Being a fiction writing coach gives daily insights into the common and different struggles aspiring authors face. It also helps us find solutions we can apply to challenges in our own creative work. Here are 5 valuable lessons we’ve learned through working with diverse writers:
1. Beckett was right about habit
In the second act of Beckett’s famous play Waiting for Godot, the tramp Vladimir says to his friend Estragon ‘habit is a great deadener’.
This is true for the writing process in that sometimes we get into habitual ways of working that are self-defeating; block-creating.
When writers tell us ‘help, I’m stuck’, often their method is making their process harder.
It might feel more instinctive to work the way you know. Yet you can still consciously shake habits that hamper productivity. A process – one you develop with intent to finish your project – is better than auto-pilot.
For example, if you keep going back to correct what you’ve written while drafting, you can start to feel stuck. It’s easy to become bored of reworking the same scene day after day. To avoid this as you write, try:
- Turning your font colour white so you can’t see what you’ve written in your word processor. Only change back to black when you’ve finished the day’s writing session, and leave editing for tomorrow
- Allowing yourself to write parts of your draft in note form. If you’re on your first draft, make your main focus getting to the end
- Giving yourself freedom to be ‘bad’. You can always edit a ‘bad’ page. Nobody knocks out the perfect story in the first draft
2. It helps to keep realistic expectations
Many coached members at Now Novel are critical of their dialogue, descriptions or other elements of craft.
It’s important to be aware of what you need to actively work on as you write. Yet approach your writing when revising as you would approach a friend’s work. For every scene you review:
- Note one thing you like first before you turn on the more critical editor’s eye
- Keep expectations fair for where you are in the process: If it’s your first draft, there will be clunky dialogue, info-dumps and other story ‘sins’ – focus on getting the whole story out first before you get into full tinkering mode
3. Writing is rewriting
Even as writers ourselves, we’re often amazed to see how much others’ work improves in only one or two rewrites.
It’s like popular author Judy Blume says:
‘If you ask me ‘Are you a writer?’ I’ll say ‘No. But I’m a great re-writer.’
When you think about it, so much goes into the first run of your manuscript. You’re finding the characters; finding the plot (the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘when’ of your story). There’s world building and more to do. It’s natural for some of these story elements to be uneven at first. Especially if you enjoy one aspect (for example, writing dialogue) far more than others.
Rewriting is where you gain the freedom to play more. You’ve set the parameters of your story. Now you can shift them and see what happens. You can send characters down new paths, and you know your story’s basic structure well enough to backtrack easily if they get lost.
4. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach
Although a step-by-step process is useful for brainstorming your central idea and finding the first inspirations for your story, we’ve witnessed how diverse authors’ methods are.
Some love to plan meticulous detail regarding characters, story locations or events. Others prefer to leap straight in and discover as they go.
We recommend finding a concrete central idea as a starting point – a one-paragraph synopsis of your story idea. It really does help to have a sense of your story’s (possible) destination, even if your final edit ends up leagues away from this initial vision. This way you can maintain propulsive movement towards your characters’ goals.
5. Having a sounding board boosts perseverance
The beauty of a collaborative process is that people bring such different personalities and passions to the way they read and critique. Whether you join a writing group or work with a coach, it helps to have a second (or third or fourth) pair of eyes on your work, especially when working on subsequent drafts.
Sometimes you might simply need encouragement if your internal editor goes wild with red pen. Other times, you might need someone to help you find the way out of a narrative labyrinth that’s become complex and disorienting because you’re in thick of writing it into being.
Whatever you need a sounding board for (encouragement to persevere, practical feedback on process work or individual scenes), working with others is a strong safeguard against giving up on a promising start.
Need help writing a book? Try a month with a personal writing coach or join our ‘Kickstart your Novel’ course to get feedback on your first three chapters and synopsis and build a plan to finish.
Cover source image via 85Fifteen