When I wrote the rough draft of my books, it was by hand, with iffy internet. I didn’t read any articles about how I should do it, I just did it, for better or worse.
For years this has been pretty much how my writing has gone. I started out writing longhand, figuring it out as I went, and as back then all my writing was for me, it didn’t matter. I told my stories and made my bad jokes, and popped them in a drawer. When I last tried writing novels, I was in a pretty bad place personally, and I’m actually quite grateful I never delved into the online writing world, such as it may have been back then. I was tearing myself apart quite well enough without reading about all the things I was doing wrong.
And so we come to now. I’ve mentioned before in my blogs about how overwhelming it can feel when you start to read the how-tos, how disheartening to feel you’ve been going about things wrong, somehow. That you’ve broken all the rules that you didn’t know existed. It’s kind of like rocking up at a party in fancy dress when everyone else is wearing their cool kid clothes. So when it came to getting that rough draft onto the computer, I decided I was going to get it right this time. I turned to the oracle internet, and I started reading.
I read everything. How to outline, why to outline, even though I knew I was not the sort of person that outlines. I can’t even follow a recipe without changing it. How to blog, what to blog about, how often to blog, what days to blog on, and all sorts of complicated things regarding subscribers and pop-ups and landing pages, even though I was a bit iffy about whether I even wanted to do a blog back then (I’ve warmed to it. Most days). Structure, and characterisation, and story techniques, and creating a good antagonist, and secondary characters. Social media and how to tweet and when to tweet and pintrest and facebook and tumblr and instagram and how many damn social media sites are there?? What agents look for, and what publishers look for, and what you should look for in agents and publishers, and traditional publishing vs indie publishing vs self-publishing vs vanity publishing vs oh god I think I’m just going to put it back in the drawer.
I drowned in all the information. I flailed around and tried to do a tweet here, and a blog post there, and a facebook update there, and peered at my pages and pages of scribbled story in despair. I couldn’t even imagine where to begin. I’d done it all wrong.
And then a funny, wonderful thing happened. I gave up. Not on the story, no – that was too insistent in its need to be re-written and shaped and brought to life. But I cut back on my social media. I limited myself to one or two articles in a day. I couldn’t take any more. Because not only were they overwhelming in their (often very good) advice-giving, they were contradictory.
Everyone had a different idea about what worked, whether it was outlining or story-boarding or pantsing (you can’t imagine how relieved I was to come across the concept of pantsing and to find that it was a thing, not just my own personal weirdness) or beating writers block or procrastination or – or anything. Because I don’t drink my tea the same as you, and neither does everyone else, not really. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and I forgot all about that in my desire to get things right. I always have issues with that. I’ll try so hard to get things right, I’ll miss the whole point. Which is that, just as we don’t drink our tea the same, we don’t write the same either.
Your process is not my process, and vice versa. But we do each have a process, just as we each have a voice. And I guess all that reading, all that doubt, isn’t so much different to all the voices we try on as we struggle to find the one that’s ours. It’s a learning thing.
So I’m not slamming all those articles, or regretting all my reading – there are wonderful blogs out there talking a lot of sense. I learned a lot, and I continue to learn, and often there’ll be something that rings so true, you get a little ah-ha moment going on. I’ve found blogs I go back to again and again. I may not agree with what they say all the time, and some things I try from them may not work for me, but I pick up enough tips and tricks that it’s worth the reading. And the ones that don’t, the ones that feel too rigid, too formulaic, for my chaotic writing style? That’s okay. They’ll be perfect for someone else.
Everyone seems to talk about finding your tribe these days. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that, from a writing perspective, you can’t go around trying to be everyone any more than you can please everyone. Find what works. Learn. Stay open. Read new stuff. But take it from me – not so much that you drown in it.
Trust your process. Learn your voice.
I’m trying to do the same.