Thursday, March 17, 2016

My Writing Journey: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

I used to struggle with comparing myself and my writing journey to other writers. Actually, I still struggle with that. I think a lot of writers do, and lately I've found myself struggling with it a lot more than usual. So when I saw that one of my readers suggested I write a post about my personal writing journey, I realized just how much I actually need to do that. I actually got in a zone when I wrote this post, simply because it's something I think I need to share with all of you. It's kind of long, but bear with me. Maybe some of you will be able to relate to me or learn something.
So here we go.



I finished my first book a month after I turned seventeen. And even though that was only a little over two years ago, I've done a lot of growing up in the writing world since then. When I finished my first book, I had no idea what a query letter was, or how to talk to agents, or how to edit properly, or really . . . any of the things I needed to know in order to begin striving for publication. But I was younger and still learning, and I knew that the cookie-cutter mold for becoming an author was something like write the book, edit the book, publish the book. Easy enough, right?
Wrong.
The first thing I did after finishing my book (and I mean literally a few minutes after I typed "The End") was send it to two of my friends who had been dying to read it. They both are the type of people who read books really fast, so literally four hours later I was on the phone with one of them listening to how much they loved it. Their praise made me feel amazing. All I wanted to do was hear them tell me that my writing was good and that my book was amazing. So, the more people asked to read my book, the more I let them.
That was mistake number one.
I did not have a lot of confidence in my book or in my writing at this time, and because of that I let people read my book before it was edited or ready for eyes. I craved their compliments so badly because I knew they would make me feel good. Guys, do not share your writing with people if your sole purpose in doing so is for attention or compliments. Especially if what you're sharing is the first draft of something, like mine was. Doing this made me believe that if all my friends and family thought my book was good, then it was. It was perfect. Not much editing needed, right? Wrong. So, so wrong.
That was mistake number two.
I edited my first book a teeny, tiny bit. It was over 100,000 words, but I didn't think I needed to cut scenes or chapters out. Everyone around me said my book was amazing, so why did it need editing? Obviously, this was a very amateur mistake. Like I said, I really had no clue what the publishing world was like. I thought I just needed to get my book in front of an agent's eyes and then an editor would help me. So I started researching the process of getting an agent, and soon enough I was sending out my first query letter.
That was mistake number three.
I started querying way, way, way too soon because I was eager for publication and I didn't know what I was doing. I had my heart set on being published as a teenager. It sounded so amazing! Of course, I ended up learning things the hard way. A few days after I sent my first query, I got my first rejection. It hurt, but it did make me realize that my dream wasn't going to come true right away. So I kept querying--even after I realized I needed to go back and edit some more.
That was mistake number four.
I should have stopped querying as soon as I began editing again, but I didn't. I had this crazy idea in my head that since it usually takes agents a while to respond anyway, that in the time between sending out the letter and getting a response I could get a bunch of editing done. Then if the agent requested to see my book, boom--edited copy. If they rejected me, oh well. So yeah--I was querying and editing at the same time. DON'T DO THAT. I know a lot of you are probably cringing right now, and you totally should be. I know, right? What was I thinking? I honestly thought this would help me set goals for myself to edit with a deadline. But do you know what happened? I got completely, totally, insanely stressed out. I started to hate my book. I realized how much it needed to change, how many things need to be rewritten, and how much my guy characters sounded like girls. I found a thousand typos and tiny errors, and I started feeling extremely embarrassed and ashamed that I had ever showed any of my manuscript to literary agents. So, after another rejection, I decided to take a break from querying and went back to editing. I thought I could still do it all on my own.
That was mistake number five.
I had always been terrified of the thought of getting a beta reader. It scared me to death. A stranger reading my work? The whole book? What if they steal my idea? What if they're too nice or too mean? I tried to avoid the subject for a long time. I rewrote chapters, deleted scenes, and edited for several months before I realized my words were beginning to sound like nothing. The plot felt boring, the characters were monotone in my head, and everything felt bland because I knew I had read everything too many times. But I still had editing to do, so...
I got a beta reader.
And that was most definitely not a mistake.
I found my beta reader through Wattpad. She had been a follower of my blog for a while before that, so I felt very comfortable with letting her read my whole book. I am so beyond grateful for the time she has taken to help me, and honestly I don't think I could ever express that gratitude in words. She's helped me see things that I would never, ever see, and it's amazing. I highly recommend not skipping the beta reader step. You'll regret it.
But, as my beta reader kept bringing light to mistakes and things that I hadn't seen before, I realized just how much work I still have left to do on my book. In fact, I might even have to rewrite a large portion of it.
And that was just plain depressing.
I focused on this realization for weeks, and because of that (and the continuous winter weather that was making everything gloomy and depressing) I started to slip into a funk. I felt absolutely no motivation to edit my book or write any blog posts. I was so discouraged that I started to feel like a truly terrible writer and a failure--a feeling I haven't known since I first finished my book.
Thankfully, with the warmer weather we've been having around here and the encouragement from my beta reader, friends, and family, I'm starting to gain motivation back. I'm accepting that I still have a lot of work to do on my book even though I wanted to be completely finished with it by summer. I'm feeling more motivated to post, and I'm realizing that just because I've made mistakes and have had a crazy writing journey doesn't mean I'll never get published. It just means I'm learning and growing.
I've made way more mistakes than I've mentioned here, and I know I'm bound to make many more in the future. But hey, every writer does! Everyone has a different writing journey, and that's how it should be. Just because one writer can write, edit, and publish their book in two years doesn't mean you will, and it also doesn't mean you have to. Your journey is yours, and even if it gets crazier than expected, just hang on tight. Maybe in the end you'll be thankful for the experience. :)

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6

2 comments:

  1. Wow, this is really helpful. I definitely compare myself to other writers. (Proof: Directly after reading your first sentence, I thought "First book finished after 17? Missed THAT landmark.")
    And I am SO GLAD someone besides me struggles with guys who sound like girls. Truly. Once I showed a first-person narrative I was working on to an English teacher in my high school, and for the entire first chapter he thought the (male) protagonist was a girl. So... oops.
    But seriously, this is encouraging. I think most writers are perfectionists, so it's nice to know we don't have to be perfect right away. Or ever. And that it will take a long time to even get close.
    And that doesn't sound encouraging, but truth is, it takes the pressure off.
    And of course, beta readers are AMAZING. :) I am very grateful to have a roommate who is willing to say things like "your transitions suck," like she did yesterday. Live and learn. :) <3

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  2. Amazing post! I won't say I can relate to everything, but I do know that feel you get when people tell you how amazing your writing is and how you just want more of that. I don't let many people read my writing though, because I always think it's too terrible for publication anyway, haha.
    It's nice to read posts like these, now I know I'm not the only one who struggles with these things. I'm from the Netherlands where the publishing world is a bit chaotic at the moment. I don't know if things would be the same here for me as they are for you, but it was really helpful to read about your experiences with querying. I have to admit I knew nothing about it before I read this post!
    Thanks for sharing all of this :)

    x Envy
    Lost in Translation

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