Writing a book is one of the most nerve-wrecking, difficult, and intense things that you’ll ever do – if you do it at all. It’s also one of the most rewarding. The crux of the difficulty is a quantitative. It’s a marathon problem. There are plenty of people that can run a quick mile but can’t do a marathon. In the same way, there are plenty of authors that can write one brilliant page (or even a whole short story) but get bogged down somewhere in the middle of the process of a lengthier work. Depending on their inclinations and personality this could manifest itself in different ways. They could simply decide that the entire thing is terrible and too far gone. I’ve done that a few times. They could simply forget, intermittently working on a work for years but somehow never finishing. I read one blog in which the author admitted to taking sixteen years to complete her novel. It could be for any number of reasons that an author never completes a large work. So if you really want to write a book I only have a single piece of advice (well, that’s not entirely true, but certainly I have a single most important piece of advice) and that is: finish the book no matter what!
The first skills are learning to write often and learning to finish what you write. You must sit down, push yourself, and write. Some days you will sit down, write and feel like you are writing something brilliant and special. Other days, not so much. Orson Scott Card put it best in his seminal work How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy: “Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:
1.The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.
2.The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.” (Card 109)
Truer words were never written. You have to have both feelings and push through when the latter one is dominating. I recall reading about one school of art where the artist is forbidden to use the eraser until they become advanced. At the time I read it I thought it was a bit strange. But it’s clear that abandoning or heavily editing a work is a right that you earn by first learning to finish works that you start. Finishing works also forces you to take each work seriously as it is a complete time commitment made from the first word typed.
I leapt into The Dragon Realms for NaNoWriMo (a contest held during November in which you attempt to finish a novel or reach 50,000 words in a single month. I highly recommend it for the not-quite-novelist). While I didn’t finish the novel by a long shot (The final word count of The Dragon Realms is a little over 85,000 words) I did reach the 50,000 word mark by month’s end.
During that time I pushed myself to the very limit and learned that I could do the seemingly impossible: write a novel in a relatively short period of time. The next five months were incredibly arduous, of course. I didn’t keep the pace that I started in November. In the end I got there, though, and the result is something I’m incredibly proud of.
So you want to be a writer, eh? Congratulations. Also, my condolences. Plant that bottom and get to work. As Neil Gaiman once said: “You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.”