I'm always shocked, somehow, when the weekend arrives! It feels like this year has been moving so quickly. Perhaps that's just what happens when you're chronically ill and have a simple life spent mostly at home. 😋
Today, I want to talk about an epiphany I had when I was writing this blog post. In the post, I wrote about trunking #ProphecyStory and the bright possibilities I saw moving forward in my writing career. As I did so, I suddenly realized why it's taking me so long to write something good enough to get a literary agent.
A little while back, I wrote a different blog post about how my books have lacked the originality necessary to succeed on the market. At that point, though there are reasons why I'm glad my career hasn't taken off yet, I was feeling fairly discouraged. I kept thinking, How can I be such a slow learner in my writing career when I've always been a fast learner in everything else? But now I understand that it's not an issue of being a slow learner. I've likely been learning and improving at a decent enough pace.
The problem is that I wasn't writing in the way that works best for me.
I've known for a long time that, when it comes to writing advice, the cardinal rule is that you need to do what works for you. Not every piece of writing advice will be right for every writer, though most advice has its place. What I didn't realize was that this doesn't always come naturally. You have to put in effort to find the way that works for you, and it won't always be the first way you try. You have to test it. You have to apply those pieces of writing advice and see if they improve your work.
I tend to be stubborn, which I think is an important trait for writers to have, but it has downsides. Right from the start, I settled into one method of writing, and I never really considered the alternatives. I became a pantser, starting out my books with an ending or a climax in mind and jumping right in to blaze a path towards that idea. I never planned any other part of the story before beginning to write. I was also a "plot-rusher," someone who moves so quickly through the first draft that it ends up a bit crunched and skeletal. Instead of needing to delete a lot of text the way most writers do in editing, I needed to add scenes and bulk it all up! All the things that planners do before writing, I did after finishing that first draft.
And I was proud to be a pantser. I was proud to be the person who wrote nineteen novels before turning twenty-one. I was proud to be a repeat NaNoWriMo winner who once managed 50,000 words in two weeks. I had settled into that identity, and I felt loyal to it!
But then my chronic illness crisis hit.
It's strange to me to think of my chronic illnesses as being a positive thing. Most the time, they very much aren't. But it turns out that this crisis has done me an important favor. It forced me to do something I'd never considered before: it forced me to slow down. I've found this to be very frustrating, and I've discussed here before how I've struggled with going from blazing to glacial, from Stephen King to George R.R. Martin.
Writing that #ProphecyKeeper blog post and looking at my future book ideas, however, I realized how important this might be for me. As I said in the post about originality, I am not really a creative thinker. I'm a rule follower, Lawful Good, not great at getting outside the box. Someone like me cannot thrive as a pure pantser and a plot-rusher. All my obsessive enthusiasm, along with my longtime distaste for outlines, has kept me from realizing that slowing down is exactly what I've needed, at every stage of the process.
My future book ideas are more creative and interesting than my past ones for a reason. I seem to get book ideas at the rate of about one per year. But when I got sick, I wasn't able to write a new book for a handful of years. That means the ideas started piling up, and I had more time to consider them and add to them. Ideas for novels are kind of like Lego blocks: you have to take multiple pieces and snap them together before you get something that works. Now, instead of having a basic idea with a couple of components, I have ideas that are taking on many more pieces before I ever start writing. My "outlines" are still quite simple--mostly a list of those Lego blocks--but they exist, now.
My slowness once I get to the writing stage has also caused a number of important changes, annoying as it is to me. When working at this rate, I have to work on my book every day or I lose both momentum and perspective; I forget too much of what's come before and have to start over. Outline or no, I think very writer has to work off of instinct to some degree--you have to develop a "sense" for the story, and if I don't write every day, I lose that. But writing every day, as I discussed in my post about the chronic illness crisis, is actually the first writing process advice I ever tried out. It helped me to see how changing up my style might be good.
Additionally, writing this slowly gives me time to consider my options. When I was racing through my stories with my basic, non-outlined ideas, it was very easy for my Lawful Good brain to default into overused tropes instead of thinking more complexly. I believe that I'll be able to be more original and thoughtful now that I've slowed down. (The slowness also allows me to layer on more details and do more research during writing instead of doing it editing, which I don't think I necessarily need, but it's still an interesting shake-up.)
The slower rate even helps during editing, because I have more time to consider and list all the changes that would improve the story before I get it to my beta readers and critique partners. That means they have a better product, one that I've already done a lot of work on, to critique, I'm also having them read it one at a time instead of all at once now, which I think will increase the potential for improvement.
Without my illnesses slowing me down, I don't think I ever would've had this epiphany. I never would've realized how important it is to write using the methods that are best for you, and I never would've realized that I needed to make changes in order to find those methods. Now I know that I need to experiment not just with what I write but with how I write it. For example, I'm planning to try different fonts, like Comic Sans and Courier, based on advice I've seen online. Little by little, I think this experimenting will help me to get to a place where I can write better--not just because I'm learning and getting experience but because I'm discovering how to write in a way that maximizes my unique potential
This epiphany also emphasized for me the importance of this piece of writing advice, which I've talked about a little before. That Tumblr post discusses how J.R.R. Tolkien exemplified someone using "what they know" and what they're passionate about in order to write a story that's both high-quality and uniquely personal. I was struck by that piece of advice from the moment I first read it, and now I see that it aligns with this whole concept of finding what works best for you.
Initially, I didn't know how to apply that advice because I see my passion as mainly being "stories." That's just too broad a topic, and after all, my interest in stories is exactly why I'm writing in the first place. It already applies here in plentiful ways! But as I've thought it over, I've figured it out. First, I have to be willing to let go of my conception of what is typical for the speculative fiction stories I love. I think all writers struggle with this; after all, there's a reason we love the genre(s) we write! And It is important for us to look at what we love in our favorite authors/stories, but it's also important to consider what fits us.
As much as I love sci-fi/fantasy, I have to acknowledge that I am not a strategist, and I don't know much about war or political scheming. That kind of thinking doesn't at all come naturally for me--and though I do sometimes find it interesting, it's not what really draws me to those genres either. The stories that fit me as a writer aren't big epics with worlds or countries in need of salvation. The stories that fit me are more personal and focused. These smaller scale conflicts don't have to be smaller intensity, though--what people usually connect to in stories are the characters. (I think those of us who love stories are often quite interested in learning about people.) Writing small-scale stories does mean I'm less likely to become a Harry Potter- or Hunger Games-type phenomenon, but my vision of what my dream career is has changed anyway. I've realized the better goal isn't to become a phenomenon but rather to have a long and steady career with many published books. After all, you don't have to touch millions in order to make a difference in the world. Even just one can be enough.
So for me, instead of writing about war and international relations, I should focus on what I do have a lot of experience, knowledge, and interest in. I have experience in complex family relationships, in mental and chronic illness, and in social media use. I have a more-than-average amount of knowledge about psychology, sociology, religion, and medicine. (Like I said, storytellers are interested in people.) I also know a lot about cats, should that ever become relevant, LOL. Though I wouldn't say I'm experienced in or knowledgeable about it, I am very interested in romance. 💜 Perhaps most importantly, what does draw me to speculative fiction is its focus on magic, stars, and all the potential in the future, the universe, and ourselves. Between those things and the many tropes that I enjoy, I have a lot I can work with in my writing--and of course, experiences and interests can change over time, offering even more possibilities.
Throughout my quiet writing career so far, I've learned a few things that I consider to be the most important pieces of writing advice I can give. I think it's important for writers to dig their heels in and get stubborn enough to never give up on their dream. I think it's important for writers to read and watch and experience as many different stories as they can. I think it's important for writers to recognize the autonomy of their characters. Now, I'm adding this to that list: I think it's important for writers to experiment with different writing methods so that they can find what works the best for them personally.
For me, this is a career-changer, and it might very well turn out to be a career-maker.
Thanks for reading! If you're a writer, share some of what works for you! I'll be back next week with a "taking stock" update.
Images via Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan on publicdomainpictures.net, Kenneth Allen on geograph.ie, 4thehorde on DeviantArt, and thommas68 and comfreak on Pixabay,
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