I hate that I put five years of work into a book that may never see the light of day. It sits there on my hard drive, lonely and sad. And for awhile I was sad too. However, I learned some things after five years of hard work.
1. Have a plan! Do not just dive in and free-write. Some writers can do that, but I am not one of them. I knew I had a few problems to fix with the Mars book. Instead of figuring them out ahead of time, I just said, “I’ll get there eventually, and the answer will present itself”. No. Bad idea. Next time and forever and forever I will outline a book before I start to write.
2. Characters are my strength, and I need to play to that strength. I love creating characters that feel real and argue with each other in my head. My plots work best when they come from character interplay instead of action. This is a good thing to know because I won’t spend my time trying be to the next Suzanne Collins.
3. Description is my weakness. It was always difficult for me to reach the required page count for assigned essays in high school and college because I am naturally concise. In fiction this translates to a lack of description. When your characters live on Mars or under the ocean, you need scenery and solid world-building. Some writers are spare but vivid. I see that as something to shoot for.
4. My dialogue is a mixed bag. I think my characters have unique voices and sound natural. My problem is grammar. After reading the dialogue section of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, I realized I tend punctuate my dialogue in a way that confuses a reader. I need to work on using beats and description within conversations. I also need to quit being afraid of “said”.
5. I can’t spend too much time researching, or I get bored. And boredom kills my writing. I spent five years studying various aspects of Mars until I never wanted to hear about the red planet again. Or write about it. I need to take a “get-in, get-out” approach to research. What are the most common species of fish in the Gulf of Mexico? Google the answer, write it down, and go back to actually writing the story. I spent far too much time reading the papers and proceedings of Mars Colonization Conventions thinking it would improve my novel. The reader doesn’t need me to do that. The reader wants a good story and will forgive me if I get the details of aeroponic farming or ocean salinity wrong.
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6. Writing a novel is a marathon. I’m not exactly a marathon girl. Okay, I don’t run. I google running and watch it on Youtube. Anyway, in order to keep myself energized while writing my novel, I figured out that quitting on my blog was the worst thing I could do. I need to get that finish-line feeling once in awhile so I don’t get mentally exhausted. That’s why I’m blogging more now, and it seems to be working.
Right now I’m building my characters for my new story and slowly outlining the book from beginning to end. Hopefully these lessons won’t have to be repeated.