The Horrors of Writing a Novel

For those of you unaware, books do not write themselves. But if they did, I’m sure we writers wouldn’t have earned a reputation for being depressed, reclusive alcoholics who marry their cousins and wind up offing themselves at about… eh, 40-something?

Unfortunately, they don’t. And us authors are the ones who have to will these bundles of agony… I mean, joy, into existence. To “birth” them, if you will. And as we all know, giving birth hurts like a motherf***er (What is evening happening at this point?).

Now, I enjoy writing as much as the next guy, but writing a novel is something I never gave much thought to until about a year ago. I finished my first draft a couple months ago, and now I’m a little over 100,000 words into the second draft for my very first book (And still got plenty more to write… yay.), and I’m pretty proud of how much I’ve accomplished thus far.

But I am also jaded because of all the scars I have already attained from this hellish nightmare called the writing process.

If you’re contemplating writing a book, don’t. I mean, if you really want to, then go for it. But that’s for the people who feel writing is their passion. For anyone else, you might not be able to withstand the brutal nature of this most arduous of ventures unless you genuinely would rather write than do anything else.

And for those people who are still foolish… I mean, brave enough to continue in this journey, I applaud you. But first, before you dive in headfirst into the shallow end, let me walk you through exactly why writing a book is a nightmare.

To, you know, prepare you. You’re not welcome.

Also keep in mind I won’t be talking much about the writing craft, but just the process of novel writing. For craft, I suggest finding as many resources for that as possible online, mostly on YouTube. One of my favorites is ShaelinWrites – author and YouTuber – on quick prose hacks to instantly improve your writing.

The Idea Phase (Brainstorming)

This is where it all begins. If you’re like most creatives, you’ve got tons of ideas just swirling around your brain nonstop. Take a shower: all you can think of is your idea. Go to bed: your dream of your idea. Hell, I’m pretty sure if we could, we’d marry our idea, cuz we’re too weird and crazy to land actual dates.

No? Just me? Okay, anyway!

It’s exactly what it sounds like: jot down random ideas, quotes, characters, whatever the f***, and then throw ’em all together in a way that you like and you think will work best. This isn’t tough; it’s what comes after that’s tough.

The Outlining

This is where you take your brain vomit and actually try to structure it. And if you’re like most writers, you hate the outline phase with a fiery passion.

Marking Pens
Different colored pens: a writer’s best friend and worst enemy (Besides their sleep schedule and caffeine addiction.).

Giant word document, whiteboard, post-it-notes, whatever you like and whatever works best for your creative process. You take everything and try to string together how it could all work. Here’s where you get a general idea of your plot, how it’ll flow, and what it’s overall pace should be.

After this, you’ll probably be trying to figure out what the beginning and ending should be, and figure out how the story will flow through all the chapters in-between. Do you want a prologue? Do you need a prologue? What about an epilogue? How many chapters will you need? How many words, estimated? Here’s where you make a guesstimate all of that.

The Procrastination

After that, you’re gonna be so f***ing exhausted, you’re gonna put the actual first draft off. Now, what I mentioned before is what the plotter writers do. Generally, writers are either plotters or pantsers: plotters figure everything out ahead of time in meticulous detail; pantsers, on the other hand, will figure it out as they go. Personally, I’m a huge plotter, but it’s important to do what’s best for your specific process. There’s no one standard way to write a book.

But you’ll be so terrified of the project, you’ll probably wanna put it off. “I’ll get to it later, it’s fine. I’ll do it when I have time.”

No. Do not do this. You will become one of those annoying people who always say they’d write a book when they had the time and never actually write the f***ing book. 

The Actual Writing (And the Cringing)

Now’s when you really get going on your first draft. How long this takes depends on several factors: what genre your book is; who your target audience is; how simple or complex you’ve made your plot; you get the idea. It can be as quick as a couple months, or it could take nearly a year. Again, it’s your process, and there is no real standard.

But what’s important is that you keep writing. Even if it’s the most horrendous thing that the literary world has ever seen, keep writing. So many writers never manage to even start their first draft, let alone actually finish it. But a sh***y, completed first draft is better than an unfinished draft, or just no draft at all.

The Writing Hangovers

Now it’s important that you keep writing, but you also need to ensure that you don’t end up exhausting yourself and burning yourself out. This happened to me about 15 chapters into my own first draft, and I was so exhausted and mentally drained I didn’t pick up again til a month later. I lost an entire month of work because I’d exhausted myself so badly.

A similar event is happening now that I’m in my second draft. I finished my first draft back in late May, and was banging out chapters in my second draft daily (Sometimes even two or three chapters I managed to finish in a single day.). But now since I’m in a new story arc I’ve had to introduce to make my overall story flow better, meaning a slough of original chapters that I’ve been struggling to write, again because I’d exhausted myself.

I like to call these writing hangovers, because they’re just like regular hangovers, except instead of dying from filling your body with alcohol, you’re dying from your brain demanding leave from work. That, and you’re probably also suffering from a caffeine crash, because we writers just love our caffeine.

Writers Desk with Cappuccino
Caffeine is to writers as ambrosia is to gods. Both can also kill you, so…

The Betas (as in Beta Readers)

Usually you’ll wanna finish your second or third draft (I like to think most books will need at least three rough drafts before you even consider publishing them seriously.) before you get input on whether it’s… you know, good. Because us writers have a tendency to look at our writing and fall into one of two moods: absolutely loving it and thinking we’re the resurrected Shakespeare; or hating our work and believing we are the sole reason why writing should require a special license. There is nothing between those extremes.

This is where beta readers come in. They can be fellow writers who are also readers, or they can just be avid readers. But what is vital is that they are readers first and foremost. And no, they cannot be your friends and family. I mean, you can have those people read your work, but take whatever they say with like… a thousand grains of salt, because either they’re just trying to make you feel good, or they haven’t read enough to have developed the tastes to let you know your book is atrocious (And if it’s your first or second draft, sorry to say it probably is – trust me, mine was too.).

You can find betas pretty much anywhere online: Facebook groups, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. So long as these beta readers know the long and detailed process of looking over your book ahead of time and are consistent and accountable, you’re good to go. Jenna Moreci explains the process in her video on beta readers better than I could, so I highly recommend you check it out.

The Editing

As you’re working on your book, you’ll need to be editing it yourself before you even think about getting a professional edit. Why? Because you’re not an ass (And also because it’ll potentially save you some money.).

Go through your novel chapter-by-chapter and look everything over. There are different types of editing: structural, where you look over the general story; line editing, where you look over specific sentences; and proofreading, where you look for the smallest of errors (If any actual editors are reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong with any of that.).

Once you’ve done as much as you can (For your beta readers, I mean – don’t give them trash, please.), that’s when you go looking for a professional editor. Again, Jenna’s got a great video on it.

The Publishing Route

As you’ve been slowly dying this entire time, I hope you’ve been figuring out your marketing and publishing strategy. What’s your marketing plan? Do you have an author platform? Are you creating a social media presence? How’re you publishing? Are you going traditional or self-publishing? All of these you need to answer before you’re ready to publish.

Now for me, I’ve been using this blog, along with my Twitter and especially my Tumblr, to start building a presence for myself online. Hasn’t been that fruitful thus far, but this kinda stuff takes time, and something is better than nothing. The key is to let people know who you are authentically and create valuable content for them to build a relationship with your community, even if that community is like… two people and a bucket.

If you’re going the self-pub route, I recommend doing a lot of research on the process of publishing via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks and Create Space, and watching this video on mistakes made by self-published authors. The key is to treat this like a business endeavor, because this is a business. Your business, and your book is the product.

And likewise, if you go for traditional publishing, make sure you get a good contract and are with a publisher you know will treat you fairly. Just know that you are relinquishing a lot of creative control, including the rights to your book. If you’re curious about what you should do, I have a video for you by BookishPixie – a traditionally published author and YouTuber – on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing (Also be sure to check out all her other videos on getting an agent and all the such.).

The Stigma (a.k.a. “The Asshats”)

Now this… this is about the asshats.

You know who I mean: the people who say “But writing isn’t a real job”; the people who ask “Why write a book?” (In a condescending manner, mind you, not of sheer curiosity.); the people who take your dreams, and crush ’em with a sledgehammer. As if us writers didn’t do that to ourselves enough.

Because writers are often seen as the artists who are just kinda weird, crazy, and reclusive, there isn’t really much respect for most writers unless you’re, you know, J.K. Rowling or Stephen King (A.k.a. you are filthy f***in’ rich; most writers need to work a part or full-time job to make ends meet even with their writing, sad to say.).

But sometimes these are just people who don’t know much about the writing industry. They’re friends or relatives who are worried you’ll end up starving trying to pursue a fool’s dream. But here’s the thing: it’s not their life; it’s yours.

This is your book, your business, and your life. I’m assuming you’re doing this because you genuinely cannot imagine yourself doing anything other than writing for a career (If you’re in this for money, you chose the wrong industry; I suggest dealing drugs or making scandalous sex tapes instead.). You have a passion for telling stories and crafting characters, and you just need to get them out into the world for all to read and enjoy.

So yeah, the odds are against you, but that shouldn’t stop your from trying in the first place. If you put in the effort and work both hard and smart, you’ll likely be able to achieve a level of success that you can grow over time. Maybe at some point you’ll even be able to make a full living just on your writing, though admittedly this does take a number of years for most authors, if they manage it at all. Or maybe you’ll hit the jackpot and become a bestseller. You won’t know til you try. Of course don’t plan for that, but don’t let the possibility go either.

So Go Write Your Damn Book!

Your computer, typewriter, or however the hell you’re writing this thing is waiting for you. Welcome to the club! We have lots and lots of caffeine [and caffeine addicts].

Computer,Notebook, Coffee
Welcome to hell! Now get to writing.

If you’re curious about my own book, it’s an urban fantasy new adult book entitled De Cineribus. I’m now in the second draft phase of it, but if you’re interested, then I’ve got a page set up to give you a rundown of the synopsis as well as a look into the world and the characters, and I’ve posted the rough first chapter here on my blog. All for you. Aren’t I considerate?

If you enjoyed my article and wanna check out more of my content, you can follow me on Twitter (@UnicornOfWar) and / or Tumblr (theredstar1126.tumblr.com).

Til next time, happy nerding!

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6 thoughts on “The Horrors of Writing a Novel

  1. I’ve had a story idea for years and just got around to writing it recently but fell really hard into the procrastination stage after I had a friend read some of it 😂 I feel super pumped to start writing again because of this, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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