The hard truth about your first draft

All writers, whether they are published or not, tend to agree upon one thing.

The hardest part of being a writer is actually FINISHING the first draft. Its something I myself have done once in all my years of writing. It is kind of sad actually.

So many stories go unfinished because either we lose the inspiration and the drive to continue them (or we get distracted by a shiny new idea). Others get started and restarted so many times that we lose sight of why we started writing them in the first place. Some die the second we tell someone about them and they brush it off as a silly idea.

The reality is, being a writer was never going to be easy. You are going to have to face some harsh truths, especially when it comes to your first draft.

You won’t finish as fast as everyone else

I know there are some people who can write a book in a month, or sometimes all they need is a week. It took me well over a year to finish mine. Some people take a lot longer than that to write the first draft of their book (though they tend to work on and finish others in the meantime).

It can be SO easy to fall into the trap of comparing your progress to that of other writers. I know someone who beat NaNoWriMo in 5 days (she wrote 10k a day). It took me seven years and some fudging of the rules to win.

The truth is, there will always be someone who gets things done faster than you. Maybe they have more discipline. Maybe they have more experience. Maybe their schedule allows for more writing time than yours does. It doesn’t matter

This is your journey and yours alone. So keep your head down, stop checking to see how far along the person next to you is, and get to writing.

It will be the hardest thing you have ever done

As I have mentioned, writing your first draft is going to take a while. This is especially true for those of us with a day job(s). Sometimes it is just hard to find the time to write on top of everything else that we have to do. Add onto that the fact that life is stressful and we tend to continually find ourselves surrounded by people who think writing is a silly waste of time, it can be really hard to stay motivated.

You will also have to deal with the people around you not understanding what you are doing or why you are doing it. I talked a lot about what this feels like in my open letter to the creators who feel alone. This is something that is really hard to face. Hearing the people close to you echoing back your own self-doubts can cripple your creativity and stifle your desire to keep going.

That is why I always highly recommend finding and joining the online writing community. There you will find people who not only understand what you are going through, but they have been there themselves.

Just because you are the only one who can tell your story, doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone. Find people who will support you along this journey, with both encouragement and a kick in the rear when needed.

It is going to be hard to stay focused on the story for a long period of time. There will be days when you have neither the time nor the motivation to write. That is okay. But you have to get back to it tomorrow.

There is also that annoying psychological thing that prevents people from finishing things. I personally struggle with this, as evidenced by the amount of random YouTube videos I will have watched by the time I finally finish this blog post. I don’t know if there is a scientific term for this, but it is very much a thing.

A thing that you will have to find a way to power through. Maybe try asking one of your accountability partners to pester the living daylights out of you until you finish the thing. Or tell literally everyone and their mother that you are going to have it finished by a certain time, so then you have to have it done by that time. Because everyone and their mother is expecting you to.

It’s a very stressful yet effective tactic.

Most of it will be garbage

100% guaranteed, no one is ever going to see your first draft. By the time it is finished and you have taken a step back, you will soon realize that it is a steaming pile of garbage. There is no way around it.

You should still be proud of your garbage heap. You put a lot of work into it. That doesn’t change the fact that none of it is even close to being ready to publish. Don’t worry though. That is completely normal.

No one will ever see the mess that is what I wrote during NaNoWriMo. It was a convoluted hodgepodge of plot points and character building. I still keep a lot of the text in the case that I do end up using some of it, but I have since started a complete rewrite. I now know a lot more about the world, the situation, and my characters’ motivations. I also know how not to write and pace certain scenes.

If you feel like your first draft is too silly or too serious, or that you aren’t sure if you want it to be paced/structured that way, that is totally fine. This is your sandbox, so play around in it. Try different scenes from different angles. Dig through the layers of fluff and descriptions to get to the heart of your story. And, most importantly, don’t worry about what anyone else will think.

Your first draft is you telling the story to yourself, so you can come back and figure out how to tell it to everyone else. It is never going to be perfect. It will likely not resemble the end product. It’s most likely going to be a jumbled mess.

That’s okay, though, because you can edit a messy page. You cannot edit a blank one.

Your first draft only needs to be one thing.

Written.

So get to writing. We have a lot of work to do.

A Word To The Creators Who Feel Alone

People don’t always take creators seriously. Even as a kid growing up I knew that my passion for writing could never be more than a hobby. I never invested in my not too shabby drawing skills because I knew nothing would come of it.

I learned quickly to spend more time doing what other people considered to be productive and less time on my stories, lest I get yelled at for being lazy.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to realize that it was even possible to make a living as a writer. By that point, I had it ingrained in me that my focus and my efforts were better spent elsewhere. I still feel the urge to hide these interests when around certain people in my life because I know they don’t understand why I care so much about this.

I was born with a desire to tell stories. A desire to create worlds so fantastical and so lifelike that they allow people to escape into a world that is kinder and more accepting than the world they live in. Yet I still struggle with accepting this part of myself.

We creators get so easily bogged down in our own fears and self doubt that we feel like we are all on our own in our futile efforts to create something that will make a difference in the world around us. We feel like nothing we do matters. We believe the lies that the world tells us about how we should be living our lives and try and hide the pain that comes from suffocating our dreams.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because those around us do not understand our desire to create does not mean we are alone. There are entire communities out there full of people born to create. People with words at their fingertips. People who breathe color and think in song.

People who see the world not for what it is, but for what it could be.

Some people just do not understand this. It is on no fault of their own, and no fault of yours. They are simply not wired the same way we are. They do not see the worlds you hold in your head. They do not see the colors and shapes swirling behind your eyes. They do not hear the haunting melodies in your ear.

It is hard for people to understand something as intangible as art. They do not see the hours and hours of work and stress and tears that go into it. They don’t see the world through your passion.

Instead, they see the world through their own filter. If you think about it, we all do. We were all wired in different ways that can make it hard for us to see things through other perspectives. Some people think more logically whereas others think more creatively.

There is nothing wrong with either way of thinking. It is just the way things are. That means there will be a lot of times when you find yourself surrounded by people who don’t see the world the way you do. It is a hard reality to get used to.

But just because they don’t understand, doesn’t mean they don’t care. Often when people are trying to push you towards a different way of life, they do it because they care. They genuinely believe they are helping you in the best way they can.

It can be challenging to get used to, speaking from personal experience. It takes time to learn to see past a person’s words and hear their intentions. Accept the fact that the way they communicate things and the way you communicate things may not ever synch up. They may never understand exactly why it is that you do what you do.

But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with what you do.

Different isn’t bad. The world needs different. If everyone saw things the same way, there would be no art, no technological marvels. There would be no growth.

So don’t be ashamed of your passions. Don’t deny your desire to create. Embrace who you are and embrace the wonders you were born to create. Don’t let the world tell you who you should be.

You were created this way for a reason. The world needs you as you are, not as it thinks you should be. Without creation there is no light, there is no growth.

The path will not be an easy one, but then again nothing worth doing ever is. Ask for help. Tell those who love you how they can better support you (because they want too, they just don’t always know how). Find a community of fellow creatives who can help support you and who you can support as you all go on this journey to being who you were meant to be.

The world may feel scary at times, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if your creating never becomes your career, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create. Life is too short to let your passions die in the pursuit of what the world tells you that you need.

If you are like me, then you need to create. If only for yourself.

Chances are, the world needs it too. So stop hiding behind your insecurities. Stop hiding behind the person you think you should be. Start living the life you want and create the things you were born to create.

The world with thank you for it.

The Lies Writers Tell

If you think about it, writers are natural born liars. It’s basically our job description.

We craft worlds from our words and fill them with living, breathing people who never existed outside of our minds. We imbue them with life and embed pieces of our soul throughout the story.

We twist your expectations to fit where we want you to think the story will end only to turn everything you think you know on its head with a few, well-placed words, leaving you wondering how you did not see it all along.

We have the unique ability to make the familiar seem strange and the strange feel familiar. We can make you question some things while blindly accepting others.

The lies we writers tell are loved by the world because we make people think about things they never really thought about before. We are holding up a mirror that shows the world not the way things are, but the way they could be.

These lies help people become better versions of themselves. They help people connect with others and with themselves in a way nothing else can.

In a way, we aren’t really lying. We are just showing the world a different truth.

The real lies, the dangerous ones, are the ones we tell ourselves.

I can’t make it as a writer

This is often tied to the lie that ‘writing is not a career’ and ‘I am not good enough’. Both painful lies that the world around us has a nasty habit of reinforcing. People look at writing as a hobby. Something frivolous that people do in their free time that is of no real value.

If you are a writer, you are going to have to get used to this. You are going to have to get used to people pushing you towards other careers that they view as more attainable. They are genuinely trying to help. They just don’t understand how painful that kind of job can be to think about. To have people constantly telling you that you will never be able to make it in life doing what you want to do.

It hurts even more when you begin to believe it yourself.

The truth is, you can make a living as a writer. It isn’t easy and is going to take a lot of time and effort, but it is 100% possible. Keep chasing your dreams and you will find a way. You may not be the next JK Rowling or Stephen King, but you can still make a living telling stories.

So-and-so is a better writer than me

First off, ‘better’ is subjective. Trust me when I say there is nothing good that comes from the comparison games. There will always be people who have been writing for longer than you, who have more experience in a certain genre, and who have published more books than you have.

I know some people who can churn out 10k words in a single day. I average about 500, maybe 1k if it is a really good day. When it comes to the quality of the content, there really is no comparison. Different people have different tastes. Your style will never match anyone else’s and vice versa.

You have to learn to be comfortable with your own progress and your own style. Lean into what makes you unique. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are a bad writer because you don’t write like someone else. Keep writing. Hone your craft.  

No one cares what I have to say

This is perhaps the most painful lie of all and it is one I still struggle with on a regular basis. I know what causes it too. When people talk over you when you try and tell them about your new story idea. Their eyes glaze over. They zone out, cut you off, and totally change the subject.

Couple that with the sheer volume of novels and novellas and poetry books already in existence, and the fact that most people do not consider writing to be a valid career?

It leaves you feeling like you have no chance. No one is going to like your book, no one will read it. You are just wasting your time.

This is complete and utter nonsense. There are people out there who need to hear what you have to say. They need to hear your story just as much as you need to tell your story. Words have power far beyond what most people will ever realize.

Every single one of these lies ties back to one thing. Imposter Syndrome. That voice in the back of your mind telling you that you are not enough.  The fear and anxiety that keeps you from chasing the life you want.

The important thing to remember, though, is that they are lies. They are the lies we tell ourselves because we fear the unknown of what happens when we take that leap. What happens when we leave behind everything the world tells us we should want in the pursuit of who we truly want to be.

Words have the power and we were born with words at our fingertips.

It is time we use them.

It is time to change the world.

Think Before You Retcon

If there is one thing readers can’t stand, it is a retcon. Whether you are changing an inconsequential detail or something big, they will notice and they will not be happy.

Now, there are lots of reasons that a writer retcons. Stories can change a lot as they are being told. Sometimes this results in the writer wanting to go back and change something. If the work is unpublished, this can be easy. When the work is published, though, it can be tricky.

It can be very easy to do, especially if you are writing a series. It can be detrimental, though, to your reputation and your story. Here are a few reasons you should think hard before you retcon.

It irritates the reader

When you go back and change something that is already established in the story, it annoys the reader. If it is a small thing, then they might be able to overlook it, but if it is bigger…it’s not going to be good. At the very least you are going to throw your reader for a loop, and they are not going to like that.

You want your readers to be focused on the story, to become engrossed, attached to it. The last thing you want is to have them raging against your retconning.

Sometimes a retcon can undo the significance of an event, or damage a character arch. This can tank your story. Retcon something your audience loves, they will not soon forget it. If it messes with the arc of their favorite character…let’s just say you don’t want to go there.

You also run the risk of confusing the reader. The plot should have twists and turns, yes, but it should be solid. Steady. It should not sneakily rewrite itself (unless you are doing this intentionally, but that is another conversation).

It makes your writing look weak

When you retcon, it reflects poorly on your skills as a writer. Even if it is something small, such as a character’s hair color, your readers will not be impressed.

Retconning something small makes you look like you are forgetful, neglectful. Now, I know how much planning and crafting goes into telling a good story. It takes even more to write that story. So I get that it can be easy to miss the little details. There are some details, though, that you need to keep straight. Otherwise, the readers might think you don’t care.

Drastically changing your plot, despite things you set up earlier in the series, makes you come across like someone who has no idea what they are doing. We have all seen this happen in shows and movies. It either leaves you confused or frustrated, and wondering why the writer couldn’t pick a plot. They look like they either did not plan ahead, have no idea what they are doing, or both. Probably both.

There are a few other, smaller things that can cause a big impact. Changing how a character’s name is spelled, either partway through the story or every so often. Switching up how the characters are related. The first one is easy to do and, depending on how odd the name is, can be forgiven by the reader. Heck, they may not even notice. But with the second one, they are a lot more likely to catch on. This will not end well for you.

 

The moral of the story is don’t retcon. It can be annoying for the readers and it makes you look like a bad writer.

Next week I am going to share some tips on how to avoid retconning. As always, feel free to leave a comment if there is anything you would like to add or if you have any questions.

Until next time!

Write What You Need

Write what you know. One of the most common pieces of writing advice you will ever hear. It’s not wrong either. As writers, we draw from our personal experience to help bring our stories and characters to life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

People are always going to tell you how you should be writing or what you should be writing about. Sometimes they have good advice. Other times they mean well, but they are the opposite of helpful.

Tell the story you want to tell. That you need to tell.

The stories we tell don’t always fit into our personal experiences. Just look at fantasy, sci-fi, and murder mysteries. Literally any form of fiction. While our experiences and opinions influence the stories, you are in no way required to write within your world. Sometimes you need to step outside of what you know and step into what you need.

Writing, in and of itself, is a form of exploration. It is a massive thought experiment full of “what if this…” It is a chance for people to think through things they have always wondered about. A chance for writers to create the world they have always dreamed of. We get to live in a world that is completely our own where, for once, we are in control.

It is a form of escapism for the writer as well as the reader. We all struggle. We all experience hardships. Some of us have struggles that never really go away. We have this baggage that we just have to learn to live with. We all have to face the darkness and there will always be something we wish we could have or experience, that we know will never happen.

Some of the most beautiful stories come from what we wish for, what we want. Writing gives us a chance to hold up a mirror and show the world what needs to change. How the world can be better.

When life gets crazy and things get messy, we don’t need a reminder of how scary the world can be. Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. We are all aware of this. We need to see that things can be better. That life isn’t all bad. That there is hope.

Instead of writing what you know, write what you need. Because chances are the world needs it too.

Just Write

If writers are good at one thing, we are really good at procrastinating when we should be writing. It happens all of the time. I am especially guilty of this. I wrote a story during my junior year of high school and I still have not finished the second draft. I graduated from college in December.

There are lots of reasons we don’t write. We don’t have the motivation. We don’t have the time. We aren’t in the zone. Or, my personal favorite, the story isn’t ready yet.

At least, that is what we say.

We really avoid it because we aren’t ready. There is something holding us back. We are afraid of failure, of rejection. We are afraid to try because we don’t know if anyone is listening.

I know I can’t be the only one who is tired of this. It is time for us to overcome the things that are holding us back and move past everything that is holding us back. It is time for us to start writing.

The thing is, your novel isn’t going to write itself. As amazing as that would be, it is simply not going to happen. You have to sit down, put your fingers on your keys, and get to work.

If your response is “my story isn’t ready yet”, I have something to say to that. I spend about a month prepping a plot outline for NaNoWriMo, got 64 pages through and I could not get the story moving. It was terrible. During that time, though, I created two characters who ended up taking over the story. It turns out I was telling the wrong story about the wrong characters.

My point is, no matter how much preparation you put into your novel the story will change as you write it. It will breathe, grow, take you in directions you never expected. As you write your story will improve because you realize that certain things you have will not work. You find other things that will work better. You find and fill all of the plot holes as you go.

Your story can’t go anywhere if you don’t start writing it.

Another common struggle I see among writers is “why bother writing if no one is going to read it?” We convince ourselves that no one could possibly be interested in what we have to say. This could come from getting shut down when we try and talk about certain things or just a low self-esteem. We think we have nothing to offer.

Sometimes, you just have to write for yourself. Don’t worry about what your friends will think. Don’t worry about your family’s opinion. Don’t worry about what anyone else would say or think. You have a story inside of you, and even if you never show it to anyone else, you should still write it. Get it down on paper. You owe it to yourself to prove that you are capable of writing that story. That you are capable of finishing something.

If you are worried about what other people might think because of the content of the story, you can always publish under a pseudonym. This can also be helpful if you normally write in another genre, to prevent confusion.

Something else to keep in mind if you are worried no one will like your story. Consider this. Are you part of a fan community? Do you share interests and passions with other people? Do you yourself enjoy the story you have created?

If you answered yes to any of these, then I can guarantee that someone somewhere will like your book. I’ll go more into this in a later post, but trust me when I say that if you tell a good story people will like it. They will read it. They will identify with the characters. They will enjoy the plot. They will see that you did it and realize that they can do it too.

But none of this will happen if you never finish the dang book.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some writing to do.

Why We Tell Stories

If you have not guessed by now, I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to storytelling. As human beings, we have been telling each other stories as long as we have been capable of communication. We have had this intrinsic desire to share our experiences with others. No matter what part of the world you are from, what culture, what religion, we all have our stories.

And we are creating more every day. Between blogs, podcasts, games, movies, tv shows, books, poems, (and any other medium I may have missed) there are countless new stories created each day. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat have stories and Twitter has moments. We cannot seem to get away from this need to share.

Why is that? What are stories so important?

Making sense of the world

All you have to do is look at mythology and legends to see how stories help us make sense of the world. Myths are stories people created to explain what was happening around them. They created the gods and goddesses to explain how the world came to be and how humanity was created, as well as all manner of natural phenomena. They did this to feel like they had some sort of control over the world, that they could appease these deities into doing what they wanted. It also gave them something to blame when the worst happened.

The stories of heroes help them understand their place in the world. Whether in relation to the deities or their society, these stories work as a sort of social blueprint. The heroes and heroines and damsels all serve to show people what is expected of them. The evil witches and wizards and temptresses show what is not acceptable.

You also have fairy tales. Short, fantastical stories used to teach children to behave. They usually feature misbehaving children who suffer the dire consequences of their actions. The original versions of these stories can be quite terrifying and, contrary to popular belief, the Grimm fairy tales were not written for children.

Even though we are older and wiser and know these stories to be untrue, they continue to captivate us. Part of this can be attributed to Disney as well as Marvel and DC Comics, of course. But even without that, we are still drawn to these older tales. They are timeless and curious and I can’t help but marvel at how much they tell us about where we came from as humans.

Making sense of our lives

When you read, write, or tell a story, you experience things through the character’s eyes. We identify with them because we see part of ourselves in them. Some people live vicariously through them because their lives are more interesting. We celebrate when they celebrate. We mourn when they mourn. Sometimes we even grow up with them.

Writing the story adds a whole new layer to this. There is a quote that says a writer lives a thousand lives, and it is really true. Reading a book, you have no idea how the story started or what all it went through. There are countless revisions, additions, sometimes a genre shift or two. Some stories may even have started with a completely different main character.

We pour so much of ourselves into the world, the plot, and the characters. It is impossible not too. We use these stories to work through whatever it is we are struggling with. It may seem like we are using writing to avoid our problems but for many of us, it is how we process things.

Journaling is another form of telling a story, although few people ever get to read our journals. The act of physically writing down what is going on in your life is very therapeutic. It is like being able to share all your secrets with someone who never judges and never tells. Here you can work out exactly what you are thinking and feeling with no fear of repercussions. While I refer to writing as thinking on paper, journaling is feeling on paper.

Making connections

As I said earlier, mankind has been telling stories since we were able to communicate. These stories can connect people in ways you may not realize.

Look at fan communities. People bonding over a shared love of a story or series of stories. Not only does this give people a chance to share their thoughts and opinions, but they do so much more.

These communities allow people to build lasting friendships with people from all around the world. They gather together to support each other in times of need. They help teach people that it is okay to be different, to like different things, to have different interests. They show people what it is like to feel accepted.

This applies to online communities as well as when people run into each other and realize they share an interest.

There is another way that sharing stories can help bond us to people. We all have stories we wish were not true of our lives. Things that we have done, things that happened to us, things we have to struggle with. These are the stories we keep to ourselves unless we really, truly trust someone.

We don’t always realize that the people around us have those stories too. By opening up and sharing your experiences and your struggles with someone, you let them know they can open up to you. We are less alone than we think. My personal experience has been that our struggles are not uncommon.

It is okay to struggle. It is okay to doubt. It is okay to share this with people. Friends can help you come to terms with what you are dealing with, help you realize you are not alone, and help you find a way to move past it.

All in all, the world would be a much darker place without stories.

How have stories changed your life?