Five Things No One Tells You Before You Start Writing

5 THINGS NO ONE TELLSYOU BEFORE YOU TAKE
5 THINGS NO ONE TELLSYOU BEFORE YOU TAKE

If you’re a parent, or perhaps you have relatives or friends who are parents, do you ever wonder why no one warns about what parenting entails? If they did, the human race would eventually die off. Simple as that. Deceptive, yes. Helpful, no.

The same may be true of the craft we enjoy–writing. Have you noticed how many things you never knew about writing before you started writing?  There are many, but for purposes of saving time and getting back to our beloved craft, I’ll limit this list to five points.

1. Writing is a solitary activity.

Did anyone tell you this? No? I didn’t think so. No one told me either. I’m not certain why I didn’t realize it myself. Perhaps I had visions of writers gathering in coffee houses or quiet tiny cafes as Hemingway did in his day. But that is not the case. If I’m writing, I’m usually in a “room of her own” with the door closed to keep out the dancing cat who prefers to tap on the keyboard. Or I’m in a room at a local writing house and there alone.

But no one told me it would be like this!

“Writing is a solitary business. It takes over your life. In some sense, a writer has no life of his own. Even when he’s there, he’s not really there.” ― Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy

2.  How long it takes to write a book.

No, not a single soul took the time to say, “You know this could take years.” Yes, there are those who have devoted years, sometimes a decade or more, to completing a novel or memoir. It may take you or me that long. We must be committed and/or dedicated to the task at hand to complete this work we’ve started now. It means writing every day, day in and day out.

But no one told me I might spend the rest of my life writing my memoir when I retired in 2006 and undertook this project!

3. It always takes more than one draft.

Who knew? You want to write a book so you sit down and you write. You finish the first draft and think you’re done and ready for an editor. But wait! That’s just your first draft. There’s more!

Many writers tried to tell us this but unfortunately we didn’t find their books until after we started our first project or we chose to ignore their sage wisdom:

The first draft of anything is shit. ~Ernest Hemingway

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

If it sounds like writing, then rewrite it. ~ Elmore Leonard

If we aspire to come close to any of these illustrious writers, we need to heed their warnings and remember that a first draft isn’t a finished manuscript.

4.  How many drafts you will write, revise, and edit before your manuscript is ready for a professional edit.

Yes, those quoted above tried to tell us there would be multiple drafts. After completing your first draft set it aside for a couple of days. Then go back and read it. Next step is edit, revise, repeat–several times. Whether you print it out or do this on your computer screen matters not. The words are the same. Just edit, revise and repeat. It’s somewhat like doing the laundry–killing your darlings and then cleaning up afterward.

In the days before computers, imagine the numbers of trees killed in an attempt by an author to write one book. Or think what recycling would be like if we were still using typewriters and sheet after sheet of paper. It would be an enormous task to dispose of all that paper today and continue to do our “greenest” to keep the environment healthy. Multiply the number of authors writing today by the number of pages in the average manuscript, and you’re talking billions and billions of reams of paper. At least today, we can do most of that before printing out a copy of our manuscript.

5. You need to build a platform.

No one mentioned carpentry, did they? Nope, never. I don’t care for carpentry. With a hammer and nails, I generally hurt myself. But that’s not what “build a platform” means.

In reality, building a platform is like branding a product you’re going to sell. In this case, you and your book are your product. It involves time spent on social media connecting with other writers and readers, blogging, networking, and more. But you say you just want to write. Well, that’s what most writers want to do. If you want to sell your book, it’s going to take some extra effort out there in the big wide world of social media, or as it’s called in the writing business building a platform.

A platform is a “stage” that gives you and your message leverage and visibility. ~ Jeff Goins, Why Building Your Own Platform Is Essential

There are many other things I learned after the fact. But none of them nor these five above will keep me from enjoying the writing life.

To write each day is pure joy. To find a reader who on reading my words experiences my joy, now that is bliss.

What about your writing life? What things have you learned that you didn’t know before you started writing? Join in a discussion below.

And keep writing!

Tips for Rewriting Your Manuscript, Part 1

Via Flickr | Nic McPhee
Via Flickr | Nic McPhee

I often have friends and family asking me a burning question:

Is your book finished yet?

I smile and say, “No, not yet. There’s a lot of work that goes into writing a book, you know.”

In a recent post, I talked about rewriting the first draft of my memoir. I never imagined this rewrite could bring enjoyment to my writing life, but also the simple act of learning new things delights me.

Today I’m sharing a few tips I’ve learned about rewriting. If you already know them, please share them with a first-time writer (like me) or a younger writer (not so much like me) who may find them helpful.

Tip 1: Taken from the Hemingway Archives

Can you even imagine The Old Man and the Sea being rewritten by Hemingway? Likely, as many other manuscripts have, Hemingway’s book saw many revisions and drafts. This assumption may be underscored since Hemingway is attributed with this reference to first drafts:

“The first draft of anything is shit.”(via Goodreads)

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

Even if given the opportunity to shuffle through Hemingway’s work, both unfinished and finished, a full record of every revision he made from one project to the next was kept so would there be time enough to look through it all? But how or why would someone like Hemingway rewrite so often?

Contemplating the quote above, it isn’t too surprising for most great writers, including Hemingway, to experience little, if any, grief in killing their darlings or sacrificing their first-born to the fires of revisions and rewrites in order to support the truth of the story.

I learned this lesson the hard way writing my first draft. I believed so deeply in my story and the words flowed so fast and furiously that nothing could keep this from being the first manuscript to pass muster with the first draft. Was I ever wrong! My story was boring and the truth did not shine through in my first draft. It was, in a word, shitty!

Lesson Learned: Do not be concerned about writing the perfect first draft. Allow the mind to tell the fingers what to type to just get  your thoughts on paper. Refining the telling of your story comes later — with rewriting.

Tip 2: “Never Look Back”

Before beginning the process of rewriting, I did a little research on the dreaded rewrite. A great deal can be found in blog archives on the topic. A plethora of advice rendered by editors, teachers, authors, and publishers. How to know who is right looms as the big question on the horizon.

Not too long ago I read a post by Michelle Gagnon, an author with several successful crime fiction novels as well as a YA dystopian thriller. Michelle also writes with James Scott Bell, award-winning suspense author and bestselling writing coach, on Bell’s blog, Kill Zone. No, I am not taking you on a wild goose chase; these people are good at what they do and in offering solid writing advice.

Reading Michelle’s post pointed out one thing I had done wrong during the first drafting of my manuscript: I looked back. Quoting Michelle is the best way to share her thoughts on this tip:

In my opinion what separates published authors from people who have been working on a book for years without completing it is this: never look back. I don’t start editing–at all–until the entire book is written. A lot of people get fifty pages in, then go back and start editing chapter one. The danger in this is that while you might end up with a perfect first fifty pages, by the time you finish those there’s a good chance you’ve lost the thread of the story.

It’s also discouraging to suddenly realize you’ve spent three months on fifty pages, and another three hundred and fifty remain to be written (of course, that’s discouraging whether you’ve stopped or not–I call it the “interminable middle”). I never even re-read what I’ve written until I’ve finished the first draft. (I also spend most of that draft thinking that what I’m writing is the worst junk ever committed to page. But I forge ahead, because I know the next draft will be better.) And then when I do go back, the bones of the story are in place.

Lesson Learned: Never look back!

Tip 3: Write, Wait, Edit

Via Pixabay
Via Pixabay

During my time writing this blog, I have met many writers, many of whom have published their memoirs. I consider many of them mentors in guiding me down the path of writing my truth and protecting family members and myself while considering publishing options.

One of my memoir writing mentors is Madeline Sharples who blogs at Choices. A little less than a year ago Madeline posted a blog on the topic of “My Memoir Revision Process,” and as soon as I read it, I clipped it into my Evernote files under “revision process.”

It was in Madeline’s post I learned to WAIT before editing. I am inherently an impatient person wanting things to be completed quickly and done now. Waiting is hard for me. But I knew if Madeline could wait, then I should try. Here’s what Madeline says about waiting:

Leave your work alone for as long a time as you can before sitting down to edit it. While I spent over two years querying agents and small presses, my manuscript laid dormant. So when I finally got my book contract, I read it front to back, chapter by chapter, with my revision plan in hand. I marked up a hard copy with a red pen. Also I made no electronic changes to any part of my manuscript until I completed this first round of edits. And surprise, surprise, I found lots of things to edit, including typos, awkward sentences, repetition, and inconsistencies. Unbelievable! After all the times I had gone over it! During this first edit pass, I also looked for places to insert the new material necessary to my story and where I needed to update material that was clearly out of date.

I did not wait two years while querying agents and small presses, primarily because my mind has not reached a decision about the publishing process or even if I publish. Whether I publish or not, I want to complete this process just as I would if publishing.

Also, I initially chose not to print out the manuscript and instead to edit on-screen. Don’t do that! So much can be missed as the edited manuscript on-screen quickly becomes confusing, especially if you are inclined to using a marking tool. Working with a paper draft, red pen and a highlighter in hand, seems to flow much more smoothly for me. Thanks to Madeline for posting her revision process.

Lesson Learned: Follow the instructions provided by those you call mentor and friend–and wait.

Today I’ve covered three tips in a rather lengthy post. And I have more to share with you in Part 2 next week.

What about rewriting or revising the first draft would you like to share with other writers? Part of our reason for being online is to support and encourage one another. Your thoughts are welcome in the comment section below.

Memoir Writers’ Resources Series | A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

This is the fourth post in this series, which has an infinite number of parts. Therefore, there is no “Part 1 of a #;” it will simply continue until the well dries up. Previous posts are listed below.

* * *

Much discussion exists over past decades and even today among journalists, critics, reviewers and yes, writers, about whether Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is fact or fiction, autobiography or memoir. Say what they might, my copy has landed in the middle of my memoir writing resource books on my desk.

And rightly so, in my humble opinion, for a number of reasons:

  • If for no other reason, Hemingway’s writing may always be turned to as a beautiful example of writing at its best. A Moveable Feast offers no less. Lyrical, poetic, evocative and crisp, Hemingway’s writing transports you to Paris in the 1920s. The best reason to include this volume in your writing resources is best said by Hemingway himself:

“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean
and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”

~ from Hemingway’s Midnight in Paris

  • Hemingway’s stories from his days in Paris make us a part of an inner circle which included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Beach and likely I have left someone out. These writers were geniuses! Some of our greatest literature came from their pens. An education from this inner circle via Hemingway’s stories and yes, the juicy gossip, is not to be dismissed easily. Nor is Hemingway’s influence on these men and women, and theirs on him.
  • One chapter stands out in my mind and is an interesting inclusion–“On Writing in the First Person.” A rather strange choice for someone who wrote novels, most often in third person. However, in A Moveable Feast Hemingway chooses to write in first person as a memoirist does. This chapter also provides a look at the process of writing, a definitive resource in any writer’s library.
  • An additional argument for selecting A Moveable Feast as a memoir writer’s resource is its format drawn from what Hemingway originally called “The Paris Sketches,” based on typed pages, notebooks on The Sun Also Rises, newspaper clippings and more. These items were in two small steamer trunks Hemingway had left at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1928. Hotel management convinced him, finally in 1957, to take possession of his belongings. It was in the summer of that same year when he began to work on the “sketches.” And this is how the chapters seem to the reader–vignettes, sketches, scenes not organized in any particularly chronological order but as scenes from one man’s life.

From this, perhaps it is easy to see how A Moveable Feast could be considered a memoir writer’s resource. Personally, I found it one of Hemingway’s most enjoyable works. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so for no other reason than pure enjoyment of good writing.

“But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going,
I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges
into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.
I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry.
You have always written before and you will write now.
All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest
sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence,
and then go on from there.”
~ Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Previous Posts in the Series:

  1. The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith
  2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
  3. The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story by Linda Joy Myers