I know that when you’re reading a really good book, it can seem like the story came together effortlessly. Like the author just sat at their computer one day (or typewriter, if it’s an old book) and magically tapped the whole thing out by hand in one setting. Indeed, there are probably a bunch of authors out there who would prefer you imagine this telling of events, but too bad! Because I’m here to burst your bubble.
Every single author I’ve ever spoken with, or read any of their “behind-the-scenes” information, has had difficulty writing a really good book. How much difficulty really depends on the author, how much experience they have, what book they’re writing (or trying to), how much they really care about that book (and if they’re not just writing it to make mom/friends/critics happy), etc. But every single decent book out there was damn difficult for that author to put out.
Honestly, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for authors since becoming one myself. And I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to be able to call myself just an “author” instead of a “pre-published author”, or even an “aspiring author”. But back to the topic at hand: every book that isn’t complete, nonsensical garbage took effort. Maybe most of that effort was during the planning stage, where they set out a whole, detailed outline and followed that outline perfectly so the actual writing stage went smoothly, or maybe they detest planning stages as much as I do and struggled with the writing instead. Either way, the point remains the same.
I’ll be honest: my first couple of books weren’t too bad. Sure, I had some difficulty. When I first wrote The Crater in the Sky (my first published novel), I was planning for some Big Reveal(TM) later in the series regarding… we’ll just go with cthulhu-esque demon-gods and their descendants. I thought it was a great idea, and it might have actually been a great idea, but it just didn’t work with the series ending I had planned. So I ended up scrapping the whole demon-god thing (but not the supernatural thing entirely), and had to remove every single wink, nudge, reference, set-up, and link to those. Admittedly, there weren’t very many in Crater. Most of those references were in the second book, soon to be published. But that was still difficult, because I’d spent so long with that plot point in mind that I had no idea where to go with the series after the first 2 books.
Well, I worked on it a bit longer, and I think the series is even stronger now than it was before. Yes, there are still some major supernatural elements a bit later on in the series, but they’re not quite so… out-there.
The point is that each individual book has undergone several massive changes from the first draft, and the series as a whole has undergone at least one such change. For example, the clever, paranoid master thief heroine of the second book (The Children of the Deep) was originally a meek ex-thief who now worked as an accountant. Yes, an accountant. While it might be cool to write an action story with a meek accountant heroine for some, it was just too… dull for me. And considering she’d been living a legitimate life for years by the time the story started, the plot had no excuse to even begin, and her skill with lock picking and pickpocketing made no sense, considering she should have been sorely out of practice.
But by far, the book that has given me the most trouble, out of every story I’ve ever written, is the third book in this series. So far, it’s undergone 4 complete rewrites, and none of them have even finished the book yet. I’m not planning to scrap it since I like the story and plot, and it’s told from the point-of-view of the third main series character, but it’s giving me trouble.
I know where I want to go — I even have the ending already written — but I don’t know how to get there. Does anyone else know how annoying that feeling can be? There are a lot of days where I just sit at my computer trying to come up with how to speed up the timeline, how to introduce more evidence earlier in the story (it’s a murder-mystery), or how to just get this damn thing finished, already!
And it’s not even a case of “don’t be a perfectionist on the first draft, just get it down and you can tidy it up later”. I’ve been trying to do that for the past 4 half-drafts. I just can’t figure out how I want it to go. Plot lines go nowhere, or come across as contrived, and I’m working on it, I really am, but I don’t want to give an estimated publishing date because I hate missing deadlines. All I can say is that I hope and pray to have book 3 finished before 2018.
The point is that writing is hard. A lot of people, when writers complain about deadline issues or writer’s block or similar problems, tend to roll their eyes. Like writing a fully coherent, well-written story is as easy as writing a high school essay.
Yes, I do believe essay-writing is easier than commercial fiction-writing. Why?
Because, at least when I was in school, the teacher gave you a rubric that told you exactly what they expected. You had a set prompt, and usually a requirement for a certain minimum number of cited sources. Sure, they can be tricky, especially when you tend to write essays like me and run out of material halfway through so you just reiterate and restate what you’ve already said in a slightly different way and hope the teacher doesn’t notice.
But there’s no rubric for writing novels. Big five publishers don’t hand out papers to pre-published authors telling them exactly what they expect. If they did do that, I’m not sure if there would be half as many authors as there are now, since that would take away part of the fun of exploring where the story takes you. But it’s still difficult.
I think I made a similar post in the past, when I first started my blog, about how difficult it is to be a writer, but I don’t think I ever really went into detail as to why. So now you know. And if there are any published, successful authors out there who disagree, who’ve had no difficulty whatsoever with their writing, please let me know. I want to know your secret, because you are literally (and literarily!) the eighth wonder of the world.