This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Rebecca Serle.
writing from The New School and her BA in
English from The University of Southern
California. ROSALINE, due out May 2012, is
her first book. Rebecca grew up in Hawaii,
went to college in California, and now lives
in New York. She has been gradually moving
eastward over the course of many years.
Next stop, the Atlantic ocean. Or perhaps
London. Learn more at rebeccaserle.com.
1. You don’t write a book. You write a sentence and then a paragraph and then a page and then a chapter. Looking at writing 400 plus pages or seventy thousand odd words is incredibly daunting, but if you just focus on the immediate picture—say, 500 words—it’s not so overwhelming. And the remarkable thing is that 500 words every day will yield a manuscript of 70,000 words in less than five months.
2. Every writer, no matter published, unpublished, award-winning or bestselling, faces insecurity. It crops up everywhere, and, in my personal experience, nearly every day. It’s just a part of the process. The funny thing about being a writer is that you often have to ignore your intuition in order to do a good day’s work. If you listen to every voice in your head nothing will get done. You have to push through the self- doubt and just do it. It’s been my experience that I generally know when I’m doing really great writing, but I rarely if ever know when I’m doing good writing or bad writing. I confuse the two constantly.
3. Writer’s block is not a viable excuse. Honestly, I’m not even sure, specifically, what writer’s block is. I’m fairly certain I experience it every single day. It goes like this: I sit down. I’m not sure what to do or how to do it. An old college professor of mine once said the following: “writing is ten percent talent and ninety percent commitment.” I live by this. Do I think that ten perfect is crucial? Absolutely, and it’s what gets me through many a rough patch, but what I rely on daily is that ninety. It’s just committing to getting it done. That’s about it.
4. A book is not something you build, but something you uncover. I’m just going to take a moment to say buy Stephen King’s On Writing. It has some of the best advice on craft you’ll ever come by. One of the things King stresses is that a book is like a fossil. It’s the writer’s job to excavate it with as little damage as possible. I believe this whole-heartedly. Your book will naturally have all the elements it needs to be complete. You don’t need to worry about purposefully injecting theme or motif or symbolism. If you write the truest version of your story, those things will be inherent.
5. Never forget to find the joy. Writing isn’t manual labor. Nor is it emptying the dishwasher or paying bills. It’s work, sure, but sometimes it should be fun. I find that there are a few times over the course of writing a book that feel like reading, where I’m excited to find out what happens next. There are many things I love about writing, but this is by far my favorite. When I’m having a particularly challenging day I’ll think about that. Sometimes I’ll even read back over portions of a book I really like. Remind yourself that creating a world is an incredibly rewarding thing. Enjoy it. Celebrate it.
6. Something’s gotta give … and that’s okay. I used to think that if I was ever so lucky as to get a book deal that I would write all the time. All day, every day. I’d write three books a year. The truth, though, is that writing all day isn’t really feasible. I could do it, but I’d be folding in on a lot of other aspects of my life, things I care about. And I wouldn’t be happy. I’ve found that a tremendous part about making the transition from “writer” to “author” has been learning how to forgive myself for not always living up to my own expectations.
7. Look for truth and beauty will follow. My good friend and fellow author, Lauren Oliver, once told me this and I think it’s the single greatest piece of writing advice I have ever received. Don’t look for the words that will appear pretty on the page, look for the words that will tell the truest version of your story. Always be asking yourself: is this true? When you write something down that makes your reader pause and think “yes,” that’s when your book becomes a thing of beauty. Because you are telling a story that has just touched someone. And really, isn’t that the whole point anyway?
Need a day-by-day plan for finishing
your novel? Check out the updated
resource 90 Days to Your Novel.