Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Waxing Philosophical: Yep, Writing Can be Hard

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Regular readers of the blog will know that the last few months I've been doing a heavy duty overhaul of Blue Fire. Rewrite has been on my mind a lot, and I'm delighted to say that I turned in Blue Fire to my editor yesterday. (major dancing ensured. okay not really, cause I'm still sick, but I danced in my mind). Next week I'll do a much more helpful "things to watch out for in a second book" post, but right now I wanted to share some of the experience.

I made a comment to a writer friend recently, that if trying-to-get-published writers knew how hard it was, they might not be in such a hurry to get there. She laughed and agreed with me, as she was struggling with her second book as well. Now, as always, I don't say this to discourage anyone, but to share that even when you read industry blogs, follow writers and generally keep up on the book biz, there's nothing to truly prepare you for it. Selling your first novel is the easy part, crazy (and scary) as that sounds. That second book? Trial by fire.

Writing Blue Fire was hard. Probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, and certainly the hardest writing I've even done. But I'm honestly glad to have done it. Hard as it was, it really proved to me that A) I could do this whole "published author" thing, B) I could bang out 2500 usable words in a morning when I had to, and C) I still want to do this for a living.

There were plenty of moments when I was convinced I was a one-book wonder. Shifter had been a fluke, my editor was going to cancel my contract, and my agent would run screaming for the hills. I wondered if I had what it took to make it as a writer. But I kept plugging along because I had a deadline and people counting on me, and this really is what I want to do with my life. Giving up just because it's hard wasn't something I was willing to do.

And things turned out just fine.

Had it been easy, I don't think I'd appreciate the experience as much as I do now. If folks enjoy Blue Fire, I know it's not because I got lucky. I worked hard for it, really pushed myself and crafted a story worth reading. That does a lot for the old confidence. (Of course, if folks hate it, then I have to own up to that as well, but hey, that's the creative life) If Shifter was a book that wrote itself, I'll know Blue Fire was one that had to have someone write it.

Me? I'm feeling pretty good about the book overall. Had I not rewritten it five times, I never would have uncovered the really cool stuff I found this last draft. I wouldn't have seen a totally sweet connection that ties the trilogy together on another level that will make book three rock (I hope). It was a fantastic learning experience and worth the frustration.

And since I know folks are always curious about this stuff, my editor was a dream through this whole experience. I kept her posted as to my struggles and she helped me where she could, and gave me as much time as possible to get the story right. She gave me hard deadlines too, but this is a business as I do have a contract to fulfill. But she was great about the whole thing. (Thanks Donna!)

So if you're struggling with your own book, keep plugging away. Do what it takes to make it the best book it can be, and if that one isn't working, don't be afraid to chuck it and work on something new. Because that's also how it works on the published side of the fence. If you can do that, manage to hold onto your love of the book even through countless rejections and dark moments, still want that life no matter how tough it gets, then when you do sell, you'll be ready for it. You'll do fine when it does get hard, and sail right through.

Don't think of the revisions and submission process as a trial you have to endure to get to the good parts. Think of it as on the job training. -grin-


  1. Thanks for the encouragement--I'm on Draft 3 and giving up hope of this ever being good....but will at least get through five drafts before I give up. At least *I* will get better, even if my *manuscript* doesn't :P

    I'm actually shocked you had such a hellish revision, because your blog posts on structure and story analysis are awesome (pace being my personal bugaboo, I am literally in awe). So it's *always* hard, no matter how good you get or how well you understand stories?! Whoa.

    How was each of your drafts different from the others?

  2. Loved this post!! It's always a good reminder for writers that things aren't always a breeze after that first publication... there's always the sophomore book hump to get over... and then the next one, and the next one, and then next one. Ooooo... I love a challenge. Bring it on!! :)

  3. Great post, and congrats on turning in your manuscript. I appreciate stories of struggling through much more than those "I had a dream, wrote it down and sold nine hundred bazillion books.". I don't have anything against authors raking in the dough, but at least pretend it was hard to get the books written so that the rest of us can feel better for taking a while to even so much as get an agent. Is that too much to ask? :)

  4. Congratulations :) Man, I guess if it ain't hard it ain't real.

    And feel better soon!

  5. It's not always hard. Not every book is rough, and not every second book is (though a high percentage of them are according to both my editors and my agent). And they swear it gets easier from here. Some books will always be tougher and some will continue to be a breeze. You never really know until you get into it. I am starting to get an idea of what makes a book "easy" for me though, based on how I write and what trips me up.

    The story part of the drafts didn't change too much, (like the major plot points) but how it played out changed. It was one of those situations where I wrote the first draft and knew it was missing something. It didn't have the narrative drive it needed, the personal goals weren't there. The stakes didn't escalate enough. It was too much a setup for book three and didn't hold its own. I knew exactly what was missing, I just couldn't figure out how to fix it. (talk about frustrating!).

    I kept trying different ways of dramatizing the ideas, trying to put Nya more in the center of things and not be so reactionary. One of the hard parts was keeping book two its own story and not having to rehash book one too much, or have book two just be the set up for book three. It's a tough balance to achieve. So much of book two is a result of what happened in book one, but the story needed to be understandable if you never read book one.

    I did hack out huge chunks of it every time though. First draft was like 80K words, I cut it down to 21K. Next was 59K. Cut it back to about 30K. It bobbed between 55-65K for a draft or two, then the final cut knocked it back down to 25K again, and the final ended up being just under 70K. There's one or two long scenes in the whole book that didn't change much, everything else did, LOL.

    Book three is going to be so much easier. I can already tell.

  6. Thanks so much for this post. I love your comment about "hacking huge chunks". It reminds me of that article about Annie Dillard. It's great advice.

  7. Congrats on finishing Shifter 2! I can't imagine the pressure of writing a book when you have the whole editor/agent/publisher shebang. It's hard enough with only myself to answer to (well, and my critique group). I have no doubt it'll be awesome, and I'm so happy that you figured out the trilogy-tying connection.

  8. Congratulations! I love how positive you are about the whole process.

  9. Thanks for the great post. I'm just about to go back to my second novel in a series after finally revising the first and seeing your writing process for your second is helpful. I'm looking forward to next week's post.

  10. Such a personal post, I loved this. And congrats on finishing!

  11. Thanks for the honesty, Janice. I like this a lot.
    Can you comment at all on how sales are doing for The Shifter?

  12. Thanks for the editing specifics, Janice! It's so great to know that a manuscript being tough doesn't mean it can't turn out great. And congratulations on staying so determined through it all--I'm certain it will pay off for us readers :)

    By the way--one of my friends is reading the Shifter at the moment, and you're getting great word of mouth :D

  13. Hi! We just posted a review of your first book on our teen library blog!

  14. Thanks all!

    Sierra, my publisher tells me she's "happy with how sales are going." It's been steady and everyone seems pretty happy with it. I did a book singing on Saturday and they said they couldn't keep it on the shelf, which made me smile.

    Megan, awesome! Do you have a link to that? Love to read it :)