I spoke about writing recently here in a post about fanfiction and how it may be changing the landscape of creative writing overall, but this post goes out to anyone, no matter what you dabble in.
I’ve been writing now for around 10 years or so. They say that if you do something for a long enough period of time you become an expert. I’m not sure yet if you could call me an expert on writing and fiction, considering in that amount of time I’ve amassed way more rough drafts than I have published work, but these are some practices I use regardless of how expert or seasoned you may or may not think I am.
When I started writing my first book, PaxCorpus (an idea that sprung out of something I wrote in 2005) I was convinced that my work wouldn’t be deemed worth reading unless I reached that 80,000 word threshold because somehow I’d gotten this idea in my head that anything less wasn’t a story, or a book (I’d previously been sort of brainwashed by things I’ve read from more seasoned authors at the time).
First of all, I was wrong about that.
Never ever plan for a certain amount of words. You might think that a longer story would contribute to bigger success in the long-run, but take it from someone who has been struggling with marketing and “being discovered” for years—It doesn’t.
If you have an idea for a story in your head, just write it. Put a pen to paper, or fingers to your keyboard and just go with it. Eventually you may stop, sometimes it’ll be part of the way through, or maybe it’ll be at the end, who knows. But if you plan to force a certain amount of words, you risk writing a whole bunch of filler, a whole lot of story elements that don’t need to exist in order for your story to progress.
I learned this the hard way, after I’d rewritten PaxCorpus three different times, and then finally ditched this idea about forced word count when I eventually moved onto my second novel, Escape Velocity (which comes in around 45 to 50,000 words).
The flow is intrinsic to writing fiction, but what is it? Have you ever started a story and after a certain period of time it just feels as though it’s writing itself? As if the words are just pouring out of you, and then eventually you reach a point where that stops until the next time you try?
That is the flow, and harnessing it is important because it is a skill that most writers have. The one thing, though, that can and will harm your “flow” is when you try to force a certain word count, or when you force an idea that the story doesn’t agree with.
I’ve noticed over a long enough period of time in writing a story, my characters come to life, the story takes a certain angle and it refuses to go elsewhere. It’s not something that can easily be stopped. or changed, unless I want to risk breaking the flow and damaging the story. Telling yourself that something has to be a certain amount of words long will likely damage your story.
Now, don’t get me wrong, a lot of people have or experience “the flow,” but it totally doesn’t make you less of a writer if you’ve never felt this. It just means that it may take you a bit longer to flesh something out, because I also know what it’s like when the flow isn’t working.
One of my mentors (who abruptly vanished from my life) once told me that the only way to continue harnessing that flow, the only way to keep it, is to keep writing and never stop.
Write what feels right
Along with not writing yourself into a trap (forcing a predetermined word count) and utilizing the flow, you should always, always write a story as it comes to you. Now, I’m not saying not to start your story from the beginning, if that’s where you feel the words are in your head, but if something comes to you, absolutely write it.
If you don’t write something down while it’s fresh, it likely won’t be as good later when you try to remember whatever it is that came to you. So this means totally, absolutely, write the middle of the story, or even the end, if it happens to come to you. How it fits into the story is something that you can figure out later.
For example, I’m about 90% of the way finished writing my third book, NETHERBOUND (the sequel to Escape Velocity) and just last night the ending came to me, it hit me and I wrote it. Maybe this ending won’t fit entirely into what I arrive with in the chapter that comes before, but now I have a concrete start, a sequence of rising action, a climax and the ending.
And not everything you write has to make perfect sense. It can be cryptic as all hell. As long as it isn’t forced.
The road to writing something that people will enjoy absolutely depends on whether you enjoyed the process. And, for most and absolutely myself, you can never enjoy writing a story if you’re forcing something that disagrees with the direction your universe and characters are taking.
If you take these three things into consideration in your writing, you will absolutely be better for it in the long run, believe me.