The one consistency in life is that everything changes. The publishing industry is in the midst of colossal change that, like a beautiful phoenix immolating and rising from its own ashes, I’m obsessed with. But more than just the industry on a global scale changes. I’ve noticed that my own writing process has changed a lot too, and I think it bears commenting on.
Now, this is not exactly new information, and I’m not the first person who has had this transformation in their writing. That’s why I’m posting about it here, as a sort of warning and guidepost for what could or has happened to you, if you’re a writer.
Once upon a time, writing was my hobby. It was something I did for fun, to entertain myself, if you will. Granted, I’ve always written a lot. I still do! But now the motivation behind my writing, the actual process itself, and the approach that I take to it are all vastly different. Once, I would write the same way I watched tv. I’d get bored or inspired, plop down with a spiral-bound notebook, and go to town on whatever story struck my fancy at the time. I never finished anything, but I really enjoyed the process.
Then I started getting serious about writing. I had had a bad break-up in early 2008, and to drag myself back up out of the abyss of depression about it, I began writing The Loyal Heart. I was determined to finish it: to write a book with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I worked so hard on it then because I didn’t have any interest in going out at night or on the weekends, but I needed focus. When I got to the end, I realized I wanted to write a story for Jack too, so I started The Faithful Heart.
Mind you, I knew nothing about writing for publication whatsoever. The first draft of The Loyal Heart was 250,000 words and the first draft of The Faithful Heart was 200,000! I didn’t understand story structure or character development or efficiency of prose on an explicit level at all. (Although I have to give myself props and say that I have always understood them on an implicit level).
That’s when I started going to writer’s conferences, learning craft, listening to established authors, and *gasp* submitting to agents. It should be noted that I never liked the whole agent-trad publishing thing. Then I discovered self-publishing, and the lightbulb went off with 1000 watts above my head. Eureka! I’d found it!
Really, I guess that’s when things started to change for me. I went from treating writing as a hobby to seeing it as a career path. This was a huge change that effected everything about my process, planning, and execution. One single added element to what I had done before changed the whole game. Are you ready for it? For the epic game-changer?
Yes, enforcing deadlines on myself has changed everything. I don’t know what it is about saying “I am going to do X by this specific date” that takes writing to a whole new level, but it’s there. I’m talking about a couple of different kinds of deadlines too. First, there’s the “I MUST have the first draft of this book finished by mm/dd/yyyy” deadline. That one is, of course, determined by the whole “I have reserved a spot with Miss Freelance Editor who has a packed client roster on mm/dd/yyyy and it HAS to be drafted and polished a few times before I send it to her”. And ultimately, that is decided by the whole “This book’s publication date WILL BE mm/dd/yyyy”. I work very well with time constraints.
Actually, I work very well when I discipline myself. I’m very good at self-discipline, which is one of the number one reasons I am well-suited to be a self-publishing success story. And that’s the biggest change in my writing. It used to be an occasional thing. Now it’s an every day thing, at a specific time, with a specific word count goal. I MUST write the same way I must complete the tasks at my day job to keep from being fired. Also—and don’t tell my boss this—my biggest motivation for staying self-disciplined is because I am this close to being able to quit the day job and make a living from my writing alone.
That’s all well and good, Merry, but how has your actual process of writing changed?
Funny you should ask! I used to be a pantser. Now I’m…. Okay, it wouldn’t be 100% accurate to say I’m a plotter, but I’m at least 50% a plotter now. Why? Because I’ve found that I need to have blueprints and a roadmap of the story I’m writing in order to knock out the word count I set for myself in order to stay on schedule. I used to just sit down and write. Now I won’t begin a novel until I know what the last scene is, what the climactic scene is, and what two or three turning points in the story are before that. I visualize those things. I jot notes about them. I then start writing, but every few days I sit down with a pad of paper and a pen and write notes about where I’ve been in the story and what I need to do to get to my next plot point. I plot as I go. It’s essential in order to stay on track.
My other big process change is that I now like revising more than I like writing the first draft. Oh man! I never thought I’d hear myself say that! But it’s so true. I struggle to smack that draft out onto the page, and then I just love going over and over and over it to make sure it works. And let me tell you, stuff gets CHANGED. In fact, I pretty much rewrote half of In Your Arms after getting 60% of the way through and changing my mind about the plot. Like, the main action and conflict of the plot. It didn’t work before. It works now. Because I worked with it and tweaked it and was very, very honest with myself about it. THAT’S editing! And it’s a wonderful thing!
Here’s the big question though: Is writing still fun for me?
The answer might surprise you.
Writing is no longer a hobby or a leisure activity. It’s a job. It’s a job that I love, mind you, but it’s still a job. When I write now, I see dollar signs. Yes, I confess, I do. I see the ability to support myself, to pay the bills, to live the life I want to live. The personal stakes have risen to towering heights for me. Nowadays, I write because I have to. Granted, I also still want to, but I have to write if I want to reach the heights that I damn well want to reach. You can’t pin those kinds of dreams on hobbies. You have to be dead serious about what you’re doing to bet your life and your future on it.
So now I study craft more than I ever have before. Yes, with nine books published, some awards, a bunch of accolades, and all that, I study craft much more studiously than ever! I take critique more to heart than I ever have. I would very much like to think that I am more critical of my own work—in the good way!—than I ever have been before and that I am able to judge it more objectively than I used to in the past. All of those things are big changes.
Changes happen, but they are good things. Embrace those changes! Accept the fact that if you keep up with this craft, it won’t be your fun thing anymore. Make friends with the fact that you will come to depend on it to put food in your mouth and to pay the power bill. Be honest about the changes you need to make in order to reach higher, to write better, and to promote wider. But most of all, never, ever rest on your laurels or think that you’ve worked hard enough. Keep going! Keep pushing! Keep changing!