July 8, 2011

How to Write a Book (And Stay Sane)

I'm a writer, so naturally, I'm a little crazy. I spend countless hours playing with imaginary things, trying to visualize things that aren't there, and then find the EXACT words to describe it. (You know those times when you're looking for the perfect word to describe a crazed, mentally-ill, soulless dying-to-rip-your-throat-out animal? The magic word is: rabid.)

The writing life is riddled with insecurity, which can also make you crazy. You spend hours upon hours (upon hours) writing a book (a BOOK for cryin' out loud!) and then you spend more hours revising it, usually more hours than it took to write the first draft. And then you wonder if it's good enough. And you worry about what you may have done wrong. And then you send it to agents and you find out that it's not good enough, or maybe it is and then you have a slew of other things to worry about (but I wouldn't know about such worries. Yet.).

Yes, being a writer is insane.

Here's how I cling to the scraps of sanity that I still have:
1) Take breaks. It doesn't matter how frequent or how long, I just take a break when my eyes start to glaze over. Usually, my head feels like it's full of mush. That's a good time to take a break. I get water, eat some fruit, close my eyes for a few minutes, or stare into space. (That's really fun to do in a public place, if you like to write in book stores or coffee shops. You get some great reactions.)

2) Accept your best for what it is. Do what you can and move on. I edited the pudding out of Shadow Bound. I learned a lot about revising and the last draft was ten times better than the one before it, but it still didn't sell. It was too far gone. The premise was good, but the characters weren't just flat, they were stick figures. The voices were... wanting. If I really wanted to, I could spend 6 or more months rewriting every word, but what's the point? I can write a better book from scratch.

3) Keep at it. This is similar to "get back on the horse". Just keep writing. Don't even think about it, just keep writing. It doesn't matter what you work on, but as soon as you stop, it gets difficult to start again. Every time I take a break from writing (like, you know, to have kids or something) it's so hard to start up again. And what do I think about during my off-time? My failures, usually. I think about how my last book didn't work out, it was weak, it was... Trust me. Move on and write something else.

4) Reach out. You may recall, Writers feed other writers, like vampires in a blood bank. If you don't believe me, go to a writer's conference. If you can't go to a writer's conference, check out the #amwriting tag on Twitter. Writers are so supportive. Part of it is because we're going through the same insecurities, the same frustrations. Another part is that we have the same goals. Yes, we all want to sell books, but more than that, we want to build a community of readers. And to do that, we all have to write the best stuff we can.

How to you maintain sanity (or at least the illusion or sanity)?


Brittany said...

I do pretty much the same things that you mentioned- take breaks, talk to other writers, etc. I've found that things like blogging and tweeting and the NaNo forums are great for support when writing.

Unknown said...

I'm getting into Twitter. It's so addictive! I'm worried I'm going to miss some epic tweet if I don't check it every couple of hours. (So I guess learning to let go is another tip I can offer.) ;)

nobodyshome said...

Great tips, I am going to try to do some writing.

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