A few weeks ago, I read this post by my friend Shauna Granger, and I couldn’t help but heave a gusty sigh of relief in her general direction (west).
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to write your first novel, enough that I briefly considered tracking down some of it and making each word in this sentence its own separate link. I decided not to, mostly because Google’s your friend, I’m lazy, and it’s a well-enough established point that I don’t have to make it again for it to be true.
Sort of like sexism being real. (Except not at all because people demand we prove that shit every damn day so never mind.)
Tonnes of advice on how to write your first novel exists, but not much about how to write say, your eleventh. Or seventeenth.
By that point, one figures you probably have that shit DOWN already. You know what you’re doing, O Writer Word Person. You literally word for a living, so get your ass together and do it.
When I wrote my first two and a half novels, I was absolutely certain beyond all certain certainty that I was a PANTSER. That meant my characters told me their business and I scribbled it down like a choir of begrubbled muses was tooting away on flugelhorns from the clouds just for me. The only problem was that both of those novels sucked.*
Between novel 2.5 and novel 3 (which had nothing to do with the .5), I stumbled across some resources. Namely, Margie Lawson’s lecture packets and Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, with a dash of Don Maass’s Writing 21st Century Fiction to boot.
I had two distinct problems with books 1 and 2:
I had an idea for book 3, and I poked all that craft advice with a stick and wrote on about five index cards and wrote book 3 in six weeks. That book got me my first agent, and I was like OMG I MUST BE A PLOTTER.
I wrote book 4 that way, and then 90% of book 5, and I barely remember writing book 6, and book 7 I planned out literally scene by scene, I went back and finished book 5, book 8 ate me for supper, book 9 vomited me back out in a bewildered pile of half-digested chunks, and when I got to book 10 I sort of had a nervous breakdown. (Don’t try to follow that chronology because I’m pretty sure I messed it allll up.)
And I realised I had no idea what the fuck I was doing.
Writing book 10 felt like I was having to figure out what words even were again, let alone how you put them together and make a story happen.
I came to a possible conclusion as I sat on the floor of my flat this morning with meticulously-annotated, timelined index cards for one of my two current manuscripts laid out in front of me, and that was (again) twofold.
As I said earlier, there is a metric dragon-shit tonne of advice out there for wordy types on How To Write Book-Things. I hesitantly posit that it is bullshit.** Before you burst into flames, let me go on. It is the kind of bullshit that, when tilled into fertile, imaginative soil, might help something, you know. Grow. On its own and without context, it’s just shit. But if you gather a bunch of it and put it in your word-garden, you just might find that it helps your ideas reach fruition.
I am extremely pleased with myself about that metaphor, so please excuse me while I have a self-congratulatory pat on the back.
Okay, I’m done.
The point is, you can do without any craft advice and hey, maybe it’ll rain enough that your stories just get a lot of nitrogen and whatever else they need and sprout into glorious little packages of emotional oomph and joy. You can also dump so many tonnes of the same bullshit on your plot that your seeds overheat and shrivel into nothingness before they have a chance to sprout. Or you can find the right kind of bullshit — nay, the most exquisite blend of bullshit — and tenderly till it into your soil until your stories grow up and go off to college and promising careers while you wave a hanky at them from the stoop.
The downside? Sometimes you have to change up your recipe of bullshit. The upside? Giving yourself permission to learn how to write each book anew can help keep not just your stories fresh, but your own imagination and motivation to write them.
And that, my friends, is some grade A quality bullshit.
In the best sense.
*This is not an indictment of pantsers in general. IT IS NOT. AWOOGA. YOU DO YOU.
**BEAR WITH ME ON THIS OKAY
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