I wrote my first children’s story in 2004. By 2006, I had published around 12 picture books, with 20 more under production. For a brief moment, it looked like I had arrived.
Then I spent the next 8 years trying to write a children’s novel.
Yes, really, I took that long. Criminal, isn’t it? And it’s not even some epic magnum opus, just a 12000 word chapter book! Somebody, pass me the whip.
Well, I won’t say I accomplished nothing at all in those years – there were lots of happy events like working as a the online editor of the oldest children’s magazine in India, au pairing and studying creative writing in London, and getting married to a great guy who likes my writing 🙂 – but I will be the first to accept that it is rather a horribly long time for a 12000 word chapter book to get written.
So, eight long years after the idea was hatched, I completed the novel in 2013 – that’s why 2013 will always be special in my heart – but the actual writing part took only a month.
Needless to say, I learnt a lot of painful lessons this year.
LESSON 1: Writing is exactly like a muscle
Exercise it everyday. Preferably at the same time, in the same place (weird, but works for me). Otherwise your talent gets flabby. And useless, and sad. Like how mine was, for eight long years. When I started writing again after such a long gap, it was like pulling tooth from a rabid beast. Trust me, you don’t want to do it this way. Treat writing like a ritual, like a daily pooja. Because, it is one – a sacred ritual that unearths stories from your soul. But, really, just write every single day.
LESSON 2: Writing > Brushing your teeth.
A discreet (and fictional) survey that I conducted revealed that having 2 jobs, 3 kids or even a deadly disease never stopped anyone from brushing their teeth. At least I think so. So I decided to put writing above dental hygiene – I wrote 4 pages a day as soon as I woke up, and my stinking gums had to wait till then (not that they ever complained). And I wrote a book in a month.
Write more, and you will publish more. Write less, and you will achieve less. Simple math!
LESSON 3: Writers heart communities
Man is a social animal. A writer is no exception. Creative artists cannot run on auto forever; they need at least semi-frequent injections of inspiration and cheer from like-minded souls. Listening to working writers talk (as opposed to self-flagellating inner muse talk) does wonders in getting those words on to the paper, without pressing delete continuously. Next time you feel lost in your writing path, check out online writing forums like Absolute Write or SCBWI Blueboards, read the inspiring posts, find a writing buddy or two, and I promise you, you will see light.
LESSON 4: Don’t hesitate to get help
I started a novel in 2006. I got stuck in Chapter 2. I waited till May 2013 to get help, a.k.a, enroll in a plotting class. Five months later, I finished the novel. Moral of the story – No matter what your writing ability level is, you can always benefit from taking a class. Writers do not write by rote, or some divine power they’re born with. They write and create literature by constant practice, and more often than not, some kind of education that teaches them to better their craft. Read how-to articles and books, enroll in a writing workshop, do everything that will make you the best writer you can be.
LESSON 5: Goals + deadlines = Complete Manuscript
After years and years of “trying” to write fiction (translated as having a lot of 2-page ideas lying around and quitting when I get stuck), I completed a chapter book in Oct 2013, thanks to a challenge thread called Finish a draft in October, at the ever-helpful SCBWI Blueboards. Without that deadline-based challenge, it’s doubtful whether I could have done it at all.
Everyone needs goals, everyone needs deadlines. Without them, we will all be happily living in a rut – at least I would be. I have pledged to myself that I will write the first draft of a new chapter book every month. Am I going to succeed? I don’t know, but I’m going to try my very best. As Nora Roberts said, you can edit a bad page, but you can never edit a blank page. Even if I fail in CBC 12×12, I will have 12 incomplete manuscripts that I can edit in 2015.
What will you have?