One Year In: What I’ve Learned

On Writing

Well, a tad over.  I tackled NanoWriMo in November, 2011.  It was a great experience.  It provided the impetus to finally finish Three 15 years after I’d started it.  I’ve learned a lot since then.  I also have a lot left to learn, but perhaps by sharing what I learned over the past year, I can help someone coming up behind me.  So, here’s my top 6 tips I’ve learned about writing after my first year.

  1. Writing a novel takes a long time.  I can type fairly quickly, or at least I think I can (someone in the comments may prove me wrong).  My average cruising speed is around 1,100-1,200 words per hour.  Sometimes when things aren’t coming easily, it’s more like 600-800 words per hours.  On the other hand, I can get up to 1,600-2,000 words per hour when I’m really flying.  So, I could theoretically get out an average 70,000 word novel in as few as 35 days.  Not bad.  But writing the first draft is only part of the process.  The first draft is likely to be awful (more so if I didn’t outline first).  So, you have rewrites.  But in order to come at the work with fresh eyes, you need to let it sit and mellow while you tackle other projects.  Which isn’t bad.  It’s good to have a couple of projects going at a time, so you can bounce back and forth.  Then, after you’ve done your rewrites, it’s time to turn it over to a real editor, which is going to introduce new rewrites, and possibly work with formatters and cover designers.  So, if the idea is to jump in and start cranking out 3 or 4 novels in the first year, that’s not going to happen (unless you shortcut, which is going to mean turning out an inferior product, practically insuring you’ll never get many of those desired readers).

    St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...

    St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writing: Sandro Botticelli's St. Augustine in His Cell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  2. Find out what kind of writer you are.  It turns out that I’m an eternal editor.  And I tend to rush to get the story on the page.  So, I no longer give myself permission to edit (unless I see something glaring) as I’m writing the first draft.  I’ve also taken to writing outlines, something I’d previously avoided,  which has caused me to slow down and get more of the story out as I’m tackling that first draft.  It also acts as a roadmap, so I don’t wind up writing myself into a corner, or finding that things aren’t coming along as I wanted.

  3. Budget.  You can’t start a business without startup capital.  I thought that I could do this for next to nothing.  And I suppose I could, especially if this is just going to be a hobby that I was going to play at.  But I decided that this was going to be something I was really going to go for, so there have been some small investments along the way.  I’ve done a good job of keeping them under control by shopping around and doing a lot of the work myself.  But, knowing that you only get one chance to make a first impression, I have 2 much larger expenses on the horizon because I did the next step.

  4. Evaluate your skills.  I’ve done most things myself.  I’ve setup the sites, customized code, wrote, self-edited, and I’m going to try my hand at formatting.  But I tried to make a cover, and it looked amateurish.  It seems design and illustration skills don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.  The cover is a crucial part of the book.  There’s a reason you hear “don’t judge a book by its cover;” it’s because people do.  The cover’s important enough that you need a good one, so I’ll be paying for that.  I’ll also be paying for professional editing, because I want my work to shine, and I know that I can never be truly objective, or as good at spotting areas that could be improved as someone who’s been editing for years.  At some point, I may decide I want a better looking site, and hire someone to do that.  There’s no shame in admitting that you can’t do it all yourself, or as well as you could pay someone else to do it.  You’re a writer.  Writers write.  They don’t necessarily do all the other pieces that are required to produce a book.  Even if you can or could learn, it might not be worth your time.

  5. Writing is hard work.  It’s good work, though.  You’re not outside in the elements, no one is actively trying to maim or hurt you, and if you’re self-published, you don’t even have deadlines except for the self-imposed variety.  But it can still be mentally taxing, and it’s easy to get distracted by the other parts that go along with this sort of career, like social media, marketing, blogging, email, etc.  You also have to keep track of minute details, especially if you do your own taxes.  If you’re doing this for fun, then no big deal.  But if you intend to run your writing career as a business, then this is something you have to stay disciplined about, consistently pumping out words, maintaining high standards, doing the research, self-editing so you can turn in the best possible draft to your editor (so he or she can then take it that much farther), and then editing some more.  All for the possibility, but not guarantee, that people will buy it, like it, and bring in enough money to let you keep doing this.

  6. This is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.  If you’re looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, this isn’t the best choice.  But this is fun.  Since I still have my day job, I can do this when and at a pace that I enjoy.  I get to make up stories, detailing the lives of people who don’t exist.  I get to hear my kids talk excitedly about stories I’ve made up for them.  They want to know when the book is going to be done, when the illustration I’m working on is going to be done.  They tell their teachers about the book I’m writing.  That’s a mighty fine feeling, and a good motivator to keep going.  Plus, once you’ve written the book, it can keep making money forever.  I’ve never had a job like that.

    1. So, that’s what I’ve learned about writing after the first year.  I think I’ll take a whack at what I’ve learned in the past year about illustrating next.  If you have some other good tips for new writers, please share them in the comments below.  Oh, and Happy New Year!

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