My Secret Project (a.k.a. the novel I am writing) has been an eye-opening experience. I had written two attempts at novels previously – the first being more of an elongated and very boring short story, and the second a witty but shallow piece that I could never face editing. This third attempt, though, has real potential. And that is exciting and scary in equal measure.
But things I have learnt from this writing process:
- Treat your first draft like a one-night stand. Sure it might turn into something serious, but don’t go into it looking for marriage. It’s just you getting words out on the paper. Nothing more.
- Be honest. Okay? Now peel back that honesty and be more honest. (It’s a first draft – nobody has to see it.)
- You know all those methods for planning and writing a novel? They probably won’t work for you. Not exactly. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read about them, becaue they can help you find the process that works for you.
- There is only one process for writing. That’s putting words on the page. How you manage that, is up to you. If you turn up at the page, the words will come. Especially if you follow steps 1 and 2.
- It doesn’t matter what people think of you, or your words, right now. Sure, it will later, but right now, it doesn’t. That’s where the freedom comes from. Dance like nobody’s watching, write like nobody’s reading. Write because you cannot not write.
- Stick to it. Do not abandon the project for a second project that will creep into your brain when the main project gets hard. Take it as a compliment, in fact. Your brain testing out how committed you are to this process. Because if you don’t stick with this project, you won’t stick with the next one either. (Or you will, but it will be twice as hard, so don’t even start it.)
- Don’t be afraid to mess around with your technique a bit. By which I mean, you can’t know how best to get the words out until you try a variety of ways. This is how I ended up with the “don’t look back everything’s just part of a 4000 word chunk” technique. You won’t find it in any book.
- Have some space to get experimental. Muck about with flash fiction, write poetry, learn to bake bread. Flex some other creative muscles. Keep your perspective. If writing thie novel is like a long hike, remember to stop and enjoy the view from time to time. This is supposed to be fun, remember.
- It’s not always about the words. It’s about the idea. You have plenty of time to get the words right later. But the idea, that is something that is like a campfire shooting sparks into the sky – you can get lost in the flames because they always change a bit, but if you don’t feed it wood, it will eventually die out.
- These rules don’t necessarily apply to later drafts. Although they might. I suspect honesty will remain important, but I’ll keep you posted.