The 'Why' Matters

Last week, I actually managed to start writing my work-in-progress. Farewell prep stage--hello, manuscript words! About 6,000 words thus far, to be more precise. It's not a lot, but it's a heck of a lot better than the 0 words I had while I was procrastinating for weeks. I spent a silly amount of time convincing myself that I needed to do more prep before starting a draft; while that can be true in the early stages of prep, I find that it's mostly a procrastination tool rooted in fear

As I wrote those first 5,000 words, I realized something. This project feels really, really different than my first novel. And I'm not talking about the content of the story...I'm talking about the process of writing. The way it feels to put the words down on the page, and the process by which those words are identified and placed, feels drastically different. 

Allow me to back up and provide a little context.

I finished the first draft of my first novel earlier this year, on March 15, 2017. I stumbled into writing novels on accident -- sure, I've always loved to write. But my first real novel was born out of personal suffering. I started the prep work for that book in September of 2016 because I needed to write it; I needed to process some recent trauma, and I found myself writing a fantasy fiction version of my experience as a form of therapy. It just sort of happened, because I really needed to get the story out. I ached to get my experience out of my physical self, to have it live on paper, and to have at least some sense of finality to the story.

Though that first project was born out of specific personal experience, the process led me to see how much I loved to write. Thanks to my wonderfully supportive husband Andrew, I decided to transition to writing on a full-time basis. I jotted down story ideas, and itched to get my first novel behind me so I could start writing the stories I was most excited about.

Fast forward to the present. I'm currently working on a trilogy of fantasy/sci-fi crossover books that will be more marketable and (theoretically) of a higher quality than my first project. Now that I'm sitting here at my desk describing my first two books, it seems crazy that I didn't anticipate how different the process would be. Of course it would be different! Everything about those two projects is different. 

Regardless, I didn't anticipate those differences, and it has been interesting to sit in this writing process and observe the changes. As I started my draft and thought about what made the experience so different, I had a a revelation. 

The why matters. 

The big difference between my first two projects is why. Why did I write my first book? Why am I writing this current book? Why write anything at all?

I wrote my first novel for me; I needed to write it. I needed to get the experience out. I wrote to process, to grow, to close a chapter in my life, and most importantly, to move on. I had no audience in mind except for my own soul. 

This time around, it's gotten a little more real, y'all. The 'why' for my current project is more complex. Of course, I'm still writing for me! It's a story I want to write, that I created from pieces of myself and the world as I see it. It feels good to tell this story, and to find the words to tell the story well. 

But I'm also writing this story for an audience. I'm writing because I have something I want to say, and I hope that people might eventually read it. Sometimes I even hope that people might pay money to read the story, and keep the book on their shelf at home. And then I imagine someone will make a miraculously not-crappy cinematic version of the story. And I'll get to cast that movie with my dream cast of actors.

As romantic and unlikely as some of those hopes are, the fact that those desires exist in me changes everything. Why I write directly affects the way I approach the writing process. 

All of a sudden, a lot of decisions matter and carry more weight. Basically, I don't want this book to be terrible.

For my first book, it sort of didn't matter. Who cares? I don't intend to show anyone that draft, since it was just for me. But now, I want this new series of books to be a joy for others to read. As a result, I found myself creating a different process for drafting than I'd used previously.

For my first novel, I drafted scenes from my outline/prep materials. That was it. Here are my characters, this is where they're going in, now put words on the page. I wrote it however I wanted to write it. It was a carefree experience, but also an ignorant one for someone who wants to be published.

This time around, I find that I am needing to do a little extra work as I draft to keep the structure and character development tight and tidy. When I sit down to write a scene, I make a list on my amazing dry-erase desk addressing the following questions:

  • What actions/events need to happen in this scene?
  • What is the learning curve status at this point in the story? What does my audience really need to learn about?
  • Is there anything that needs to be foreshadowed in this scene?
  • Where are my characters starting and ending in this scene in terms of their development/arcs?

Sure, I considered all of these questions when I was outlining. But I'm finding that they matter much, much more, and that the outline and advanced prep isn't enough. I want those answers clearly defined and visible in front of me while I write, serving as a compass for my words as I draft the story. 

Additionally, because the process has this added layer of complexity, it's taking me longer to write. I was a freaking speed demon when I wrote my first book; on average, I was knocking out 1,349 words an hour. Though it's still early in this new project, I'm moving at a pace of 750-800 words an hour.

Honestly, that feels a little crappy when I think about it. I'm writing three books this time instead of one, and I'm writing slower. So it's going to take me a lot longer to finish than I'd originally anticipated. And if you know me at all, you know that I absolutely stink at being patient.

But the 'why' for this project has also had some positive results. The quality of my writing is indisputably higher; the story is more cohesive, the characters are more developed, the dialogue is (slowly) improving, and the descriptions are more evocative. 

Every day is a challenge. I have to sit down at my desk and choose to pour my soul out, possibly for other people to read and criticize. I have to choose a task that is painfully slow and daunting. I have to convince myself--at least a little--that my words are worth reading, and that I'm not the writing equivalent of the tone-deaf American Idol hopefuls who actually think they can sing. 

Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is slow. But I still believe that the story is worth telling. I like the way the process is changing and growing, and it is my choice to embrace that process and allow it to carry me forward. It is my choice to do the hard work that allows me to tell my story. And because of the 'why', I believe it is a worthy endeavor.