When I first began the journey of writing, I had no clue what I was doing. An idea had been swimming around in my head, so I sat down and started fleshing it out. I really thought I had something people would want to read: a unique location, a great antagonist, a suspenseful plot, and good characters. I even had readers tell me the piece was great.
How hard could it be to finish the story and turn it into a book, right? So I decided to take the plunge and write my first book.
A detailed outline was the first step. That’s when I realized the plot holes. Another outline. More plot holes and extraneous characters. A third outline.
One day I came to my senses and finally understood that I had no idea how to write a novel.
Time to go back to school. I studied the three act structure and applied to my outline. Slashed more characters and adjusted the plot.
What about scenes, you ask? Right. The cornerstone of any novel. So I brushed up on those as well. The amount of information I’d forgotten since college so many years ago was astounding. I went back to my outline yet again and tore it apart, restructuring everything into scenes and fine tuning my plot.
And then I started to worry. Was I doing it right? The novel – Light and Dark, by the way – features a male and femal protagonist as well as an antagonist. Third person was the obvious way to go. Or was it? Should I just stick to a single protagonist? Would an agent be more likely to pull my novel out of the slush pile if I stuck with simple structure?
But then, who would I cut? All three characters are vital to the book’s theme.
I began to go crazy second-guessing myself, and the obession stunted my creative process. My writing became forced, the dialogue stunted, and I began to resent the story.
Thankfully I have an amazing critique partner who believes in me. She kicked me into gear, and I remembered why I began writing in the first place: to tell the story.
I threw out my outline. Don’t get me wrong – they are important. Knowing the plot points are important. But I chose to work with index cards, listing key scenes that had to be included. And then I started writing again.
For me, writing is an organic process, and my book began to see the results of sitting down and just writing. In two months, 100 pages were completed, and they were strong. I knew I was headed in the right direction! I finally began to not only learn my characters but to love them. I was excited by the plot again and discovered new twists and turns that I believe readers will love as well. For the first time, I wasn’t wondering if what I was writing would turn off an agent, but thinking “this needs to be read. People will like this!” That was a milestone for me.
Writing excited me again and more importantly, I believed in myself.
So don’t think about the what-ifs. Focus on your book and the story your characters need to tell. There’s nothing for an agent or editor to critique if you don’t keep writing.
My first draft is halfway complete. The first act of Light and Dark has gone through extensive rewrites, and I’m sure the next two acts will as well. And that’s okay. The only way to improve your writing and story is to don a suit of thick skin and dive in headfirst.
So don’t be afraid of change. Don’t be afraid of seeking a valured opinion. Read books by the pros – three don’t miss reads are King’s On Writing, Maas’s Writing The Breakout Novel, and Rosenfeld’s Make A Scene.
But most of all, keep writing!