Chronicling The Craft: Six Writing Lessons I Learned While Working On My WIP

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Chronicling The Craft is a series where I share my experience with working on my YA fantasy novel THE KEEPER’S CURSE. These articles alternate between a) progress updates and fun “TKC-related” content, and b) revising / editing tips. Today we finish our celebration of the end of Draft #3 with a tips-oriented post.

Working on a novel is a learning experience in and of itself. You’ll make right and wrong decisions, figure things out, and find ways of improving the story. You’ll also absorb tips away from the WIP via blog articles, workshops, and literary conferences. That “self-teaching” can double – or even triple – your knowledge about writing between Day 1 of Draft #1 and The End of Draft #3. And after wrapping up my WIP’s third draft, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned about the craft of writing and about myself as a writer.

So, the last Chronicle for Draft #3 isn’t exactly a tips-oriented post. Instead, it’s a retrospect of discoveries I’ve made since I started working on The Keeper’s Curse (or TKC). Perhaps these lessons might help you on your own writing journey (or maybe you’ve already embraced them). Then, at the end, I’d love to know what you have learned about yourself or your process from any of your writing projects. 🙂

Lesson #1: If One Aspect of Your Process Isn’t Working, Take the Time to Evaluate and Change It

Writing can be shifty sometimes. You start with a process that you think is foolproof, then later discover which parts aren’t so helpful. So, when your process feels imbalanced, take some time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t, then make any necessary changes. And what works for a WIP’s first draft won’t always work for later drafts.

During TKC’s lifespan so far, I’ve gone through the “evaluate and change” steps three times:

  1. During Draft #1, I taught myself to stop rewriting previously written scenes by taking note of those changes, then turning those notes into a checklist for Draft #2.
  2. Between Drafts #2 and #3, I created a new writing / editing routine after realizing that upcoming changes in other areas of life would (for lack of a better word) kill my old routine.
  3. While the new writing routine worked well for Draft #3, I developed a bad habit early on: I’d work on edits longer than I’d planned, which led me to staying up later and not getting enough sleep. So, for the sake of self-care, I programmed a Windows “task” so my laptop would shut down at 8:45 pm every night.

Each change dealt with a different aspect of my writing process: efficiency, schedule / time management, and well-being, respectively. Yet all three changes have been instrumental in improving that process and helping me grow as a writer. Most importantly, had I not been willing to make those changes, TKC wouldn’t be as far along as it is today (and maybe it would be in much worse shape, too!). Thus, by evaluating problems I recognized in my process and implementing solutions, I also became a more flexible and adaptable writer.

Lesson #2: Worldbuilding is Never-Ending – But Don’t Forget to Start Writing Your Story

It’s impossible to know everything about a fictional world you’re creating. So many ingredients are needed, from the big picture (history, culture, religion, geography, etc.) to the smaller details. And while speculative fiction writers should build as much as they can so their universe feels real, it’s also important to know when to hit the “pause” button so you can start writing.

I LOVE worldbuilding – so much that I could obsess on it for weeks before writing the story’s first words. Good thing I recognized this while I was preparing for Draft #1 of TKC. Between that and my itching excitement to get writing, I convinced myself to be content with a month’s worth of worldbuilding (along with outlining and character profiles), then dove in.

Having that “pause-button” mentality was a great idea for other reasons. As I drafted TKC, and then revised and edited it, I let myself be open to opportunities for strengthening the worldbuilding. When I had questions about past events or history that were relevant to the WIP, I would flesh out those event(s) in a separate document, then incorporate the necessary details into the story. If I needed to get information, check accuracy, or fix my own illogic, I would research until I found answers, then make those improvements to the story as well.

The point is, speculative fiction writers never truly stop worldbuilding. We just need to remember to temporarily stop playing so we can get to work – and that work may be challenging, but it’s also the most fulfilling part. 😉

Lesson #3: Don’t Be Afraid of Becoming a Writerly “Jack of All Trades”

Working on TKC has prompted (or, in some cases, inspired) me to do more than just write. Over the past 3+ years, I’ve created fictional languages and (sort of) written a song that “plays” during one chapter. I took archery lessons to better understand its techniques, terminology, and history. I attempted to draw a map of my story’s world (and failed because I have ABYSMAL drawing abilities). I even created a line of custom teas for TKC to use as possible swag when the book comes out.

(Also, if you’re curious,  some of the topics I researched while working on TKC are herbal remedies, new age crystal therapy, land travel with horses, woods used for making bows and arrows, weapons used by indigenous peoples… and I’ll stop there. *winks*)

The point is, a writer is never simply a writer / editor / researcher. You’ll have plenty of kinesthetic learning opportunities during a WIP’s lifetime, and the activities will depend on the story’s plot, characters, genre, and so on. And when you try them, not only will they let your creativity unfold in ways you hadn’t imagined, but you might find new hobbies and meet people who might become good friends or important connections later in life.

So, go on and be a linguist / songwriter / archer / tea crafter / epic failure of a mapmaker, or whatever your WIP needs you to be. You’ll enrich your writing as well as your life by becoming a jack of many trades.

Lesson #4: Editing Is My Favorite Part of the Writing Process

Many writers say they HATE the editing process. I can see why: It’s often tedious, and it uses less of our “creating” juices than drafting does. And yes, editing sometimes frustrates me to the point of feeling “brain-fried.” But I’ve also realized that, of the three drafts I’ve done on TKC so far, the editing stage (Draft #3) was my favorite part of the writing process.

Why? Because editing is the stage where you’re polishing your story. You’re taking what’s already there and improving it. Adding necessary details that weren’t there before, deleting redundancies and unneeded words, checking consistencies in character motivations and behavior, finding the most fitting words and weaving them into better sentences and paragraphs… Something about all that is oddly yet immensely fulfilling for me. Maybe it’s because most of the heavy lifting of drafting and revising is (hopefully) behind me, and I can finally concentrate on bringing the story’s heart to the surface.

Lesson #5: There’s Nothing Wrong with Going at Your Own Pace

It’s easy to compare ourselves to other writers and belittle ourselves over our perceived “inferiority.” Last year I wrote a guest post at Wendy Lu Writes about being a “slow” writer and offered tips to help others accept and embrace their unique process. But you know how we’re often terrible at taking our own advice? Yeah. I still get discouraged with my lack of writing speed – and the feeling only deepens when I see Tweets or status updates from other writers who managed more words per hour than I can. :/

So I still need to work on accepting my own process. That’s OK. Changing a warped perception about yourself or your abilities doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, you must teach yourself how to think and react differently, and in a way that empower you. This requires practice and patience, and doing so will help you persevere. Besides, aren’t those the three qualities (practice, patience, perseverance) you need most as a writer, apart from the desire to write?

If you’re also a slow writer, please remember this: There’s nothing wrong with going at your own pace. Instead of celebrating word count milestones, rejoice over finishing a scene or chapter or reaching other milestones. Instead of criticizing yourself over things you can’t control, verbalize one aspect of your process that you’re grateful for, even it’s something like, “I’m grateful that I’m writing this story.” Learning to look at your unique process in a positive way will make you more excited about your work, more committed to continuing with your craft, and even more open to changes that can boost your productivity and self-esteem.

Lesson #6: I Love This Story Like It’s My Baby

I loved TKC as soon as its first glimmers of inspiration flashed in my mind. And with every day that followed, I’ve grown to love it more. Through the smoothest writing sessions and the days when I could barely finish a page, through the excitement and suggestions of friends and fellow writers, through the moments when I wondered how CRAZY I must be for working on this story, through frustration and joy, through doubt and catharsis… And finally, after almost 4 years, this tortoise of a writer is preparing to have beta-readers rip her baby to shreds critique her manuscript.

I shouldn’t be afraid, though. Beta-reading is just another step in the process of nurturing our stories. Just like how parents need a “village” to help raise their children, writers also need their own tribe of writerly and bookish supporters in order to make their stories strong, compelling, and publishable. What my “baby” needs from me now is bravery. It needs me to let go of it for a short time so that my beta-readers (book bloggers and fellow writers / creatives whom I trust) can help me care for it further. I’m ready to do that.

Who knows what will happen next? Most likely I’ll make more revisions based on beta feedback. Then, maybe TKC will need another round of betas, and I’ll need to make more changes after that. Or maybe it’ll be ready for querying. I won’t know for sure until the next stage is over.

But that’s OK. What I need to remember is that I love The Keeper’s Curse from the bottom of my heart, and this love is propelling me to take each step in this process. I’m willing to make tough decisions and do what needs to be done with this story (except compromise its soul) so it can one day be a book that readers can touch, enjoy, escape with – and maybe even be moved by it.

Until then, I thank you all so, so much for keeping me company on this journey thus far, and I hope you’ll stick with me for a little while longer.  🙂

Other Writing Reflections You Might Enjoy

**This post came to me when my lack of sleep (see Lesson #1) was hitting me worst. Thanks so much again for the reminder, Leanne!

What have you learned while working on your own WIP? How has your writing or process changed between the day you started Draft #1 and now?

Did you miss the first half of the 100% progress report? Click here to catch up on last Thursday’s post, where I also shared five more songs from TKC’s novel playlist.

Original photo credits: Sylwia Bartyzel (banner)

28 thoughts on “Chronicling The Craft: Six Writing Lessons I Learned While Working On My WIP

  1. I started typing a response and realised it would be way too long to fit it in here. Can I borrow this post idea too, please?
    Of course, I’ve finished only two rough drafts now, both incomplete and the one I did for this NaNo is basically with the same characters but a different (hopefully, more interesting) storyline as the other unfinished heap. They both taught me quite a few things (not sure if I’ll make six, but I’ll try).
    I agree 100% about the world-building part. I did do a bit of planning in October for my NaNo project, but the world-building was woefully inadequate. That’s probably why the first two weeks were only mediocre. But yes, I had to stop worrying about every last detail and get on with the story, which helped me discover new aspects of my world.
    Ooh, the hints sound very interesting and promising! I’m sure your baby will survive the beta-reading phase without going through anyone’s shredder (do NOT let this image haunt your nightmares). Good luck getting through that nerve-wracking phase! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course you can! People are always welcome to borrow post ideas, as long as they link back to the original. 😉

      And list however many lessons you want. It doesn’t have to be six. I was originally going to list five, but couldn’t bring myself to leave any of those six out of the “final cut.”

      The thing with world-building prior to a first draft is that if you find it’s inadequate, you can always go back later (even if you wait until Draft #2) and bulk it up, fix things, or do whatever you think needs to be done. In fact, I know a couple writers (published and unpublished) who sometimes wait to do the bulk of their world-building or research until their second drafts. Every writer works differently. So I think you did the right thing, especially for NaNo’s sake. And like you said, plowing forth with the story helped you discover new angles of your world – which is always a plus. 🙂

      “I’m sure your baby will survive the beta-reading phase without going through anyone’s shredder (do NOT let this image haunt your nightmares).”

      Don’t worry. It hasn’t. 😉 I was partly being facetious about the shredding bit – but that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous. (*starts chewing her fingernails*)

      Thanks as always for stopping by, Nandini!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, it’s always good to know I’m in good company. 😀 Although I type pretty fast and don’t compare word counts, I am notorious for comparing how prepared I am before I start writing. I usually don’t bother with outlines and jump right in after I get an idea and decide the characters names. So, not having done a lot of world-building in October made me doubt my writing process, which is why that one 23k day was so important – it helped me believe in my way of writing again.
        Aww, Sara, I do feel for you! But anxiety, worry and fear make things worse in our heads than they really are. For the sake of your fingernails, pick the bravest character from your WIP and pretend they were going through this. What would they do in your place? Do that or feel as they would. I’m sure that will help with the nerves. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • 23K?!?!?! OK, I knew you got a LOT of writing done that day, but that much?? That’s… just… wow. Good for you, Nandini. (*bows in reverence*) And I’m glad that day gave you that boost of confidence you needed, too.

        “But anxiety, worry and fear make things worse in our heads than they really are.”

        I agree, they do. I just have a bad habit of imagining worst-case scenarios and creating more stress for myself than necessary sometimes. It’s something I’ve been trying to “un-teach” myself for a while…

        “For the sake of your fingernails, pick the bravest character from your WIP and pretend they were going through this. What would they do in your place?”

        That’s a really good way of thinking about it. And I’d pick my protagonist Eva (although there are plenty of brave characters in the story). If she were in my shoes, she would see it as something that needed to be done and wouldn’t worry about it. She’s more objective and less “attached” to things than I usually am.

        Thanks for suggesting that perspective. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome. Hope that helps! 🙂
        *blushes* Well, I had to check twice that I hadn’t counted the same chapters again, because I couldn’t believe it myself. I disabled the word count display and just kept writing that day. It was a wonderful surprise! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yet another great article full of generous, hard-won advice. I think you are spot on when you say that as a writer you MUST embrace the editing process. With the best will in the world, it’s impossible to craft a fully formed, publishable book in a first draft unless you’re a genius. As for being someone who works slowly – that’s fine, too. At the end of the day, once you get your words ‘out there’ there they remain – surely they have to be the best words you can possibly produce… I’ve read far too many regretful posts from authors who rushed out their books before they were really ready to feel comfortable about doing the same thing. I think you’ve had a really successful year, Sara. Well done:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • “I’ve read far too many regretful posts from authors who rushed out their books before they were really ready to feel comfortable about doing the same thing.”

      And honestly, I admire authors (and their editors and publishers) who are willing to take the extra time they need to “get the story right.” Laini Taylor did just that earlier this year with her next book Strange The Dreamer. It was supposed to come out in September, I think… but in June, it was delayed until March 2017 because Laini and her publishers decided it still needed more work. So I’m glad she was able to get that extra time, and I’ve no doubt her book will be better for it.

      Thanks for all your comments and encouragement, Sarah. 🙂 And I agree, 2016 has been a good year writing-wise. Let’s see if it can continue into 2017.

      Like

  3. I am totally with you on numbers 4 and 5. Whether it’s my own “fun’ writing or more academic/legal writing for work, getting the words down in the first place is the hardest, and the part I really enjoy is revising and tweaking several subsequent drafts.

    And as for going at my own pace…For the last couple of months, I’ve been going to weekly Shut Up and Write meet-ups. I LOVE setting aside this time for myself to write in the company of other writers. More often than not, it’s the only writing time I have during the course of the week. So my writing progresses slowly, but at least somewhat steadily. And often, especially for edits or for structural issues, having some time in between sessions gives me fresh eyes on any issues I need to address.

    I’m so excited to someday read TKC. With all you’ve shared, it’s obvious that it’s a winner. I’m looking forward to seeing it published down the road!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Amanda. 🙂 Though I got a little anxious at the “winner” part, because I still have no idea if the story’s any good! But I’ll find out soon enough from beta-readers…

      I love the idea behind Shut Up and Write! Not only because it builds writing time into your schedule, but also because of the company around you. It sounds like a supportive and inspiring environment.

      And like I’ve said to other writers here and on social media: Progress is progress, no matter how much or how little it may be. Just keep working on your story / WIP, and keep making time for it. 😉

      Like

  4. I’m excited to follow you along in your writing journey! I admire the depth with which you write about what you’ve been up to and how your story is going. As a writer with a WIP myself and a guy who’s relatively new to WordPress, I always take pleasure in finding other bloggers who are serious about pursuing this sort of thing. Thanks for sharing, I’ve just subscribed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, J.J.! And you’re very welcome. I think you’ll find that WordPress’s writing community is an amazing one, very supportive and encouraging of one another. And we creatives need that. 😉

      I just popped onto your blog and subscribed. Your WIP sounds really interesting! I like historical fiction and alternate history, so this would be something up my alley. Best of luck with finishing the first draft!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have definitely felt the positive vibes buzzing around WordPress’s writing community. I am SO happy to be a part! Writers do indeed need support.
        And I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to sneak a peek at what I’m working on. We got this! I look forward to seeing what you have in store.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve learned so much through writing my drafts including focus and that I actually like draft two the best. Draft one is actually my least favorite because it’s so rough haha. Congrats about getting to this point!

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Totally with you on the slow writer and loving the editing stage! I’m still learning to be more efficient with my writing time (getting more words in), and besides, learning and growing is what we authors do, right? 🙂
    I LOVE world-building! It’s the first thing I do before writing, and I will spend weeks on it before I dive into the rough draft. However, with the recent novella I’ve been working on, I tried a different approach and dove into writing first, while world-building along the way. Granted I already had the basics for setting and world down, but there were many things I had to learn and think up on-the-go so that I could finish NaNo in time. And you know what? It went great! I’ve learned something new by trying out a new process, and I think I’ll be able to write more quickly because of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. Not to mention each story is its own experience. We learn something about writing every time we work on a new WIP, right? 😉

      That’s great about your novella! (And based on what you said, it sounds like you finished it before tomorrow’s NaNo deadline…?) I haven’t written a second story set in the same world as TKC yet, but I’d assume I wouldn’t have to spend as much time world-building, either, since much of it had already been done before I worked on the first story. But I’ll find out for certain next year…

      Thanks as always for stopping by, E.!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yay! Congrats, E.! 😀

        I’ll start working on The Novella after Christmas. I’m actually taking the last week of the year off from my day job, so I’m hoping to get a jump on it then before going back to work and returning to my weeknight writing schedule. It worked out really well for Draft #3, so I’m curious to see what impact it will have on Draft #1 of a new project.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. A wonderful post, Sara!
    Sorry for only commenting a week after 😛 I’ve fallen a bit behind.
    I agree with so much of what you’ve listed above. The worldbuilding is such a joy. I love even after planning and organizing your ideas, new ones keep rising to the surface as you write.
    Editing is much more fun than I remember it being. Bringing the story to its best self like a phoenix from ashes!
    Ten years later and Pirate Eyes still isn’t done and yet Eléonore sits in pre-order status after a three month period! It’s insane how pace can vary from even one book to another. The format was different and the world was different. The whole experience was unique and taught me a lot. I’m hoping to share a series of posts expanding on that in December.
    You’ve been a great inspiration, that is for sure!
    Congratulations again on completing this draft and best of luck with your beta readers. I look forward to reading this story one day 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awww, thanks so much, Faith. 🙂 Like I’ve said in other places, blog posts have no expiration dates for commenting. So no worries about that!

      You’re right about every story being its own experience. It’ll be interesting to see how my own novella-writing goes next year. And I look forward to your own posts on what you learned while bringing Eleonore into the world!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the editing process! I feel like I’m getting rid of dead wood. In my first draft of my WIP I was struggling with chapter one, it was just not working no matter what I did. Then I chopped it out completely and voila! Dead wood gone! It was unnecessary to my story. Go figure! Then I came to a complete stop in act 2; stalling, procrastinating, floundering. After 2 weeks I realised I had not built this world that the story had moved into enough. More research made all the difference. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Another writer who loves editing! Yay! 🙂

      That’s great that you took the time to pause and consider what wasn’t working with your story. It’s important to think about what’s causing our “stalling” or blocks when they happen, then act on solutions so we can move forward again. That’s exactly what you did in both cases.

      Thanks very much for stopping by, Fiona!

      Like

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