In January, I wrote an article about my experience of having written the first draft of a novel for the first time. In it, I said that there were ten things I had learned that I would take with me in to my second.
Just over three months later I’ve finished the second, and I’ve come to realise that nine of those tips are redundant. The only tip you need is really, very simple.
Seriously, it’s hard to explain just how important this seemingly obvious word is to writing.
Given that you are reading this article on the internet, I’m going to presume you know how to read and write (unless you also comment on YouTube videos, in which case please disregard my previous statement). When it comes to writing novel, you probably think that you’ve been writing for your whole life, and therefore inherently know how to write a book. You don’t need to train yourself how to put words together to form a sentence. If you couldn’t do that, you probably wouldn’t be trying to write a book, right? (You’d probably be commenting on YouTube videos, I imagine).
The thing is, writing needs training as much as any other skill. If you don’t need to practice something, it’s probably not a skill.
Take marathon running as an example. Sure, you probably know how to place one foot in front of another, but that doesn’t mean you can therefore run twenty-six miles in one go. If you want to run that far, you have practice, train, and keep pushing yourself through the tough times until you are capable of running a distance no person should really be able to.
What you probably won’t do is run for two miles, then decide this route is rubbish and that you should try somewhere else tomorrow, only to come to same conclusion the next day. Chances are if you never run more than two miles at a time, you probably won’t make it the full twenty-six when you need to.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but the point stands. The only way to be able to learn how to write a book is to write a book.
My first first-draft took around 14 months from my first inaccurate tapping at a keyboard to last. I gave up numerous times, got bored, started working on other stuff, everything. It was a bit of a drag sometimes, but I was obsessed with doing it as well as I could first time around. I was immensely proud of the achievement, but I couldn’t have been more inefficient at getting there if I’d have been typing with my feet.
The second time it took me three months. I powered through. I had a routine. I accepted there were days where it would work for me, and days that it wouldn’t. Sometimes I’d stop for the day thinking I’d really progressed as a writer. Some days I’d think I’d regressed to YouTube commenter levels of shoddiness.
But I had learnt to keep going. I knew what it took to get from the start to the end. To return to the marathon analogy, it didn’t matter if I ran one ten-mile training session slower than the previous. Part of it is the confidence that comes with trying a task you’ve already successfully completed in the past, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s learning who you really are as a writer and doing whatever it takes to get from start to end. You can’t know how to do that unless you actually do it.
I have been writing for as long as I can remember, but it was only through completing a project, even in first draft form, that I really felt like a writer. That’s an important distinction to make, because anyone can write. Becoming a writer is a skill, and any skill takes practice.
If you want to improve at writing, there’s only one real option. You have to write.
Check back in every Monday for the latest reviews.
Follow me on Twitter for more advice I’m totally not qualified to give.