It’s a nice feeling when you finish your first book – not so much when you realise the amount of work ahead in terms of editing. Before you can even consider a professional editor, it’s a good idea to self-edit several times to ensure the plot flows consistently. I’m currently engaged in this process and it’s messier than the writing.
However, as I reflect on the semi-finished (by this I mean ‘unedited’) project in my hand, I recall the stumbling blocks, hurdles and learning curves that I embraced along the way. I’m going to list them here. I’m guessing they’re quite common, but I’d be interested to know the learning journeys of other writers out there.
- Characters don’t always talk. When I have the initial inspiration for any project, my characters won’t shut up. They lead the story – they willingly submit to the plot line. My hands can’t keep up pace with my mind. However, I discovered that it’s not always the case that you have this fresh wave of inspiration. It soon dies and you hit a brick wall a.k.a. writer’s block. This leads me to the next thing that I learned…
- Writing is hard. Yes, I knew this before I started, but I didn’t know how hard it’d be to press on in the face of writer’s block and fear of failure. I feel relieved to know that this is natural. Having read biographies of various writers, I realise that we’re all harsh on our own projects and tear them to parts. We all have the worry at the back of our mind that our writing is not as good as it could be, but we’re all motivated by an urge to produce content that we can’t control.
- Planning becomes scattered. I have notes in my phone, my diary, on scraps of paper – because ideas or thoughts about my book occur to me at random times, so I note them down when I have sufficient opportunity. My planning map becomes a series of pages that are disorganised with important notes highlighted and things pinned and stapled together. I suppose this may vary between writers – I work best with ideas sprawled all over. I like the feel of being surrounded by messy paperwork as it engages my mind into a creative zone.
- You begin to notice your quirks. I started to get frustrated noticing words or structures that I favored. I began to wonder whether I overused them – I over analysed my work in a stricter fashion than I have ever analysed that of any author I’ve read. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t ‘write without editing.’ Not sure whether it’s right or wrong, but I edited as I went along.
- There is a point of emotional breakdown. Just before I hit the mid-way point of my book, I began to panic and wonder whether it was worth the effort. It lasted a while, but eventually I remembered the reason I write – enjoyment. Once I actually hit the mid-way point, I regained my motivation to motor on to the finish.
- There is no feeling like reaching ‘the end.’ As you type that final sentence, at first there is a sense of achievement and jubilation. Then, if it isn’t part of a series, you feel a little sad to let the characters slip away. Then you’re overcome with another, stronger feeling…
- Dread. Oh, yes, the next part of the journey is to begin: editing. Try as I might, I have yet to find a way of making this enjoyable. A book is a mammoth of a project to edit – it’s not like a two page leaflet or a small brochure. I also think that rigorous self-editing is necessary before handing over to a professional editor. Only you know in your mind how you want the plot to play out and whether there are any holes that need filling in.
- You’d do it all over again. Despite the effort, I’ve learned that ideas will come and go as they please. I often work on several projects at once. The task never deters me from repetition. It never sways me away from the original enjoyment and escapism that I discovered in creative writing.
This post is unlike my others – more reflective and exploratory in nature, as opposed to informative. My next issue will explore tools of the trade that are useful to a writer – stay tuned for more information.