Guest Post by Jay Swanson, author of White Shores

October 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

Writing is Hard

Not really. I mean it’s about as difficult as talking, it just takes more of a concerted effort. But people really get worked up over writing, especially how hard it is, and then the whining starts. I whine some. I’ll be honest, some days it’s a struggle to write. But writing itself isn’t hard. It’s a simple matter of converting those thoughts bouncing around inside your head into ink on the page. Or pixels on the screen. Unless you have no thoughts, in which case converting them to anything will be difficult.

What’s truly a challenge is actually making yourself sit down and do it. People, including myself, tend to whine a lot more than they write. If you put as much energy into your writing as you did your whining you’d at least get another paragraph or two out of your day. What no one wants to hear is that you’ve always wanted to write a book as if that counted. It’s ok to have always wanted to write a book. And it’s ok to say that. What’s not cool is looking at someone who has done the work of actually writing a book and saying “well I’ve always WANTED to write a book.” With the unspoken “so there” at the end. I don’t even know what that means!

So you’ve got a great idea, and you want to turn it into a book. Let’s say it’s fiction, and you want to write a novel (since that’s what I actually have experience with). The first step is to sit down and write something. Anything. It can be back story, character histories, the first chapter, the last chapter, the legalese for the inside cover. Whatever you need to get the juices flowing. Then you should take a break until the next day and do it again. And again. And again.

I give myself a certain word count I have to hit for the day. Start low with 500 or 1,000 and work your way up from there as your endurance grows.

Don’t be afraid to throw away what you’ve got, odds are – it sucks. It’s ok. Rob will tell you how much he loves Anne Lamott’s chapter on… let’s just call them Poopie First Drafts. The thing is that your first draft won’t necessarily be any good. Maybe it’ll be decent, maybe it’ll be excellent, but it will never be perfect the first time. So toss it out what sucks and revise or edit the rest.

I hang out with a group of kids to draw on Tuesday nights, and it’s like I tell them: If you want to learn to draw a good box, you’re gonna have to draw a lot of crappy boxes to start. And that’s just boxes! One of the kids wanted to start learning how to draw in perspective by making a triceratops leaping through the page. He got started with the eyes. Then the horn. Then the eyes again. We went back to boxes pretty quickly.

So get back to boxes. Go practice your descriptive writing by sitting in a busy park and highlighting a select few things going on. Learn how to focus the reader on a single event in the midst of chaos. Reading helps a lot too, both books on writing and books you simply enjoy.

Like drawing, no one can make you any better, save yourself. And you won’t get any better if you don’t suck at it for a while. And you won’t suck at it for long if you don’t have the discipline to sit down and work at it.

So in the end, like most things in life, writing is work. It’s a lot of fun, and a passion for some, and well worth the effort. But nothing worth doing was ever without said effort. That being the case, you don’t have to start out drawing triceratops jumping through the page. Start with a square. Turn it into a box. If that goes well, rotate the box, and if that goes well give pyramids a shot.

If all goes well you’ll have something to be proud of in time. Just be willing to suck for now.

Jay Swanson is the author of the Vitalis Chronicles: White Shores, the first in a fantasy trilogy. He currently lives on board the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest hospital ship providing world class surgeries to the poor of West Africa. If you’d like to read more of his blog posts, I’d suggest starting with his ten reasons to hate moths. Or jump right into White Shores, available in paperback and on Kindle.

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