Hey everybody! I’m back with part 2 of Lessons Learned From Finishing A Book. If you haven’t seen part 1, have a look at it here. But as for part 2, I’m going to continue where I left off.
5.) Never Overlook The Little Things, Simplify If You Can
Don’t get caught up in thinking that plots have to be super complicated, grandiose, or that worlds have to end in fire, war, and dragons banging each other on the Empire State building (but if they do, I probably will buy a copy).
Meaning is not created when you throw a shit ton of things at the reader’s face and make them stick. It gets created when you allow one thing to stand for a shit ton of everything else.
In writing, this sometimes means cutting characters out, shifting duties around to people who it would make a little more sense, sometimes it means cutting out something you thought was a symbol and making way for something you didn’t realize was a symbol the whole time.
If you find yourself getting discouraged because you feel like you’re cutting too much…
Don’t think of the cutting and rearranging as bad or that you wasted all your time (especially if you are in the earliest stages of writing the book).
I learned that once you’re pared down to the bare essentials and you start building again, then usually this is where you start to notice the symbols, the important themes, and the connections between things.
But you can’t be afraid to simplify and look at the small things.
6.) Never Forget That Writing Is Supposed To Be Enjoyable
You’re probably tired of me saying this by now.
I’m sorry, but people love to forget this.
For some of us, writing started out as a hobby. We scribbled in notebooks as kids (I still have some of those) and not two shits were given if it was good, bad, stupid, or bizarre. We just wrote and wrote because it was fun.
Now, when you don’t like a TV show, what do you do? Turn that shit to another channel and find something else to watch.
When you don’t want to eat what’s in the fridge, what do you do? Eat something else.
But for some reason, most people’s answer to what do you do when you don’t like what you’re writing is: keep writing what you hate.
Da fuck? No, no, no. No. This is like throwing yourself on a bed of long nails on purpose when there is a comfortable bed like write next to you.
Write what you love.
When you do this, writing that first, second, fiftieth draft becomes significantly less painful and gets done a lot faster. If you like cowboys long-jumping on the backs of naked football players in a sauna then shove them in somewhere.
We pick up writing because it made us happy at some point, not to make us feel even shittier. You can turn on the news for that.
7.)Experiment And Never Be Afraid To Follow A Curiosity No Matter How Small
If I never asked “what if…”, my main character Jun would still be a stereotypical princess in a castle waiting for plot to happen and being entitled as fuck.
But because I asked “what if…” Jun is now a low-income minority assassin who works at what is the shitty equivalent of Starbucks and might as well wear a name tag that says, “Hi, I’m a protagonist. If have any inquiries about chaos or trouble, feel free to fuck my life up 24/7.”
Just yesterday I was curious about what a ferrari sounded like and suddenly boom next novel now has giant wolf-bears creatures that sound like ferraris and lamborghinis, so when they’re mad they can vrrooooom at each other.
Yes. You read that correctly. Vrroooom.
But seriously. Don’t think that because you wrote out the outline that you have to follow it to the last ‘t’. I have an outline, and let me tell you…
I deviated right at the first chapter.
Good stories need some breathing room to be meaningful, surprising, and to be their awkward selves. It’s hard to do that when you’re choking the damn thing by throat and telling your characters to walk a plank that they know full well is stupid to walk on.
And it’s very hard to read a story that obviously has a writer’s nose shoved into every page.
I agree wholeheartedly that we are the masters of our stories, but do not treat it like a dictatorship where you beat the life out of the poor thing and think it will still be able to walk afterward.
8.) Don’t Think That The Only Place To Learn Writing Is From Your How-To-Books
This one is a really big one.
I’ve read tons of books on writing and personally most just repackage the same vomit after a while.
Make characters not flat. Woo. Show, don’t tell. Meh. Make your character arcs like blah, blah, blah… Follow this structure. Eat my toenails… So on and so forth.
Now don’t get me wrong. The How-Tos are great when you’re a new and awkward. But I’d recommend grabbing only one general book that you like and then branch out into different aspects of writing. Read those until you’re reasonably comfortable and then put them away.
Because if you keep sucking on those like a pacifier, you’ll be blind to the other opportunities to learn about writing that are all up in your boogie-ridden nostrils.
Personally speaking, of all the valuable skills I know about writing, most didn’t come from books on character, descriptions, plot, or anything of the like.
Example? Most of what I know about writing fantasy books actually comes from my Art History major.
You might be wondering da fuq? Or even better…
Da fuq is Art History? That’s a major? Why not do Literature, English, or the dead fucking obvious Creative Writing major?
Here’s the thing.
It’s true that if you did one of the three above, you will very likely learn something about writing. You’ll read lots of books and analyze those books to death. You’ll know the names of dead people that your great-great-grandma probably met way back in the 19th century version of Costco.
But if you’re writing a fantasy book set in ancient Korea, a literature professor shoving The Joy Luck Club down your throat suddenly becomes useless.
A Korean Art History professor showing you pictures of Queen Seon Deok’s star-gazing tower, old swords, crowns from the Three Kingdoms period, building floor plans, materials, and methods of building is a godsend.
You also learn interesting tidbits such as why medieval castles have spiral staircases (for defender advantage and attacker hindrance), purposely uneven steps (more attacker disadvantage), and moats (so no one can dig under yo castle.)
You learn why dragons and cranes are common motifs in East Asia (psst, auspicious animals, dragons tend to be associated with heaven and cranes are a symbol of longevity).
You learn to tell golden age Greek shit from other people’s shit (hint: look for the very bad cases of wet drapery syndrome, and clothing heft in inappropriate places).
And you learn why Egyptians made votive statues (so big busy rulers could pretty much autotweet their prayers to the gods instead of going to the temple all the time).
But I’m not advocating that you sign up at your local college just to do this. For the sake of my nonexistent hamster, do not. Unless you really want to spend the time and money. But some things, I think you can get from documentaries and be fine.
Now other important lessons I learned about writing stories came from my Advanced poetry class. That’s right.
I’ve taken creative writing classes too. They were okay.
But poetry really took me to the next level. Probably because the professor was from fancy-schmancy Iowa Writer’s workshop. He went there as a student, but also taught there and brought his teachings to UCI.
I love him to bits because he didn’t just teach us how to write.
He taught us how to teach ourselves how to write.
And that is huge.
Because if you know how to teach yourself how to write, then the only how-to books you need are the novels and stories that you love to read.
9.) Rest Is Not Just Essential But Mandatory As Is Health
You can’t write books if you’re dead. Okay?
You also can’t write good books if you’re brain dead.
We like to think that the answer to getting more done is to work longer and force ourselves to do more, but that isn’t the case. Work quality suffers when you push yourself while you are clearly out of it.
This doesn’t mean be lazy or to never try to push your boundaries. All I’m saying is that don’t go around thinking that you’re a robot and are invincible. Treat your body right and your writing will stay in tip-top shape.
10.) Tea/ Coffee Is Life
Pretty self explanatory.
11.) Yes, It Really A Matter Of Just “Doing It”
Writing a book is only a matter of typing one word and then another until you get to the end.
If you just sit there, do it, keep doing it, then you’ll be done.
But for some reason, we complicate this to astronomical proportions with our fears, doubts, insecurities, laziness, distractions, and every excuse in the book.
And those amount to the same thing: not being done.
Because an excuse, even a good one, is still an excuse and gets nothing done. The only time I use excuses these days is for things I just don’t want to do.
I don’t make excuses for not writing.
If I get distracted by Harry Potter movies on tv, I cut the tv off.
If I get distracted by Facebook, I have an app that blocks access.
If I get distracted by Internet, I block it.
If there’s something on tv that my family is getting all excited about, I ignore it
If someone recommends me a new book, I save the name and check it out later.
If family wants to be a nuisance, I put headphones on and only pay attention when absolutely necessary or I go in another room.
If I screw up and let something get in the way, I don’t keep screwing up. I figure out a way around it.
Because when it is time to write, it is time to write.
No excuses. No exceptions.
There are no magic shortcuts. No magic target hitting bullets. No insta-finish button. No way of gaming this system.
But I will say this, if you want to get that book done, you can. It is 100% within your power to do it and no one else’s. You could theoretically be done tomorrow if you really wanted. There’s a guy out there who did 50,000 words in a day. That’s a level of crazy I aspire to be.
But still he did it.
Hence why I don’t buy into any bogus variation of “I can’t…A/B/C/D/X/Y/Z”
Just do it already.