Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Writing Love Affair

By R.J. Harlick

What lessons did you learn from your first (perhaps, failed) attempt at a novel?

When I set out on this writing journey eight books ago, I had no idea if I could write a book let alone get it published. I only knew I had a burning desire to write one.

My first goal was to see if I could write a hundred thousand words or more. Up until then, my writing, mostly consulting reports and proposals, rarely went beyond twenty or thirty thousand words. A hundred thousand seemed such a daunting and unachievable amount. But I decided not to let it discourage me. Instead I forgot about the BIG number and focused on just plain writing, a scene at a time, a chapter at a time, even if I had no idea where the broader story was going.  I could handle the progression of the story embodied in a scene and in a chapter. But I couldn’t for the life of me envision the entire story. I ploughed ahead, moving the story forward scene by scene, chapter by chapter, until miraculously I reached the end and, low and behold, discovered I’d written over a hundred thousand words, actually a hundred and thirty thousand, and had a pretty darn good story to boot. And so, I learned my first lesson in novel writing. Don’t worry if the complete story isn’t known, just keep moving it forward, a scene at a time, a chapter at a time until I finally get there. I still write this way.

I also learned another key lesson; never look back. As tempted as I was to make each chapter perfect, I knew once I got into full editing mode, I would never be satisfied with what I’d written. I would want to keep editing it and editing it and would never move on to the next chapter. So, I would make enough revisions to be reasonably happy with the finished chapter, and would move on to the next one. I never returned to previously written chapters until I finished the entire first draft. Only then did I begin the real editing process. Wanting perfection is a trap many a new writer gets caught in and finds themselves unable to get beyond the first few chapters of their long dreamed of book.

Perseverance became a must. There were so many hurdles along the way, ones for which I could’ve easily said, “Enough, I’m out of here.” But I didn’t.  I kept working through them until I overcame them. I suppose the biggest hurdle was the getting published part. I’ve lost count of the number of rejections I received from agents and publishers. Sure, I got discouraged. But I was bound and determined to get that first book published, so after each round of rejections, I would do another major revision and send the manuscript back out again. Eventually perseverance won out and this first novel became Death’s Golden Whisper, the first of the Meg Harris mysteries.

Speaking of revisions, I learned the value of editing. Like most new writers, I thought that first draft was absolutely wonderful until I sat down and tried to read it as objectively as I could. It was awful. No wonder it was rejected. I went through three complete rewrites until a publisher finally said yes. 


Lastly, if you don’t love writing, don’t even bother trying to write a book. I discovered fairly early on in the writing of my first book that I loved doing it. I loved playing with words. I loved creating imaginary worlds populated by imaginary people using only words.  I loved the sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally wrote ‘The End’. This love affair kept me going through the first book and has continued on into the subsequent ones, seven and counting. But I have made myself a promise, the minute this love of writing disappears and it becomes a dreary chore rather than fun, I will know that it is time to stop writing.


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