Be Stubborn, Until You Can Be Familiar. And After.

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

I’m on Formspring now, if you want to ask me questions. I can’t promise to give spoilers, but between that and the fan forum, you can find out a lot. Tempty, tempty.

I am currently in the doldrums of Dru 5. It’s the end of the series, which means I have a lot of threads to tie in. Plus, there’s always this spot near the end of a book when I’m physically and emotionally exhausted by the damn thing, everything feels like it’s pure crap, nobody’s ever going to like the book, and the desire to just give up wars with the stubborn angry urge to kick the book’s ass and wipe the floor with the Muse’s knowing little grin. Every time I hit this point, it’s the habit of writing every day that carries me through. Well, that and chocolate. And bitching to my writing partner about the damn book.

Add to that the fact that my novel-writing process for the last four books has required me to throw out a chunk of 20K or so at this point because the book’s decided it wants to go in a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DIRECTION, THANK YOU, and you have crazymaking all over.

I have two things going for me at this point. One is the habit of writing every damn day, no matter what. This is where all that daily effort pays off–it becomes more comfortable to do the damn work than to break the habit. The other is the fact that I’ve done this a few times by now, and the process is familiar. At least, as familiar as a process that changes each time you undergo it can get.

Someone once said, “You never learn how to write a novel. You only learn how to write the novel you’re writing NOW.” It’s very true. The process is also highly individual, which makes generalities even more dangerous. But having gone from a cursor blinking on a new white page in a freshly-opened file to a completed manuscript over 35 times (I had to go back and count, good Lord) and getting over 20 of those finished efforts published, I think I’ve got a fair handle on how the process generally works for me.

It’s like climbing the corner at the rock gym. Each time I go up that particular route, I do it differently. I still use the same skillset and the same tools. And sometimes I get into a difficult spot and have to hang there for a moment and think how the hell am I going to do this, now? Or finishing a long run–I face a different set of psychological and physical “problems” each time, and I solve them differently. Maybe I feel “heavy” and I don’t want to run, or maybe my brain is so busy chewing over something stressful I have to keep bringing myself back to pay attention, or what-have-you. The main idea is to keep running until I’ve finished.

Of course, I have a graveyard of unfinished pieces, or bits that didn’t make it into the finished work. There’s between six and eighteen of those for every finished piece. Sometimes I get myself into an intractable dilemma while climbing and I have to start again. An injury may force me to back off on or briefly stop running; a crisis elsewhere may mean I get off the treadmill without finishing. None of this means that my ability to finish has been jeopardized, or that the process of finishing despite the don’t-wannas is significantly, ontologically different each and every time.

This is why I say it’s so critical for new or aspiring writers to celebrate finishing their first piece and then start writing something else. One time around the merry-go-round doesn’t teach you even a tenth of what you need to know to make it to publication. I consider anyone’s first finished novel a sort of throat-clearing. It’s meant to prime the pump. Only rarely does it result in something usable or salable. After you’ve finished two books you have a better idea of your process. After you’ve finished five you have a much better idea.

But an idea, sadly, is all you get.

I do not mean to imply that finishing a set number of books will make the process more than vaguely predictable, or even significantly easier. It becomes easier only in the sense that one knows one has done it before, which is very good but not guaranteed to make the next effort any less backbreaking.

There’s the same learning curve on submissions, which is why I advocate finishing and submitting as much as possible. Dealing with rejection doesn’t get any easier. It’s still rejection. It still hurts. Nobody likes to be rejected. It’s human nature.

But enduring the merry-go-round of bringing a book to completion and enduring the merry-go-rounds of submitting, revising, undergoing editing, and critique (not to mention reviews) will give you valuable information on how the process affects you. So instead of being lost in a sea of OH MY GOD THIS NOVEL IS GOING TO KILL ME, you will be lost in the sea of THIS NOVEL MAY KILL ME BUT I’M GOING TO GIVE IT A GOOD FIGHT, STABBITY STAB STAB. There’s an inch’s worth of difference between the two.

Sometimes, that inch is all you need.

Which is why, as soon as I finish this post, I’m going right back into the fray. Twenty minutes of tweaking and trimming and I’ll have the book on a totally new course, 20K or so put in a graveyard file for going back to later should I need any good bits of it, and then I’m shifting to the next Jill book while I cool off. I’ve learned that this is how things generally work best for me–first you do major surgery, then you stitch it up and leave the book to convalesce while you go dally with another book to make the first one jealous. Your mileage may vary–but that’s what works for me.

Focus on what works for you. You won’t know until you’ve finished a few books, but that’s OK. You don’t have to know for a while. You just need to be balls-out stubborn enough to keep going.

Good luck.

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