Writing is something you do one day at a time, day by day until the months have stretched into a year. It’s only then that you discover, “Hey! There’s a book’s worth of material here.”
The rush of enthusiasm and pride throws you into writing that first draft, sharpening, tightening, polishing … until you read your last few sentences and realize it’s finished.
You’d never write again if you realized you were only HALFWAY through.
That’s what happened to me. I wrote my first book over a period of two years. I wrote in the evenings, when I was lonely and my experiences were fresh in my mind. When I wrote on my laptop, words poured forth more quickly, an unedited stream of consciousness. When I wrote by hand in my notebook, each word represented an exertion of my finger muscles. my sentences were simpler, paragraphs shorter. Later, I typed what I’d written into my laptop, a process that took weeks to complete.
During the third year, I collated my material into a first draft. I probably culled half of what I wrote as pure garbage. The other half needed streamlining and explaining. In the end, I had 300 single-spaced pages, twice as much as I needed. The average book is 80,000 to 120,000 words. Mine clocked in at a bloated 190,000.
What many writers don’t realize is that writing is actually a process of unwriting.
In any given piece of writing, you could have probably used half as many words and communicated your ideas more simply and precisely. You don’t want to waste your reader’s time.
I never took my book any further. Just getting to that first draft had taken three years of my life, time that had been stolen from friends and family and having fun. I was exhausted, depressed, and skeptical that my book would ever be worth anything. I couldn’t see how I could cut a hundred pages from the book, and I didn’t understand plot and pacing well enough to make informed decisions about structure.
So I did the next best thing: I went back to school.
I hoped that getting a master’s degree in writing would teach me what I need to know about plot, structure, and getting to that second draft stage. I also hoped, privately, that my professors would have useful connections in the publishing world.
Unfortunately, I chose the wrong school. I wasted a year sitting in classrooms learning what I would have learned in a 200-level writing course at my undergraduate university.
Once I emerged, battle-worn and weary, I decided I’d had enough of going at it alone. I was going to get a job and live life again. I was going to meet people, go out in the evenings, make money and spend it. I wasn’t going to remain tied to my computer, taking parttime entry level jobs in order to preserve precious hours for words.
But life often gives us what we want just as we’ve given up. I got a job … writing books.