How long have you wanted to be a writer?

Notebook #6

I remember, vaguely, that I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. I kept a journal from about age 9 through high school, but I didn’t do much in the way of fiction writing. Today, I was flipping through an old journal and found this from July 29, 2000 (when I was 12):

Ever since the fourth Harry Potter book came out, I’ve wanted to write a great series and be known for it. The problem is, it’s got to be something different and exciting. I’ve had ideas but none of them work. Any suggestions? Well, if anything comes to mind, let me know. And also, don’t tell anyone how much I want to be a writer.

I can’t even explain how much reading that warmed my heart. I love that I was inspired by Harry Potter back then and still am today. That’s the sign of a powerful book. And I really get a kick out of the fact that I talked to my journal like it was a person. I asked it for suggestions. (If only it had given some.)

But my favorite thing about this is that I was keeping my dream of being a writer a secret. It was something I only told my journal (how appropriate that I could only express my desire to write in writing). Back then, the possibility of writing a full-length novel seemed impossible. It wasn’t until nearly 12 years later that I finally finished one. But it’s not a secret anymore. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a writer. Everyone who reads this blog knows. It’s one of the first things I tell someone when getting to know them.

I wish I could go back 14 years and tell that 12 year old that one day, she’d write a book. In fact, she’d write 3, with more to come. And I also wish that my 14-years future self could come and tell present me if I’d be published. I wish she could tell me that it’ll all work out, writing-wise.

But now, for the moment, I feel validated. I feel justified in pursuing this seemingly impossible dream. After all, I’ve wanted it all along.

2015 writing goals

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After a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I’m feeling renewed writing energy. It’s incredible to think that a kernel of an idea that JK Rowling jotted on a napkin one day turned into an amusement park. I’m not aspiring to be an author at that level (I don’t think that’s something you can even aspire to), but it gave me hope that someday, somewhere, someone will find my books meaningful.

I know I’m way past New Year’s’ resolution time, so I’ll just call these my 2015 writing goals instead…

  1. Revise my YA high fantasy (codename TSS) over and over until it’s great
  2. Query TSS
  3. Write and revise my first middle grade novel
  4. Write a first draft of a feature-length screenplay

Yeah, #4 surprised me too. But it was inevitable. My husband’s a screenwriter and always told me the day would come when I’d want to write a screenplay. Well, the day is here. I have a couple of ideas that might be good for this–ideas that I realized weren’t great for YA or MG and didn’t know what to do with. I’m completely daunted by the prospect of writing a screenplay since it’s such a different format than I’m used to, but I will embrace the suckage of my first one. You can’t write a good book or script or poem or story until you’ve written a bad one, in my opinion.

Anyone else branching out into new types of writing this year?

The hard truth about writing

On an almost daily basis, I ask myself, Why do you write?

There are a lot of possible answers to this question. Some are more valid than others. For example, some bad answers would be: For the money; to get famous; so I can work in my pajamas all day; so I can go on book tours around the world. Because the fact is, aside from the pajamas one, the others are highly unlikely. If any of those things are fueling your writing, you’ll likely burn out fast and give up.

But there’s an even worse answer to the question, an answer that pops into my thoughts on the bad days, uninvited, unannounced: I don’t know.

On the days I’m feeling the most doubt, that’s the only answer I have. I don’t know why I’m doing this. It’s a waste of time. I’m delusional. I’m aimless. I should stop right now and get a real job.

Today is not one of those days. I’m not feeling the best about writing today, but I’m not feeling terrible about it either. This is probably an average day, feelings-wise. It is on this type of day that I can ask myself, Why do you write? and get the most honest answer.

Because I want to tell stories.

That’s it. Nothing else. Not because I expect anyone to like those stories. Not because I expect to get rich telling them. Not because I want to see my name on a book (though I do desperately want that). I write because there are stories in my head. Some of them will fade, will never quite develop all the way, and I’ll never write them down. But others won’t. Some stories stay, and there’s something unbearable about the thought of never bringing them to completion. Because while they’re in my head, they’re fragments, underdeveloped, murky. It’s only by writing them down that I can see the full story.

Another question I ask myself: Would you still write even if you knew you’d never get published? This is hard to answer honestly. Some days I think I absolutely would. Some days I think I’d have to be a masochist to keep writing without the possibility of publication. But again, the real answer is probably something in between. Yes, I’d write, but I’d probably never revise. I’d write first drafts and then let them languish, unpolished, unread, not-quite-loved-enough. And that’s okay. As long as my answer isn’t a resounding no, I think I’m still on the right track.

The hard truth is that wanting to tell stories is not enough to create success. Neither is hard work, necessarily. There’s a bit of talent, a bit of luck, a bit of a right-story-at-the-right-time element. As yet, I haven’t written the right story at the right time. But maybe this time. Maybe this book.

Until all that magic comes together at the right moment, all I can do is try. All I can do is tell stories and hope they might mean something to someone besides me one day.

Timeline of my novel’s first draft

Because I’m always curious about other writers’ methods and time spent writing, I thought I’d share the timeline for the first draft I just finished. This is not meant to be advice or something that other writers should compare themselves to, I’m just posting it for anyone who finds it interesting. And also so you’ll know that people who write a first draft in two weeks are superhuman or mutants or aliens or something.

Fall 2009 – I learn about a particular condition in a neuroscience class and think, Hmm, it’d be cool to write a book with a character who has that

April 2012 – Lightbulb moment! That tiny idea from 2009 should be set in a fantasy world

June-July 2012 – Start very bad version of idea. Interrupt it a few thousand words in to revise my first book THANK GOD, or I’d have wasted a lot of time writing a half-baked idea

May 2014 – I’m finally ready for this idea to be my next book. It’s been at the back of my mind for years now, and it’s come together enough that I can outline a bit and start

mid-July 2014 - Start writing the book in third person

September 1, 2014 – Re-start the book in first person, scrapping almost everything I already wrote

January 6, 2015 – Finish first draft of 81,800 words

I can tell you that I definitely DID NOT write every day from 9/1-1/6. I counted, and it was more like 65 active writing days (plus a few days revising a section that sucked). That’s an average of 1,258 words per day (makes sense, because my daily goal was 1,200. Sometimes it wound up being 2,000, sometimes it was 700. Just depended on the day).

Now this is the part I find interesting: how long do I say it took me to write the first draft? Is it just over 4 months, because that was my active writing time once I switched to first person? Six months, because I should include the third person start? Over 5 years, because of when I got the kernel of the idea? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m glad I gave the idea time to gestate in my brain, or it would have been a very different–and not very good–novel.

Sticker sheetOne thing I’m happy about is that this book took me less time to write than my first two. I’m becoming more disciplined for sure. The daily word count goal doesn’t work for some people, but it does for me. I put stickers on my calendar for each 600 words written (I got the idea from Victoria Schwab) and that helps me feel like I accomplished something at the end of a writing day. For my last book, my goal was 1,000 words per day, and I decided to challenge myself for this one and go for 1,200. I don’t want to say that became easy to hit because writing is never easy, but it at least became habit. Toward the end, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hit 1,800. If you’d told me that when I was writing my first book, I’d have laughed and hid under my desk.

So, how long does it take you to write a novel? Do you set word count goals or wait for inspiration to strike? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

THE BOOK IS DONE

This morning, I finished writing my third book. It’s done. Done, done, done!

Well. Done-ish. Because it’s a first draft and it needs a crapload of revisions. But still. I completed the first step: get words on paper. (81,808 to be exact.)

I’m excited, but not as excited as I should be. I feel weird, guys. I just read the post I wrote the day I finished my first book back in April 2012. I was so giddy. So in awe that I’d actually done it. I’d wanted to write a novel for as long as I could remember, but novels seemed so impossibly long. How does anyone ever finish? I wondered. And then I did. And it was magic.

Fast forward to December 2013. I finished my second book, The Fading Hour. In my celebratory blog post for that one, I managed to keep my cool. I felt accomplished, but I wasn’t a newbie anymore. I’d done it before. I was relieved to know I could do it more than once, and I was certainly excited, but I knew all the work that was still to come in revisions.

This time…I don’t know. There’s excitement, yes, but I also feel a bit beaten down by the whole process of writing and querying. I’m no longer a giddy optimist, but a weathered realist. I wrote a book. I’ll revise the book. I’ll query the book. We’ll see what happens from there.

That’s not to say I don’t love it. This book is something I’d been wanting to write for years but wasn’t ready yet. In 2014, the story finally came together in a way I knew I could write, write decently well, and probably have some success querying. I love the world, love the concept, am falling in love with the characters. My lack of enthusiasm has nothing to do with the book itself.

Writing each book has been a different experience. It makes sense that finishing each is different as well. For now, I’ll put revisions out of my mind and let the book settle. I’ll try to let the optimist take over again, the one that daydreams about seeing this book, my book, on shelves one day. Because what are writers if we’re not dreamers?

 

The luxury of thinking

tunnel inside

I’m almost at the home stretch in my YA fantasy. On Saturday, I hit 70k even though I don’t usually write on weekends. But the 600 words I wrote Saturday were more excruciating than usual. I kind of always feel like I’m forcing out words, but I was forcing them even harder, knowing they weren’t good.

When I whined to my husband about this, he looked at me like I was crazy. “So take the day off,” he said. “I would if I didn’t have a deadline. There comes a point when you’re doing more harm than good.” I blinked at him a few times. I looked back at the computer screen. And I closed the document.

As many of you know, I don’t have a deadline. Because I don’t have a book deal. Or an agent, for that matter. The only person waiting to read this book when I’m finished is me. Because of that, it’s important to me that I keep to a writing schedule and get words on the page even when I don’t want to. Only I can push myself to write.

My husband, on the other hand, does have a writing contract (he’s a screenwriter). And he does have a deadline. So he can’t just take a day off whenever he wants. He doesn’t have the luxury of setting his work aside and letting it simmer in the back of his mind. He doesn’t have the luxury of thinking.

But I do. I can brainstorm and think through solutions to plot problems without worrying that I didn’t get any words on the page that day. It’s one of the few perks of being a non-professional writer. While I agonize daily over whether I’ll ever “make it” as an author, this is the upside: I have all the time I want to write a book. At my most optimistic, I look at this as a gift. (At my most pessimistic, I think, Yeah, loser, of course you have tons of time, because nobody will ever care about what you’re writing, and nobody will ever read it. But I keep the pessimist locked in a cage.)

So let’s be optimistic for a minute. I didn’t write this weekend, and I’ve only jotted down notes today. But I’ve got a much better idea of how the last 20-25k of this book will flow. I thought of a better way to do a few things. And I didn’t waste two days writing a bunch of words I’d just have to delete. I gave my brain a rest.

I’m still on track to finish by my self-imposed deadline of January 31st. Come on, self, let’s do this thing.

Best of 2014 – My favorite books and reading stats

A quick note first–I just passed 400 followers this week! I know that might not seem like many to some people, but it means a lot to me. So, thank you to my long-time followers (I started this blog over 3 years ago!), and thank you to my new followers for giving my blog a chance. I sincerely appreciate it.

Now, onto books! I know the year isn’t over yet, but I figured everyone will be posting “best books of 2014″ lists a few weeks from now, and you’ll get bored reading them. By posting this now, I avoid you guys being burned out. Keep in mind that not all of these were published in 2014, it’s just when I read them. So…

By the numbers

Total books read: 52

Total pages read (Goodreads estimate): 19,489

Most commonly read age category: YA (surprise, surprise)

2014 reading 2

Longest: A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin, 674 pages

Realistic: 16      Non-realistic/fantastical: 36

Rereads: 4

Top 5 favorite books

Breakdown: 2 realistic, 3 fantasy —- 1 MG, 1 adult (with a teenaged protag, so, kinda YA), 3 YA (I’m calling Golden Compass YA even though the protag is 12)

Biggest book hangover

I cried, you guys. Like, a lot. Teared up for daaaaays afterwards.

Favorite book covers

Best 2014 debut


Coolest twist


Funniest


Sequel I’m most excited for

To see all the books I read, click here.

Happy end-of-year reading, and may your 2015 be filled with a lot more awesome books!

The word-count turning point

During a first draft, every word written is a triumph. To write a book, I just need to keep adding one word at a time until I get to 90,000. 1+1+1+…you get the idea. One day it adds up to 90,000, I swear.

Each 10k is a new milestone. I inch closer to the end and feel like I may one day finish the book. But this feeling doesn’t last. There’s a turning point when adding more and more words starts to make me panicky. Is this book too long? Should this part have happened 10,000 words ago? Will I be able to keep the full draft under 100k?

I’ve officially reached the turning point. I got up to 58k in TSS. I looked at where I was. I thought about everything that still needs to happen.

Crap.

A lot still needs to happen. Like, too much to fit into 32k. So, I looked back at what I’d written and found a 10k section that just…sucked. It didn’t accomplish much for how long it was, it was boring, it slowed the plot. All bad. So I did something I don’t normally do, and I went back and revised that section. Typically, I wait until a full draft is done to do major revisions, but this part was a sticking point for me and was really distracting me.

It took only a week, and I’m happy to say that I’ve got that 10k plodding section down to a swift(er) 6k, and I feel like I’m back on track.

So the word-count turning point is when I stop of congratulating myself for each word written (“Go you! You’ve done it! +1 word. You win!”). Instead, I worry each word is a useless word that doesn’t further the story (“You’re getting toward the end, you fool! Choose your words more carefully! Do you really need that sentence? Do you want this thing to turn into a 115k monster?”).

But the turning point is also exciting and motivating. It means that I am no longer just trying to get my word count up to book length. It means that I really do have a book-sized idea. It means I’ll finish the damn thing one day. Instead of viewing that -4k as a setback, I can look at it as progress. And I no longer have to add add add with the hopes that I’ll one day reach The End.

I will reach The End of this book. One day. Promise.

The aged writer

On roughly a daily basis, I have a crisis about my age. You see, I feel quite over the hill. Far, far over the hill. I’ve got an aching back and sore wrists and I’ve never gotten a book published. I look at my whole long life and think, “Aubrey, you’ve accomplished nothing. Better throw in the towel.”

Thing is, I’m 26.

I know. IknowIknowIknow. Twenty-six is young! I graduated college only 4.5 years ago (note that my earlier comment about accomplishing nothing means that I don’t consider college an accomplishment. Figure that one out for me, would you?). I started writing seriously only 3 years ago. And yet…

I FEEL SO FREAKING OLD.

There seem to be a whole lot of really young YA writers these days. Maybe there always were and I just wasn’t following the industry then. But there’s nothing to make you feel old like reading about a 20 year old getting a three-book deal. I’m jealous not so much of the book deal, but of 20 year olds who have their shit together enough at 20 to know they even want to write a book. And then to do it. And do it well enough to sell it. It’s sorcery, I tell you.

I’ve accepted that I’ll never be the 20 year old with a book deal because A) I’m already 26 and B) At 20 I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, I’m 26, and I know what I want to be. Now what?

Now I set unreasonable and arbitrary goals of course. Come on, you do it too. “I want to accomplish X by age Y.” “I need to meet my future spouse by age Y if I want to have kids by age Z.” “If I start a grad program now, I’ll have my degree by age Y and maybe pay off my loans by age Z+18.” Life doesn’t last forever. It’s normal to try to plan what age you’ll meet certain goals by. I need to assume that I’ll have to meet all my goals by age 100 if I want to meet them ever (yes, I’m giving myself a generous 100-year life span. Don’t burst my bubble, please).

This is normal, but not necessarily helpful. In fact, it’s super unhelpful for me to feel like an “old writer” at 26. And to tell myself I’d better give up writing if I don’t have a book on shelves by 30. And to feel like a loser for not having made a name for myself.

It doesn’t even make sense. I know almost nobody in their 20s who’s happy with their job. We’re all working really hard so that maybe, possibly, one day, we’ll have the careers we want. I’m in good company.

Besides, what won’t I be able to do at 50 that I’m doing now? I’ll still eat cookie dough and read children’s books and play board games. I’ll still write books, and they’ll probably be 1,097,532x better than the ones I’m writing now, because EXPERIENCE. I might be published, but I’ll still have unmet goals and panic that I won’t meet them all before I die.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to go try to finish my 2014 reading challenge of 52 books. Because arbitrary goals, you know?

October writing progress

Whew. Another month of writing almost over. *Wipes brow* So how’d I do this month?

I didn’t write quite as many words as in September (about 16k as opposed to 24k), but I got a lot of act 2 planning done in the first half of October and am now well into act 2. I’ve reached the point where word count milestones have started blending together. At 10k and 20k, I get so excited to be over those hurdles. But today I reached 42k and have stopped patting myself on the back. I’m just trudging through the middle. I’ll save the back-patting for “The End.”

But there is something very exciting about getting this far: I’ve only ever surpassed 30k in the two books that I went on to finish. So, I can conclude that I will, indeed, finish TSS one day. And I might even be able to predict when that day is.

40k in two months means I’m about a 4-5 month first drafter for YA books (figuring on 80-95k because I write genre fiction). If this book winds up being around 90k like I expect, I’m looking at a completed first draft by the end of January. Yes please.

Self imposed deadlines are tough for me because…well, because I’m myself, and I can be quite forgiving when I’m curled up in a ball feeling bad about being behind. There are a couple of factors that might throw me off schedule–namely, the holidays and the fact that this book might creep up past 90k–but for now, I’m content with my loose deadline.

When I’m in the middle, it can feel so hard to see the end. For some reason that’s not the case right now. I don’t feel horribly overwhelmed. Maybe it’s because I’m not trying to look too far ahead on any given day, or maybe it’s because I’ve planned this book out so carefully (hint: it’s not the latter). Whatever the reason, I’m grateful.

How’d everyone else do writing-wise in October?

P.S. – I just read this YA thriller called Dangerous Girls that was awesome and twisty and I couldn’t put it down. Give it a read, if you’re so inclined…