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On Writing

The Mental Game of Writing Your First Book

My dear friends, I have finally achieved one of my longest held life dreams. 

I.

WROTE. 

A BOOK! 

Dancing Men

I typed “the end” on DEMON FALL on June 27th and was happy with my last two chapters on July 3rd. I can’t even describe how good it feels to finally join the ranks of people who have written an entire book!

Finishing my first manuscript was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It took a lot out of me physically, mentally, and emotionally, and I had to fight for every gain I made. I learned a lot about myself, my writing process, and what it takes to write a book. But most of all, I learned that my greatest enemy to my journey was my brain and the mental blocks it put in my way.

Writing a manuscript turned out to be a mental game of endurance and ingenuity.

In the beginning, it was so easy. I had a fun idea I was interested in exploring and I was motivated to do so. But the more I wrote and the more serious I got about finishing this story, the more my brain started to get in the way, and I became less and less sure I had what it took to cross the finish line. 

But I did it.

Here are some mental blocks I found myself encountering, as well as the strategies I used to overcome them.

Self-Doubt

“I’m not smart enough”

One of the most common ways my self-doubt manifested was through “I’m not smart enough to write this story.” I spent a lot of time crying because I felt like I didn’t have the brains to write this book. 

I was only partially right. This was my first rodeo. I eventually had to realize my first book was going to be pretty simplistic, especially in my first draft, and I had to decide I was willing to fall short of my own expectations. Nobody climbs out of the writing womb a full-fledged Brandon Sanderson or Robert Jordan. Not even Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. I’ve come to realize that being “smart enough” is going to have to come with time, multiple drafts, and multiple books. Just having something written is the first step in the right direction. My favorite quote by Jodi Piccoli goes as follows: “You cannot edit a blank page.” 

Moral: Don’t worry about being “smart enough” to write a book. You just need to write the book. You will be “smart enough” later.

“My writing is crap”

Here is the thing. The first draft is always going to be crap and there is always going to be something to fix. 

The strategy that I used to get past the crappy writing mantra was reminding myself that I can always make it better in the second draft. And to shut up the voice that criticized everything I wrote as I wrote it, I began leaving myself comments in my draft document about things I knew I would need to fix later.

Twitter Quote

This was so helpful to me. It helped me acknowledge and embrace my crappy writing so I could let them go with the promise I could come back during draft two and fix them.

Moral: Crappy writing can always be fixed in draft two.

Word Count Overwhelm

Ever looked at a project, saw how big it is, and then wanted to say, “nope” and walk away? 

Word count overwhelm, in a nutshell.

I frequently put a lot of pressure on myself to get in high word counts, set up charts and tracking devices to keep me on course, and then found that I couldn’t make the goal. It was always impossible, and the thought of how many more words I had to go until the end threatened to squish me. I couldn’t keep writing like that.

Hailing back to my Twenty Mile March post a month or two back, I realized that I do better with smaller writing chunks. I can easily hit and exceed 500 words, and it makes me feel so good every time I do it. So rather than saying, “Oh, gosh I need 2,000 words today or else,” I said, “If I can get four smaller chunks of time where I write 500 words, I’ll be set.” It was so much easier to keep my eye on the prize because I was consistently hitting the prize.

Moral: The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Burnout

Burnout is hard to maneuver. I burned out a lot, and in some cases, hard. I realized the trick to burnout was not to allow recovery to become my life. I didn’t allow myself to recover for too long because if I did, I would never get back to work.

The best strategies I found for handing burnout were:

  1. Take the time when I felt myself threatening to crumble, not after I had already crumbled.
  2. Identify the reason for my burnout. Was I working too much or too hard? Was I coming up against writers block?

Depending on what I needed, I adapted how I recovered. If I was working too much or two hard, I would take a day and do nothing and then slowly start writing more and more words every day until I was back to normal. 

If burnout was caused by writer’s block, I identified the areas that I was struggling in and did fun research to help me get over that block, like binge watching all of the Star Wars movies for character development research (guilty, as charged).

The best thing for burnout, though, is to recognize it is coming, get the necessary rest, and then get back to work, no matter how little work you are doing. 

Moral: A little progress is still progress and choose your downtime before it chooses you.

Final Words of Wisdom

My husband was my greatest cheerleader throughout this process. I can’t count how many times I sobbed to him about my struggles and insecurities, but he always assured me I could do it and recited to me a maxim from the professional hockey community. 

The first championship is the hardest to win.

He said this is because a team doesn’t really know what it takes for them to win a championship until they do it. Then once they’ve done it, they can repeat the process and win another. And another. And another.

This is true for writing books as well. 

When I started, I didn’t know what it took to finish. I had no idea what I was doing. I was throwing spaghetti at the wall hoping it would stick. Yes, there are formulas out there for doing it, but each writer is different and experiences unique blocks. The trick is to stick with it, adapt, and remind yourself that you’re overcoming these problems for the first time. Once you figure out how to get over a problem, it will be easier to overcome the next time and the time after that, until BAM!

You’ve written your first book.

What are some things you do to overcome your mental blocks? What other challenges have you experienced while writing? What strategies did you use to get over those challenges? Let me know in the comments below!

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