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The Writing Process

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AND HOW I DID IT SO INCREDIBLY WRONG THE FIRST TIME

by Sarah J. Clemens
Originally published on Simply Kelina 1.18.17


At the wise-old age of twenty-two, and with zero idea what I was doing, I came up with an idea for a book. I was excited – thrilled.Explaining to someone, “I’m writing a novel,” is an instant crowd pleaser. I envisioned myself sitting in a study with the repetitive clack of the typewriter keys, sucking on a glass pipe as a cloud of smoke filled the room. I would be surrounded by a pile of papers covered in red ink.

It would be like something right out of the 1940s and I would be Mark Twain. The problem was, when I started my first book it was 2009 and I am not Mark Twain.

I sat down and wrote my first book beginning to end in two weeks. The problem that I wasn’t aware of at the time was that my “completed” first draft was only 16,000 words. Imagine my surprise to learn that a complete manuscript rings it at around 80,000-100,000 words. In other words, mine was a measly 64,000 words short.

“I am not Mark Twain.”

It would be six years before I pulled out another 50,000 words from my first novel – enough to classify it as a novella. I learned something excruciatingly painful in the process, which was this: there is a process.Writing is a process, a painful and frustrating one that reminds me a little bit of The Hunger Games. The only writers who make it to the end are the writers who had the courage and the love to stick with it.

I love writing, and this is what I learned about the process:

1). Create an outline. I can’t emphasize this enough. An outline should be so thorough and detailed that a writer could query an agent with it. When the book makes it to 50,000 words + thick, moving entire sections around is challenging and remembering when a character meets or who said what when is impossible. That’s how plot holes happen. An outline is lightning fast skeleton of your book to refer back to and maintain consistency.

2). I firmly believe that on the first draft you should come up with names, dates, places that you plan to use throughout your story. I hear advice from other writers who encourage people starting a book to use a blank space in the place of a name. I’m not sure how you’ll differentiate between one blank space and the other after 80,000 words. I get attached to the names I choose and don’t change them between drafts, but I know others do. I think you should treat your characters like people if you want your readers to care about them.

3). Create a word count goal. This may be personal but I found it helpful to have a set amount of words to hit each day. I made my target small – 350 word, and I allow myself to go over, so long as I hit that target each day. When I started my second novel, I already had a wonderful head start in the month of July thanks to CampNanoWriMo and wrote 50,000 words in a month. After CampNanoWriMo, 350 words per day was a stroll in the park.

4). Enjoy it. Writing, reading, talking about writing or reading. Too much of anything makes it work, makes it a chore. I take breaks from this when I need it, and I go hours at a time when the inspiration hits me. There absolutely is no right or wrong way if it works for you.