I was lucky enough to sit on a panel this weekend and I’ve been thinking about something that kept coming up— the process.
The process is how you write a book. How you get from the start of a book all the way to the end. That secret, sacred, all-magical, all-encompassing trick that a writer has for producing a story.
And there I sat, in the middle of a group of panelists, who all had wildly different ways of approaching writing, drafting, editing, and tracking our characters throughout the process. And in the end, the one thing we all agreed on was this— there is no wrong way to write a book.
One writer said that she could just open a document and start writing. Start to finish, linear all the way to the end. Another writer told the audience that they write their endings first, so that they know which direction they’re headed. I write in circles, as I’ve mentioned before, re-working and re-writing until I’ve got enough in the beginning to have forward momentum to push onwards. I happened to talk about a color-coding system that I use as I draft and I’m pretty sure our moderator needed to breath into a paper bag as I described what I do. It was that viscerally panic-inducing for her.
We are all published authors. We all have more than one work under our belt.
There is no wrong way to write a book.
I’ve been thinking a lot about writing advice. About what it means to sit from this position as published author and give out advice to other writers— some published and others as-yet-unpublished. I keep trying to work out if there’s really a difference between us. I didn’t feel any different as a writer on the day before my book sold as compared to the day after.
Yes, my writing has evolved over the years. But my writing changed because I kept writing. My writing changed because I kept learning. I kept working on craft, even before my book ever sold. As a traditionally published author, I’m lucky enough to have an editor and I do everything I can to stay open and learn from her.
But in the end, I keep coming back to it: there is no wrong way to write a book.
I like to think about writing advice as The Pirate Code— it’s more like guidelines. If a piece of advice works for you, helps you as you work, makes you feel less alone, then by all means, embrace it. But if advice doesn’t resonate with you, makes you feel inadequate or makes the writing harder, then throw that advice away in the garbage bin where it belongs.
There is no wrong way to write a book.
My mind is often so full. Of ways to write character. Of ways to use tropes. Of different act structures, and the way that they can be used to your advantage. And those are skills that I enjoy teaching, that I’m happy to share. I love talking about craft. I love learning about how story works. I love sharing what I have learned. I’ve watched so many writing panels— with comic book artists, novelists, poets, and screenwriters. I’ve seen them talk about story. I’ve also gotten to sit beside them on occasion, when I’m very lucky, and join in on the conversation.
And here is the only piece of advice that I’ve seen time and time again. The only commonality I’ve ever noticed from one published author to another. They committed to showing up. It might be every day. It might not. For some authors, it was one hour a week when they started. But they showed up when they said they would, put their butt in a chair, and wrote.
So instead of looking for the right way to write a book, remember to just keep showing up. Instead of worrying if you’ve written a perfect book, just remember that you’ve got to get all the way to the end first. And instead of worrying if someone else has this great cosmic secret to writing a book, learn to listen to what resonates for you and your own process.
There is only your way to write the damn book.
I’ve always been a sucker for a trilogy. It started with the countless Star Wars marathons my brothers and I watched together. From there, I’d pick up N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. Genius compilations like Lilith’s Brood and The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings. They say good things come in threes. That includes my own breakthrough in the industry. Back in 2014, Random House acquired Nyxia. […]
When aspiring writers ask me for advice, the most common question I get is about overcoming writer’s block. I think perhaps the reason this question is asked so frequently is that more than one situation is given the label “writer’s block.” Obviously, writer’s block refers to not knowing what to write, but I think it can be broken down into three separate categories: Problems with idea generation, Loss of faith in your writing’s quality, and […]
Hey y’all, It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I left my editor job, packed up my NYC apartment, then I went to Paris, and now I’m home home in Texas and this whole spiritual-existential crisis (aka my dark night of the soul) I’ve been having is still with me. Contrary to what pop culture makes you think (ya know, girl runs away to find herself), living in Paris for a month actually doesn’t solve […]
Shortly after I got my book deal in 2016, my original editor, Brian, emailed me asking: “Which authors do you want to ask for a blurb?” And honestly, it felt like such a life-changing, terrifying, momentous rite of passage. I pictured myself sending piteous requests to respected authors, asking them to bestow their blessings upon me and my untried book and feeling like everything hinged on whether or not they decided to send me praise. […]