I have been a writer since I was old enough to hold a pencil in my hand. I loved writing short fairy stories and poetry all through primary school, and I couldn’t seem to get enough of reading or listening to my favourite tales. So, it’s only natural that as an adult I wanted to be a published author.
The thing no-one tells you about the writing journey is that it is much longer and more complicated than you ever expect it to be. As a child stories are like an effortless magic, so you expect the process of writing a story to be just as effortless and magical. But it isn’t. In fact, the amount of effort it takes to make a story seem effortless cannot be underestimated.
When I first said I was going to write a book, oh, many, many years ago, I assumed it would be a straightforward process. How wrong I was. As my mother would put it when I was complaining one day, “Surely you just put one word in front of the other until it’s done.” Well yes, OK, it is that easy AND that difficult. But that is also an extremely naive point of view, and most likely, the words of someone who will NEVER write a book.
Because the process of selecting those words that you write, one in front the other, is far more complicated than such a sentence allows. In actual fact, writing a book is a long and laborious process. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on that process you find out you don’t know the half of it. Let me explain.
First, you write what is commonly referred to as the ‘shitty first draft’. Now, this might seem like an easy task, but it isn’t. You start off with a great idea. You begin writing furiously as you let your ‘totally amazing and perfect bestseller’ spill onto the page/computer screen. You get to around 25,000-40,000 words and suddenly realise you haven’t got a clue where this is going or how it’s going to end, never mind how you are going to write another 50,000 odd words. You panic. Stop writing, and either sink into despair, procrastinating whilst you do everything but write, or abandon the book altogether.
Back to the drawing-board.
You decide you need to know how this writing-malarkey works and binge read as many ‘how to write’ books as you can get your hands on. Then you go to a few workshops/retreats and discover that things will work much better if you construct a ‘book plan’ with a basic outline of your plot points. Suddenly all fired up you put the biscuits down and return to your notebook/computer. You force yourself to come up with a plot in approximately 10-12 points. “Aha!” you think, “I’ve cracked it!”
And so the writing process begins (again!). Either with a whole new novel or a rehashed version of the one you just stepped away from.
You write, filling in the plot points and expanding each scene as you go. You’re on fire! (Note: several months, if not years, of your life go by). At the end of this process you finally have that elusive ‘shitty first draft’ Hemingway was talking about. “Eureka!” you shriek, “I’ve finally written a book.”
Except you haven’t. You have just completed ‘stage one’. Next you get to go back, possibly several times, and redraft or edit your work as you try to shape it into something less ‘shitty’. (Note: several more months, if not years, may go by.)
Eventually, you get to a point where you simply can’t polish that turd any further. It’s as ‘shiny’ as you’re ever gonna make it. Surely, now you can say that you’ve written that book, right? Wrong. Now, you need to send it to a few mates, fellow writers or willing strangers – otherwise known as beta readers – who will read what you have written and then feedback any issues, plot holes, typos and general things that need fixing. Once you get that feedback it’s back to the old drawing-board where, you guessed it, you get to start the editing process again.
Once you have spent several more months fixing everything, you can then (if you want/can afford to) have your work looked at by a professional editor. Prices for this type of work vary but it is a good investment these days if you’re serious about getting your work out there, especially if you intend to self-publish at the end of it. When you get your feedback report, you get to do another ‘final’ edit (is editing really ever over?!) where you fix up any last remaining problems with your novel.
And then, finally, after all of this, you can (more or less) say, “I’ve written a book!”. Congratulations!
But wait, there’s more! It doesn’t end there. Because once you’ve spent all that time and effort writing the damn thing and making it as perfect as you can get it, you then have to decide what you want to do with it and how you are going to go about it. So a new journey begins – The Publishing Journey. And that is a whole new story.
So when you think of the writing journey see it as, rather than a hill to climb, a series of hills in a vast mountain range. You climb to the top of the first hill only to find there is another bigger hill behind it. Then another behind that, and so on. And it’s only as you get to the top that you can see the peaks in the distance of the many other hills you have to climb. But it’s also once you finally get to the summit that you can look back and see how far you’ve come, and there’s not a feeling of accomplishment quite like it.