In the past year, I’ve become a pretty serious writer, despite what my last two months’ output proves. I think writing four books in a year is a sign that I have given myself permission to dedicate my time and my passion to my craft, even if I’ve stumbled recently and fallen off of the “writing consistently” wagon. I think one of the reasons I have done so is, however, because I’ve become more serious about my craft. That feels backwards, I realize. But in taking myself more seriously, I’ve also honed in my focus, considering elements that I used to not think about so directly whilst in the middle of crafting a story; elements such as proper word count, plot, character, voice, pace, originality, marketability.
Don’t get me wrong. These elements are not bad things to be aware of. In fact, many of them, if not all, play a factor into the true possibility of whether a story I write has a chance of being published or not. They are all important elements in play. And I should be paying attention to them and being attentive. Yet, recently–particularly with my latest WIP, very tentatively titled BLOOD PRICE–I’ve realized that I have been focusing so intently on all of these pieces that go into creating a full and engaging story (and getting stuck when I’m not reaching the mark), that I have been forgetting to focus on, possibly even include, one very important element.
Think of a tree. You can focus on so many different aspects of a tree. You can focus on the basics, the necessities, in order for it to exist: the roots, the trunk, the branches, the leaves. You can think about the outside factors that play an important role, as well, like sunlight, water or the various seasons. You can dig dipper, looking at the bark’s specific coloration or the veins in the leafs or the strength of the branches. All of these elements are important and are needed, in harmony, to make the tree exist. When first planting the tree, the roots, the seeds, the birth, the creation, is the focus, the source of the excitement. As the tree forms, the focus both shifts and expands until potentially, you forget the roots amongst everything else that now exists.
For me, having fun while writing is the roots. And I have forgotten all about them and their importance.
When I was writing my first book, THE PATH OF THE PHOENIX, it was a lot of hard work. I had a lot of fear and a lot of doubt within me (many thanks to the bestie for being there and reading nth number of first chapters and reminding me that I could perfect it later, because at that moment, the only thing that mattered was completing chapter two). I’d never written a novel before and though I had the intense desire to do so, I didn’t realize–not fully–how important and how necessary writing was to me. Nor how possible it was to actually write a book. Yet once I started finding my groove, it was ten times harder to stop to do homework or eat or sleep. I just wanted to keep writing this beautiful story that was unfolding right before my eyes, surprising me with every new chapter as these characters were coming to life, both in my head and on the page.
When I finished the first draft, I felt an accomplishment and an elation that has never been replicated, simply because of the newness and the “first-time-ness” that was associated with it. But also, I think, because of the innocence of being a new novel writer. I didn’t focus on making my voice distinct. I didn’t think about how I might offend people if I wrote about X thing. I didn’t worry about word count or fret about pacing or over-analyze plot and character motivation. I had fun. I wrote the story that was forming in my head as it formed. I wrote without fear, without concerns of how marketable it was or what was necessary in order for it to have a chance to be published. I gave my creativity and my imagination full permission to do what they wanted. It was fantastic.
And at the same time, easily the worst draft of anything I’ve ever written, when I finally got around to editing it and focusing on all the necessary elements of storytelling; taking in account the branches, the leaves, the bark, the roots and how they all were meant to complement one another, yet in this first draft, they barely threaded together. That’s how much of a mess this was.
But that doesn’t matter, what level of quality it was. All that mattered is that I wrote it. I got the words down on the page. I wrote it for me. I wrote it from my heart. And I had a blast doing it.
Now, with almost half a dozen books under my belt, I’ve have a mix of writing days. Some days, I crank out over 7,000 words and curse whatever caused me to stop, because I wasn’t finished. Others, I write 40 words and have an itch to not only delete them, but every one that came before and could come after. Some days, I write nothing and feel guilt. And still others, I write nothing and offer myself mercy. No matter what, I’m much more cognizant of the words that I am writing down and how they play into all the elements that help shape the story. And though that is not a bad awareness to have, I think I have been so stuck on trying to perfect and figure out this story in this first draft that I forgot the entire purpose of a first draft to begin with.
I repeat: to have fun with it.
Since starting this WIP, the best day I’ve had was just a week or so ago, where I wrote a solid 2,000 words and then had to pause to write out all these ideas that I suddenly had, when I wasn’t so focused on trying to reach my second inciting incident before page 50; or concerned about my word count; or stressed over how female readers might perceive my depiction of periods. These ideas swarmed around the quest that Natanni, my main character, had just begun; a quest that was suddenly complicated by the environment in ways that I hadn’t allowed myself to think was possible.
As ideas starting shooting off in my head, I almost halted them, thinking about the finer details that should only be paid attention to in any draft that isn’t the first. But just as quickly, I shushed my own head, telling myself that this was a fantasy story. If I wanted to pour of creativity into the environment to complicate things–which then spurred a Pinterest session for concept art to reference and furious scribbling into an outline–why was I trying to stop myself from doing so? Especially with the thought of creating a jungle that blinds you, a desert that sucks your soul away and the final destination only being reached through the complete opposite of what I excepted (and vaguely hinted at here to not spoil anything), excited me more than anything else about the WIP since before I started writing it?
So I’m giving myself permission to have fun. To let this first draft of this story be as shitty as it wants to, because even the shittiest version of this story is better than the option of it never being written down. I’m planting my roots and I’m okay with the idea that the tree might come out crooked or cracked or incomplete. I have the comfort that I can edit it as much as I want in the future. That comfort should be all that I need to write this draft as fearlessly as I want. The first book of Darryn’s story that I mentioned earlier? Yeah, I’m on draft 14 and I may have to revamp everything again. And that’s totally okay.
Writing is a blessed craft in that there are so many ways to approach it, no right way to achieve it and the first try doesn’t mean the end. So how about, on the first try, no matter how you do it, you just enjoy the hell outta the ride?