The number one reason why it took me so long to write a book is that I never had a really good idea. You’re probably rolling your eyes right now – wow, Rebecca, groundbreaking stuff! But it’s true. I had it in my head that to write a book I had to have a fully formed idea in my mind including plot points and characters and settings and, well, everything. After all, if I didn’t know what was going to happen, how could I possibly write it down? I very much wish that I sat down and just tried to write one, even if it was just for kicks. I would have realised pretty quickly that it doesn’t work like that. Not for a lot of authors, anyway.
Good writing isn’t about knowing what you’re going to say and then faithfully sitting down and typing it out. It’s about getting to know your characters – what they’re afraid of, what music they like, who drives them nuts – and then allowing them to tell the story for you. Your job is to get out of their way.
As I explained here, I wrote Still Waters for fun with no plan in mind and no aspirations to ever see it in print. There were times when I had no idea if I would ever be able to tie up all of those loose ends and turn it into a book. I wondered if I would be writing cute lines and flirty smiles forever. Or at least until my beta readers kindly asked me to stop. But then I noticed that whenever I felt especially desolate about ever being able to finish it, Crew and Hartley would show up. There are many things in that book that I didn’t know would happen until I saw the words appear on the screen in front of me. Sometimes, I’d sit back and read it and think to myself, “Huh.” Because that wasn’t the direction I thought it would go in at all.
The new book I’m working on has already delivered some surprises. I still have those moments when I wonder how on earth I will connect all the dots, but I also have a deep underlying trust in the process. This isn’t my first rodeo. And I know my two new characters will guide me when I come unstuck.
Writing isn’t so much about talent and inspiration as it as about showing up. You sit at your computer every day at roughly the same time, and you work. You don’t leave until you’ve written something, and you don’t give up. Most days what you write will make you feel like you have no business writing anything at all. But you don’t stop.
And then one day you look at your work and it’s finished. How do you know? You just do. Then you remember that first drafts are always horrible and you put it away to breathe for a few days. When you’re ready, you pick it up again and you read it. You hate parts of it. Other parts you don’t remember even writing. It doesn’t sound like you, and it’s all wrong. But then you read another part. Maybe just a sentence. And it’s right. You know it’s right. It makes you feel exactly the way you wanted it to. And so, you carry on.
If you’re an aspiring writer and you’re reading this, thinking – oh well, great for you, but I don’t know what to write about, then can I suggest one little thing? Just write something. Write about your mother or your sister or the best Christmas you had as a kid. Write about that mean boy in school or the time you broke your arm or what it felt like the first time you fell inlove.
There is no trick to it. You just have to show up, pay attention, and never give up.