So you just wrote a book. Congratulations! Seriously. Congratulate yourself, because writing is exhausting, and anyone who says otherwise is not from this planet. Beware of aliens. Anyway, congratulate yourself, but be sure to only pat one shoulder. Because guess what?
You're not actually done writing.
This is common sense to most people, but it wasn't for me. Sometimes I wonder what was going through my brain two years ago. "I just spill all my thoughts into Microsoft Word and call it a book, right? Isn't that how this works?" Wrong. The me two years ago had no idea what she was doing. (I still don't, but shh.) The me two years ago didn't understand the concept of editing and thought that drafts were for people who just felt like rewriting their story for fun. The me two years ago should have a name so that I don't have to keep typing out "the me two years ago." Let's call her Shirley.
Dear Shirley. You're gonna need a bigger printer.
Let me introduce editing by saying that I actually really love editing. Me and editing are great pals. We have our moments—mainly the ones where I'm holding a manuscript drenched in tears of self-questioning—but things always work out for the better. You should invite editing over, Shirley, because otherwise your book is still going to be about a girl who plays soccer and a boy named "Ian." *shuddering ensues*
Today, I would like to talk about what I call "First Chapter Syndrome." This might already be a term coined by a smart person who has done actual research. My research comes from experience and the woes I've heard from fellow writers who can't move past that first chapter. The first chapter is hard. It's excruciating. It bleeds you dry. Let me tell you a little secret.
It took me six years to perfect my first chapter.
I know, I know! I've since realized things. I'm always realizing things, aren't I? That is why I'm a huge proponent of "Do everything wrong at first so that afterward you can do everything right." For instance: The way I wrote my first draft of The Trace? Totally wrong. But that's a discussion for a future blog post. *Makes mental note to self.*
Here are three (and only three!) of the things I have learned that prevent writers from succeeding in that first chapter.
Due to excess school work and the knowledge that anything I write right now will be crap, I've been on a semester-long writing break. This has been both good and bad.
I like dialogue. Apparently because I'm female. Hmm. Only thing is, writing dialogue isn't like writing descriptions or scenes or an essay on Ransom as depicted in Out of the Silent Planet. (Not fun. Well, okay, a little fun.) I always thought writing dialogue was really easy, but the more I learn about it, the more I realize how tricky it can be. One misplaced word can botch an entire character. Dialogue has to be consistent, understandable, and, most of all, realistic. That's the hardest part. Why can't all of my characters sound like Morpheus when they talk?
These steps take minimal amount of effort and dedication. Perform them not wisely.
Step 1. Do not eat breakfast. Or second breakfast. Then, drink coffee. The process works best if the coffee is loaded with sugar, that way your fingers are shaky and your heart patters around your chest with the intensity of a hamster on a wheel. The fainter you feel, the worse your writing will be.
Step 2. Do not mentally prepare yourself to write. In fact, you should try un-preparing yourself. Do this by reading your least favorite thing in the entire universe. Or by sitting for hours in direct sunlight on a humid day so that the hunger headache you already have gets even more distracting.
Querying is basically the most terror-invoking process ever. And I still don't know how to write a perfect query! I've read lots and lots about what agents prefer, and the main thing I've learned is that agents are like English professors. If I wrote in this particular style for Prof. X, I'd get an A. If I gave that same paper to Prof. Y, I'd get a C. It's the same with agents. I think. Then again, I don't really know what I'm doing, so...
I'm just going to go ahead and casually segue into the amount of rejections I've received. The current magic number is 10. Every time I tell my mom I got another rejection, she reminds me of how many J.K. Rowling got. The number changes. At first it was 8, and then 18, and then 12, and now I'm just convinced that Rowling never actually got rejected. That sly devil.
The first time I received a rejection email, my heart coiled into a spiral of ice. Yes, that was dramatic, but that's what happened. It was very awkward. I was at work, at the front desk on the second floor, and in walks half of the department because turns out there's a meeting that was scheduled twenty seconds after I read the email. Thanks, library. In walks my boss, and I'm trying to look normal by keeping my eyes extremely wide in a non-psychopathic way.
(My laptop is very upset right now. CAN'T YOU SEE THE RED SQUIGGLY LINES, REBECCA??)
Apparently any word with the letter "C." Exept for "habbit." I don't know where that cayme from. I think becuz I want to write "hobbit" instead. Thanks, senior seminar on Tokien. And thank you, God, for createing the people who cayme up with SpellChek. Also, there are plenty more unspellable words where that cayme from, words that will acumulate the more I write. This post is hurting my eyes. Goodbye.
I know, I'm not Stephen King. But we do have the same birthday.
Like most everything else in life, the process behind writing varies from person to person. I've read plenty of articles and books about writing and how you're supposed to do it, and basically everything I read says something different. Go figure. From what I've learned about myself, the best way for me to write is to just sit down and do it. Of course, that sounds really easy, which it's definitely not. So this is what I do. Obviously, I'm not telling anyone to do it, because every person writes differently. This is just my humble method.
1. Get in the mood
Some people can listen to music while they do homework. I cannot. The same applies to writing. When people kindly suggest that I play music softly in the background, I kindly answer that if I listen to music while writing, I end up singing a song while my fingers hover over the keyboard or journal that I'm currently using. My eyes glaze over, and the only thing I can think about is the next word in the song. I need silence.
When I want to write, I have to make sure I have the right motives. Sometimes I write because I know I'm falling behind, and that's when everything I write turns out to be a gigantic pile of terribly contrived crap. It's disgusting. You don't want to see it. Writing should never be an obligation; it should be a stream of thoughts that will one day explode out of you if you don't write them down. If I'm not excited to write, I shouldn't write at all.
This is a website about me as an author, so, naturally, my blog posts should be about me as a writer. But guess what! I develop as a writer through these posts, so every single thing I talk about concerns me as a writer. Since right now I'm writing. Duh.
There's a lot of pressure to write this post. It's my first one, and I don't even know what to say.
"Hello, I'm Adelaide, but you can call me Ad. Uhh...I wrote a book?"
Who said writing was easy? Why did you lie to me??