Late last year, I wrote a blog post on what I learned from writing my first manuscript. Since then, I have gone through most of the editing process for Deception–the manuscript that blog post is based on–and begun the marketing process (query letters, synopses, sample chapters, oh my!). I’ve also written the first draft of my second novel, The Grudge. Here are a few things that I’ve learned in writing that second manuscript.
Writing well is still hard. *Sigh* Deep down, I think I’d hoped that after conquering that first manuscript, magical words that would make agents and editors come knocking my door down would flow from my fingertips effortlessly. Sadly, that is not what happened. I haven’t had one single agent or editor even say hi. In fact, I think writing The Grudge was harder than Deception. Probably because I expected it to be easier, and because The Grudge is about 20K words longer than Deception was at this stage. That’s an extra full month of writing for me. Long time to gruelingly trudge out every word.
Character outlines are a God-send. I wrote a blog post on the importance of character profiles, but I didn’t start using character profiles until halfway through Deception. Oh my gosh. Writing the full manuscript with a simple packet for each character made life so much easier. No more game-time decisions that affected other parts of the manuscript.
Research first. I don’t typically do a lot of research for my stories (none of my short stories required any research), but The Grudge dealt heavily with a lot of topics I wasn’t familiar with: Volgan Germans, Unmanned Ground Vehicles, and robotic tanks are just some of them. Before I started writing, I did internet research on all of them, printed out several pages, and had them handy for my writing. That way, I didn’t spend thirty minutes searching for the right information and another two hours getting lost down the rabbit hole of clicking on links that looked interesting.
And, if you do nothing else before you start writing, back up your outline! Back up your outline. Oh yeah, and back up your outline. I had one of the worst days of my writing career when I misplaced my scene cards. I keep a stack of an index card per scene, handwritten, bound with a binder clip while I’m writing. Not very big. Easy to lose, I learned. I couldn’t find them in my backpack one Friday. Convinced I’d left them at work, I didn’t think much of it until I got to work on Monday and couldn’t find them there either. I was devastated. Over halfway through with my novel, I’d lost about 25 cards that I hadn’t yet typed. That’s a whole lot of lost words. I was lucky. My husband found them under our stove (courtesy of one of our cats). But I went straight home and scanned them all into my computer. Lesson learned.
What goes in comes back out. You know that adage your mom used to tell you so you didn’t listen to songs with bad words? Well, it’s got some truth to it. I noticed that the style of my writing changed drastically with what I was watching and reading. During Deception, I was binge-watching Castle, a lighthearted crime TV drama. So Deception has that style. Witty remarks (at least, I think so), not too much internal dialogue, fun back-and-forth between the two main characters. But during The Grudge, I had started binge-watching Criminal Minds. Truly an amazing show that delves into the psychology of why killers do what they do, but it’s very heavily focused on thoughts and psychology, lending itself to be a darker, more thoughtful show. There’s a big cast and they all play off each other. That’s what The Grudge turned out to be. Which is also why it’s 20K words longer: there’s more internal thoughts and more characters to work with.
And, lastly, you really have to love what you do to put your best effort in. Writing is hard work. Doing your best, putting in every last drop of effort into your novel, is even harder. And I don’t know that it would be worth it if I didn’t love writing. Sure, I complain every chance I get, but it’s kind of like complaining about my cats. They annoy me sometimes–and those make the best stories–but I love them to death. Same thing for writing. It’s hard, but I’ll keep doing it because I love it.