It look me a long time to write my new book, Break in Case of Emergency. Seven years, in fact. And while I could lie and say that I spent most of that time perfecting my adjectives, the bottom line is that most of those years were wasted.
And this is my third book. You’d think I’d have things figured out by now. But nope. What’s so frustrating is that, like so many other writers, I’m balancing my writing life with my working life, my married life, my family life, my (somewhat) social life, and my Real Housewives of New York, Atlanta, New Jersey and sometimes Beverly Hills life.
In other words, my writing time is extremely precious. And limited. I know it’s a cliche but I literally don’t have the time to waste.
While my book eventually came together (and I’m very proud of it), I made some mistakes in the writing process. I’m passing along those mistakes to aspiring writers. (Truthfully, I still feel like I’m aspiring.) Every writing experience is different, so these may not be mistakes common to all writers. They’re just my own take-aways. If you’re one of those writers who never makes mistakes, well, I guess you’re a real smartypants. Or delusional.
1) No sense of direction
I didn’t have a plan when I started writing this book. I told myself I’d sort it all out in the first draft. When that draft reached 450 pages, and I wasn’t even near the end, I knew I was in trouble. Two years went down the drain. Although plans always change, try to have some sort of blueprint when you start your story. The clearer you are at the start, the easier it will be to see when things start to go astray.
2) Knew the characters, didn’t know the story
From the first draft to the finished product, most of the characters in my novel stayed the same. The problem was that I didn’t really know what to do with them. In other words, whose story was I telling? There may be one story to tell but there are a hundred different ways to tell it. Take the time to understand your story. Then decide the best character to tell it. And make sure you can back that up by answering one crucial question: Why?
3) Fell down the research rabbit hole
It’s not that research is bad. But it can be a trap. Sometimes, we use research as a distraction from our writing. For me, I was too focused on factual events that hindered me from taking my story and characters to where they needed to go. Research is important. But not more important than your imagination.
4) I copy-catted
We all have writers who inspire us. But there’s a difference between being influenced and trying to mimic. I read a book while I was writing my own that I liked so much, I thought, “I want to write a book like that.” So I tried to do that. But I failed. Why? Because I was copying, not creating. Keep your head down and focus on what makes your story distinctly your own.
5) I was a draft hoarder
I should’ve sent my early drafts to friends for their feedback, but I didn’t. I thought, “I’ll show them when I’m happy with it.” Problem was, by that point, it was too late to do anything constructive with their feedback. It’s vital that you share your work early on, even if you’re not happy with it. You don’t need share it widely, either. Just a few key people whose opinions you trust.
What I did right
All these mistakes aside, I did a few things right. I hired a freelance editor to help polish up my book before shopping it around. And I was honest with myself when things weren’t working. But I also didn’t beat myself up. You’ll accomplish nothing if you let yourself feel like crap. Most important, I didn’t give up. I kept thinking about the book, the entry points, the characters, the story. And I listened to my intuition when it said, “You’ve got something here. It’ll come. Just give it time, girl.”
As writers, we all have to figure out what works best in the limited number of hours we have in our day. Just try to be as smart – and strategic – at the beginning to save yourself from any heartbreak in the long run.
I’ll be starting my fourth book soon. I’ll let you know all the mistakes I make with this one too.
Break In Case of Emergency will be published September 10.