Writing: “The Biggest Mistakes Writing Your First Book?”

My Biggest Mistake Was Writing A Book.

Although I should qualify that statement: my mistake was attempting to write a book from start to finish, in reading order, from page 1 to 500. I started with the opening chapter, I wrote every chapter in sequence, I edited it while I wrote, I bumped into obstacles that totally destroyed the pace, I kept pounding my head against the walls of the scenes that just wouldn’t come out of my mind, I got stuck in frustration on finishing an unwilling chapter before I could start on the next, and I exhausted myself before I finished.

And then I found out that the second storyline sucked and had to be removed, leaving only one side of a zipper without a corresponding side that could be zipped together into a coherent story. So I wrote another storyline that had to be inserted into the existing storyline.

The result was a lumpy, lopsided mess that brought me to despair. And since I’m an autodidact writing suspense fiction in my second language, I had no peers around.

Then I found a writing website, now sadly gone, called Thoughtcafe, where I found my peers. People who read my stuff, told me it was incredible and worthy of all the attention I could muster to polish out the lumps and make it run smoothly like the zipper was oiled with eel’s snot.

My second novel practically wrote itself. I didn’t give a shit anymore about the order in which to write, I wrote the draft for myself without any regard for punctuation, grammar, and spelling, and I kept my inner editor locked away in a dungeon until I finished the whole rough draft.

Only after I wrote the draft of the entire novel did I sit back and reread it while highlighting problem areas and adding notes on how to fix the flaws.

Which is why I always tell beginning writers: ‘Don’t Write a Book, but a Draft‘. Write the scenes in random order, assemble them in a sequence that pleases you, see what’s missing and fill that in until the story flows, then get your editor to help you iron out the wrinkles.

The first draft is ‘For Your Eyes Only, Only For You’. Not to be shown to anyone else until you turned it into a manuscript, which will be read by your betas and editor, who will provide you with feedback to improve the manuscript into something publishable.

But the writing part? That’s yours, and nobody should touch that.


WRITING: “Why is writing frustrating for some and fun for others?”

Aptitude.

I don’t recognise myself in the ‘struggles’ of my peers, who complain about blocks or not knowing what to write, or the arduous task of editing. I also don’t get bored or disgusted with re-reading my own work for the umpteenth time.

I’m convinced that just because you want to do something, it doesn’t mean you will be good at it. Not everyone has aptitude for writing. Face it, if it was actually that easy, then everybody could be a writer. And despite what people might say to encourage those who are floundering, not everybody can become a writer.

Nobody who knows how to cut a turkey develops ambitions to become a surgeon, but somehow people who got a B+ on an essay in school imagines they could become a writer. Just being facile with words doesn’t make you fit to become a novelist. Stringing words together in a sensible sentence is not an indication for future professional prose.

To become an actual writer requires a confluence of several different talents to come together. And knowing how to write is actually quite low on the totem pole. Your ability to spin stories is much more important, as is your understanding of humanity – psychology, anthropology, psychopathology, interaction, communication. Observation is a crucial skill, as is curiosity. And having the ability to adopt a unique perspective also goes a long way towards being a writer.

If these skills/talents are missing from your palette, you will struggle. And because you don’t know any different, you will assert that writing is this onerous task, a steep uphill battle to put one word after another. While, in fact, you might have committed to a task that is not totally suited for your skill set. While this sounds like a ‘Know Your Limitations’ answer, take heart. You can learn these other skills, and there is no shame in battling uphill to write your book. It’s damn courageous, and I mean that.

And while a talent for writing often goes together with aptitude for the art, the published writer is not always the one with the most aptitude, but the one who perseveres. Perseverance can trump aptitude, easily.