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!