Oh, 2010, you really bitch-slapped me on your way out the door. We were BFFs for a while there – I thought you might be one of the best years EVER – but sadly you turned into the kind of backstabbing shrew I knew in high school. You know, the one that says she’ll find out if your crush likes you back but actually goes over there and flirts with him herself. Anyway.
Because I am mature and full of wisdom and grace I will try not to keep complaining about the sucky end to 2010, and how I didn’t finish revisions on Swim, and how I haven’t even started revisions on Dangerous School, Class of 2030, and how I tried and failed to start writing the Everest book. Instead endeavor to understand how my writing grew, and what I learned this year – from the good, the bad, and the ugly. So without further ado, my writing lessons learned in 2010:
1) Schedules ‘R’ Us: Turns out it’s not just bestselling authors on deadline that benefit from a writing schedule. On a day to day basis, despite my best intentions and deep love of writing, it was horribly easy to not write. My brain was always full of good ideas and ways to develop the plot or deepen the characters, but scarily enough, if I didn’t pay close attention, the words never made it out of my head. And we all know how many people have gotten rich and successful by thinking about their amazing novels, right? Nope, you actually have to write them down! So I started writing every morning – usually from 5:45 – 7:00. A kind of hideous hour, but one of the only ones available. And sure enough, with the butt in the chair, the words start to follow.
2) I Must Rock Out: As the above point mentioned, I do most of my writing in the
way early morning. Not my favorite time. Not a time to make me think of dramatic horny teenagers and their dystopian/paranormal/fishy problems. No, it’s a time that makes me think about mainlining coffee and getting back under the covers as fast as possible. So I learned quickly that if I was going to do anything useful in that time, I needed motivation. The fastest place to get that? iTtunes, baby! Making a playlist that matches the mood, the character, or the world I’m writing about is critical to unlocking the door and letting myself into my WIP every morning. Sometimes the songs are obvious teen hits, other times the music might be classical, folk, or some other random genre – it matters not! What matters is that, to me, the music matches the story.
3) Writing is the Easy Part: Actually, the really easy part is having a good idea. Good ideas are the cute puppies of the writing process – there are millions of them, and they’re all adorable, no matter what they look like. The problem is, of course, writing them down (see Lesson 1). And even writing isn’t so hard. There might be some slogging sections, some times when you know you’re writing crap, but you power through, but generally, you move forward, add word count, and generally feel good. You start with zero words. You end with 75,000 words. That’s progress, right!? Then come revisions. Yeah, the words glacially slow come to mind. Maybe it’s just me. But turning a decent first draft into a good second draft, or a good second draft into an excellent third…well, let’s just day I haven’t met this milestone yet. But the good news? Every single draft is better than the one before. For the moment, that has to be enough.
4) Be Tough but Kind: When life is kind of a hairball, forcing myself to write felt really good. It was fun to escape into my imaginary world, and deal with problems of my own creating. Even if I was tired or pissy or behind on real (i.e., paid) work, writing was like exercise – hard to make yourself do it sometimes, but ALWAYS rewarding. However. Sometimes life is less a hairball and more a German opera – all angst and suffering. Sometimes, things just suck. And in those moments, trying to climb into my writing was just too difficult. It’s like telling a cancer patient to take a run – a little exercise cures everything. Not quite true. So this year, which threw a few curve balls at me, also taught me that there are times to give myself tough love and power through, and times to catch up on sleep, cry into my pillow a little, and let the writing wait. As long as I come back, the writing will be there.
So there they are! The hard-won writing lessons of 2010! There are certainly others, like how to find critique partners, how to work on multiple projects at once, and how to write in a hockey rink while sitting on your laptop case to keep your butt warm. But for now we’ll stick with these. Here’s to learning more, writing more, and moving forward in 2011.