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to sit from this position as published author and give out advice to other writers— some published and others as-yet-unpublished.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.