Thursday, October 21, 2010

What You Can Bring To The Next Book

When I started writing, I was under the impression that every consecutive book would be easier to write. It was a logical assumption. I mean, the more you write, the better you get. And the better you get, the easier it should be, right?

Or...not. Getting better does not necessarily correlate with having an easier time writing. Well, not entirely, at least. There are some things that do get easier, but there are some that continue to remain wild cards.

Writing is weird that way! Because no matter how much you learned from this book, it's not The Next Book. And The Next Book will come with its own problems, ones you never had in the last book. It will likely confound you just as much as your last book, to the point that you'll wonder if you learned anything at all about writing in that last year or however long.

But never fear. I think most writers experience this. Some books just come easier than others, and you never know when a tough cookie will hit, or why.

Today I want to point out the things that do translate from book to book, and those that will likely continue to give you trouble for the rest of your writing career. SO exciting, I'm sure.

What You Can Bring To The Next Book
• Prose Craft: The more you write, the easier it is to pump out "clean" prose. You know not to go crazy with the adverbs. You know how to avoid passive constructions. You can catch your overuse of gerunds before it takes over the manuscript. At least, you better be able to. If not, work on that craft. It's important!

• Story Craft: The more you write, the easier it is to see where your story might be going off course. You notice the infodump mid-dump (ha, awkward). You spot that cliché. You avoid that trope or twist it up. You can sense when your plot might be derailing, even if you can't figure out how to get it right yet.

• Planning: Your planning/outlining becomes more clear. You know how to brainstorm. You know what to look for in a good plot. You know what makes a compelling character. With all your practice, you can easily line up core conflicts and motivations—the things that drive your plot forward.

What You're Stuck Dealing With On Every. Single. New. Idea.
• That Thing Called Writing: Yes, you still have to write the dang words in your novel. Sometimes they won't want to come out, even if you know the story and you know you can do it. You'll still have days where it seems impossible to write even a sentence. But you will still have to write. At least until they create a machine that can directly download our thoughts, rearrange them perfectly, and send them out to others. (Forget flying cars, I want that machine.)

• Doubt: So what if you've finished 12 novels? There will still be a point where you'll wonder if this will be the one that fails. Maybe this book is the one you should give up on because it really does suck—you have to be out of good ideas by now, right? You'll still have to battle this monster, sorry.

• Imperfect Execution:
No matter how much you've improved, you still have to write a first draft. And a first draft will always be flawed because it is full of assumptions. This is your first go at the story, and it might not be exactly what you thought it would be. The characters might not be who you thought they were. This is inevitable. In some ways you can't know what your story is supposed to be until after that first draft.

• Ticks: You know for a fact that you overuse "just," so you avoid it like the plague in this book. But instead of using "just" you notice that you've apparently fallen in love with "even" this time, and it appears in the text a whopping 697 times! New ticks always crop up—whether it's a word, an action (like smiling or lip pursing or heart pounding), or the overuse of metaphor. You have to watch out even if you've quelled your old habits.

• Edits: No matter how good your book is, it can always get better. Sure, I always hope my betas readers will have nothing bad to say about that new project, but I'm always wrong. Because every story can be better. There will always be something you miss. But hey, we're human! And books are big and long, so it's okay to miss a few (or many) things.

So there you have it. Writing is always an adventure. Sometimes that really stresses me out, but I think, in the end, that's what makes it so interesting and rewarding.


  1. So true. Glad you figured out what to blog about today.:) I love bringing to a new story what I learned in the last, but it doesn't mean the words flow all the time. In fact, in some ways, without the naivete, writing gets harder because we realize how hard it truly is!

  2. For reals, Laura! I am far more daunted by how hard writing is now than I ever was. It's like, "How did I DO that? It had to have been dumb luck."

  3. I know I'm definitely getting better at all the grammar stuff!! At least that's something!! LOL! The's still tough. :)

  4. Oh no! So my just addiction (or variation thereof) will never be fully cured? Damn.

  5. So true! Great post.

    My boyfriend likes to make sports analogies for, well, pretty much everything, and I've found that many of them are pretty apt in relation to writing. So your post made me think about an athlete entering his next game. He knows how to play. He's got the skills and the knowledge, and he's played hundreds of games before. But those games don't make this one any easier. The basics are the same (put ball through hoop, or throw the ball downfield, or whatever) but there are still all sorts of variables out of his control.

    That's what makes each game exciting, though! That's what makes the audience cheer.

  6. Excellent points here. Thanks for the list and the reminder to watch out for those pesky things that creep in to every manuscript.

  7. I sometimes feel the more you learn about writing, sometimes, not always, the harder it gets. When I first started writing I would pump out words because I had no quality filter. But now I think my qualify filter is clogged because I'm way over skeptical about my writing.

  8. you're saying it doesn't magically get easier and I don't start spitting perfect novels in my sleep and burping rainbows of fantastic prose?? THEY LIED TO ME!!

    And by "they", I mean the tiny voices in my head who also say I'm the world's best break-dancer.

    WAIT. So that means I'm not the world's best break-dancer too?! My life is shattered. SHATTERED, I tell you!

    Ahem. Now then.

  9. I'm on my second year of writing book one. And when I look ahead to my future projects, I hope it won't take QUITE so long. I can definitely see how those same struggles would translate to all your books, though. I think another way book one is a learning book for me, other than learning the craft, is learning how to manage my time for writing.

  10. In some ways, it gets harder because your expectations are different and so are the expectations of people reading your work. Pressure!

  11. Great post - I've found it true that my plotting gets tighter, but my first draft prose still kind of sucks. But, that may be because I let myself word vomit. On the up side, the adverbs have definitley dried up :) The doubt thing is always there though. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one.