Last Friday, the Romance Writers of America announced the finalists for the biggest romance awards, the RITA for published books and the Golden Heart for unpublished stories. These awards are the Academy Awards of the romance genre, complete with fancy dresses at the award ceremony. *smile*
So I’m beyond thrilled that my beta buddy, conference roomie, and all-around writing bestie Angela Quarles had her book Must Love Chainmail named as a finalist in the published paranormal romance category for the RITA award. We even share editors, so I’m excited for our editors, Jessa and Erynn, too. Yay!
I bring up Angela’s final not only because I’m proud of her and her story, but also because her success reminded me of an important lesson for all of us. The road to success can look an awful lot like chaos. *smile*
Writing… Creating… Sausage-Making?
I’ve posted about the learning curve of writing skills before. When we’re newbie writers, we might think we’ll never be skilled enough to measure up to the authors we admire.
Some writers even stop reading for pleasure because reading an awesome story can make us feel like we’ll never be that good. (Not a good idea, by the way.)
But writing is a lot like sausage-making. No one really wants to know all the pieces and parts that goes into sausages because the end product is so yummy. Likewise, a lot more ugliness can go into drafting and editing story than we can tell by reading the finished product.
As a friend of Angela’s, I was there as her alpha reader for Must Love Chainmail. (Alpha readers sometimes come in before beta readers, when the story might not be complete.)
I was there when the last few scenes were missing because she was still debating how the story should end. We were both there for each other as we commiserated over the feeling of not knowing what the heck we were doing with our stories.
Yet, despite all that ugliness, her story is now up for the biggest award in our genre. Messy processes might bring on our self-doubt, but they can’t prevent us from ending up with a fantastic story.
In other words, writing stories is messy and can even be ugly. We can despair when looking at another writer’s finished product and think, “I’ll never be that good.”
The problem with that despair is that we’re always comparing our messy and ugly processes with someone else’s finished story. (And we hope for that writer’s sake that their finished story isn’t messy or ugly anymore. *smile*)
But the level of ugliness during the drafting and revision process has absolutely zero impact on the quality of the finished story. Zero.
If we do a good job revising and editing, sections where the words flowed effortlessly won’t be any better than sections where we fought for every word over bleeding fingers on our keyboards.
Don’t Worry about Ugly Processes
When we’re still discovering our writing processes, we might struggle with what we think our process “should” be. It’s easy to think our way might be wrong.
We might come across one successful author who talks about their word output each day while another one talks about the number of revision or editing passes they go through on a story. When we don’t know any better, those details from successful authors can feel like “here’s how to be successful too” instructions.
If that process worked for them and ended up with a beautiful story, it couldn’t have been too ugly, right? If our process differs—especially in ways that feel messier—we can doubt ourselves and our process.
Should we plot our story instead of writing by the seat of our pants? Or should we trust our muse rather than try to make a puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit somehow work anyway? Which way would be better?
There’s no wrong answer and no right answer—only what works for us (and that might change from story to story). No matter how ugly or messy our process, if it ends up with a great story at the end, it worked.
If our story turns out really well, other writers will probably come along and despair at ever writing as well as we do. And of course, they’ll assume that our writing process wasn’t nearly as ugly as their messy approach. *smile*
We’re All Just Making It Up as We Go
Just as Angela and I shared our doubts about knowing what we were doing with our stories, we hear other authors—multi-published and bestselling authors—bemoan the same thing.
On Twitter, I’ve lost track of the number of tweets I’ve seen along the lines of “I keep hoping that writing a story will get easier, but with every single one, I reach a point where I doubt my ability to pull it off.”
For every writing role model we have, I’d bet most of them struggle the same way. At some point while we’re drafting or revising our stories, we’re likely to feel like we’re floundering in the dark. And we’ve been drinking. And there’s an earthquake under our feet.
That doesn’t mean we’re a failure. It doesn’t mean we’re an amateur. It also doesn’t mean that we can’t end up with an awesome story at the end.
The doubts and ugly processes we all go through are yet another reason why the writing community is so important. The biggest reality check is seeing those tweets from successful authors and knowing that we’re not alone.
When learning about their process for a book we loved, we’re likely to discover that rather than looking like a straight line from beginning to end, their process looked like the footprints of a headless chicken running around a yard in swirling circles and dead-ends. *smile*
The Ultimate Goal: Find What Works for Us & Our Story
All that said, efficiency is good, especially as we’re trying to produce more books to create a backlist. But what’s efficient for someone else might be inefficient for us or vice versa.
Personally, I edit as I go to some extent (even though that’s usually considered an inefficient no-no) because I have a hard time seeing alternatives once words are written down. If I think of an improvement to the previous paragraph or scene or chapter while I’m drafting, I can’t count on the hope that I’ll be able to fully capture that thought later. To remember the full idea, I’d have to write the whole thing down, so I may as well just make the change.
In other words—for me—allowing myself “top of mind” edits as I go is more efficient. But that doesn’t mean my process would work best for others.
That’s my point here. What others think of clean or messy or efficient or inefficient doesn’t necessarily apply to us. One label isn’t automatically bad or worse than the other. An efficient process that doesn’t work for us wouldn’t be better for us.
So while we should remain open to experimenting and trying new processes—especially when we struggle with what’s worked for us before or are starting a new story or genre—there are some things we shouldn’t worry about when choosing our process.
It doesn’t matter if our process goes against the “rules,” if it’s ugly and messy, or if we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re just making it up as we go.
None of that affects our ability to end up with a quality book. What matters is if it works for us, some how, some way. What matters—the only thing that matters—is putting finished stories in the hands of our readers.
And as readers, we shouldn’t despair of ever ending up with a story as clean, or smooth, or beautiful as the one we’re reading. We look at our story and know the sausage-making that went into it, forgetting that the other author went through the same ugly process. To other readers, our story might look just as clean, smooth, and beautiful. *smile*
Have you ever worried that your process was too messy to end up with a clean book? Have you seen successful authors discuss their writing processes, and if so, what did they share? What’s the messiest process you’ve seen (with your own work or with others)? What’s the “cleanest” process you’ve seen? Do you disagree that we’re all just making it up as we go?Pin It