process. I found plenty of articles about writing books by already-published authors. Most of them were interesting, but they seemed detached from the emotions and frustrations that a first-timer is sure to experience.
When you’re about to embark on a daunting task, or you’re in the midst of struggling towards a goal, it can be both motivating and comforting to hear from others who are also navigating new territory and haven’t quite come out the other side yet.
So that’s why I’m writing this post today. Not because I’m finished my book – there is still a long slog ahead of me before I can make that declaration. No, I’m writing today from the trenches, neck-deep in the mess of story arcs and subplots and verb-tense inconsistencies, to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this process in hopes of maybe helping someone else commit to their own goal of writing a book.
Lesson #1: Be consistent.
This is probably the number one tip for achieving any goal, right? Last January, I started setting my alarm for 4:30am. I use those dark hours of the morning to workout and to write before the distractions of the day and inevitable exhaustion interfere with my motivation. Writing in my mama space with a large cup of coffee, surrounded by the quiet, feeds this mama’s soul. I carved out morning time and sacrificed a bit of sleep because I simply cannot keep my eyes open past 9pm – being in lockdown with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old ensures there is nothing left in my tank by then. If you’re a night person, maybe it means sacrificing some tv time or other mindless screen time so you can get some words on the page. Maybe it means staying up an hour later so you can have the quiet space you need. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, determine where in your day you can carve out an hour, and then guard that time like a dog with a bone. Growl at anyone who tries to interfere with it. Bite if you have to.
Lesson #2: Set a daily word goal.
It’s my plan to have my first draft completed by September 2021, and I’m aiming for about 80,000 words total. That breaks down to 2,000 words per week, or 400 words per weekday. It’s not lofty, but it’s realistic and I usually end up writing more than that. You want to set a daily word goal that is attainable, otherwise you’ll end up feeling like a failure and that feeling always sucks and usually leads to abandoning goals. With consistency, 400 words per day adds up and keeps me on track to meeting my self-imposed deadline.
Lesson #3: Don’t read over what you’ve already written.
When you first start writing your book, momentum is key. Just get those words flowing and don’t look back. If you’re having to schedule your writing around a busy household and a full-time job, that precious time you blocked for writing will get drastically reduced when you’re spending part of it re-reading what’s already on the page. There will be lots of time to re-read when the first draft is done. For now, face forward and use your minutes to hit your daily word goal.
Lesson #4: Progress, not perfection.
It’s been pretty cool to see my story unfold on the page. Characters have started to develop all on their own, unplanned plot twists reveal themselves as my fingers fly across my keyboard, trying to get the ideas down on the page before the story leaves me behind. Sometimes, though, I get blocked. I hit a point in my story where the next best step doesn’t reveal itself. My characters sit motionless and tightlipped, giving me no sense of what they should do or say next. In those moments, it would be easy to walk away from the computer and get on with my day. That pesky daily word goal keeps me rooted to my seat, though. Even though the words I write might not leave me with that ‘yesyesyes!’ feeling, they do keep the story moving. They’re not perfect, and I will probably end up changing them when the first draft is done and it’s time to revise, but they keep me moving towards my goal.
Lesson #5: Read Stephen King’s On Writing.
Stephen King is a literary genius. The stuff his imagination spews out is terrifying, written with such vividness that I can’t read his books if I’m home alone. Despite his remarkable talent, I would rather cut my lawn with scissors than read one of his horror books (because: nightmares for weeks), but a few months ago I read his book on writing. It’s called, er, On Writing. The first half is a very entertaining recount of the parts of his life that lead to him becoming a famous author. The second half is his equally-entertaining advice to other writers. Pulling from years of his own experience, he shares about everything from finding ideas to developing plot to writing mechanics to getting published. Friends, I didn’t want this book to end, that’s how thoroughly entertaining and helpful I found it. It’s also where the previous four lessons came from, each of which have been instrumental in propelling me forward on this rather strange journey.
Thanks for reading this far, friends! Just a quick detour…
I’m thinking of the few friends and colleagues who, over the years, have proudly announced that they were pursuing the same goal, and the vague memory of thinking something along the lines of ‘WELL! La-dee-da’. I mean, who did they think they are? Writing a book is for people who have writing talent. How pompous.
And yet…here I am.
People set lofty goals all the time. Take running a marathon, for example. When someone tells me they are going to start training for a marathon, I feel genuine excitement for them. While part of that definitely stems from a ‘better you than me’ mentality, I do truly hope they’re successful. I don’t think it’s pretentious or narcissistic to announce such a goal, or to post training status updates, or to brag hard when the goal is reached.
Running a marathon and writing a novel are both ambitious goals that require a lot of time and dedication. One person wants to run 42.2 kilometers without stopping, the other wants to write a hella long story. One goal is widely accepted and easy to talk about, the other…kind of awkward and off-putting. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe you can share your thoughts on that in the comments – I’m genuinely interested.
To be clear, I’m not writing a book in hopes of becoming a well-known author – I don’t think my writing talent is in that league. If my book gets published at all, it will be because I have spent an obscene amount of my own money to have a few copies printed on blurb.ca to give to my kids. They are why I decided to finally stop thinking about writing a book and actually begin. I want to set an example of what can be achieved with hard work and commitment. I want them to see that it’s never too late to pursue a dream. Most of all, though, I want them to be proud of their mama.
So, friend-who-is-thinking-about-writing-a-book, I hope this post has helped you along on your adventure. It’s nice to be in the writing trenches with you.