You guys say the key to being an author is to love the grind. And while I love writing I have a hard time getting to the finish line. I usually hop around to new projects leaving half finished worlds behind in my wake like a serial world killer.
I recently challenged myself to just write the book, set up a spread sheet to track my progress and everything. Only, now I hate the plot. I love the characters, I love the universe… But I hate the central conflict of the book and find myself wanting to abandon it.Lyra
This was in the comments, and when I asked some follow up questions, I got this:
This is a sci-fi book, and in broad strokes; one planetary government is trying to take out rival planets with what amounts to bioterrorism, and the herione stumbles upon the plot and has to stop it. But I’m getting caught up in the ‘does it make sense that they could get away with this unseen for long enough to weaponize this?’ and ‘does the science of this bioweapon make sense?’.
And I guess, digging deeper into it… Maybe I just feel like the plot is just not good enough. That maybe it’s a tad on the juvenile side.
And then a couple of people jumped in explaining the bio-weapon science.
I’ve asked some questions, which Lyra hasn’t answered and I want to highlight them here.
What are your favorite scenes that you’ve written?
What’s the easiest to write?
What scenes do you look forward to and they almost don’t feel like work?
Let me be very clear: when I say you have to love the grind, I don’t mean force yourself to write something you hate.
Writers under contract end up writing things they hate with depressing regularity. This happens because we are human. Writers are essentially contractors. Job security is a rare thing for us as a group. We like the safety net of a multibook contract. A contract is a guarantee that no matter what happens in the book world, you get a certain amount of money when you turn the book in to the publisher. So we end up signing contracts for 3 books, let’s say, and ideally we turn in a book every 9-12 months and get scheduled contractual payments over the next 3 years.
But writing isn’t like making widgets. Writing is influenced by life. The writing environment plays a role. Right now, for example, the percentage of authors who are late on their books is bigger than anyone has ever remembered in the industry. We had a pandemic. It took a toll.
The inspiration plays a role. In essence, each book is a snapshot of the writer’s mind at that particular segment of their life. When you open a book, you are travelling back in time. Magic Burns was written by Gordon and Ilona Andrews 2007 while Magic Triumph was written by Gordon and Ilona Andrews 2017. That’s a decade of new experiences, new life trials, tragedies, victories, children growing up, older relatives dying, and so on.
It means that the writer who signed a 3 book contract in 2020 is not the same writer who will have to write the final book in 2022. They might have moved on creatively. They might be fatigued by deadlines. They may feel that the contract is inadequate. The pressure from the fans or the publisher might be killing the project. It’s hard to write when all you can think about is getting the book done as fast as you can because you “owe” it. Nobody likes to write as fast as they can. We all want to write the best book we can.
There is a host of reasons why professional writers write the books they hate.
If you don’t have a contract, there are zero reasons why you should be forcing yourself write something you dislike. Zero.
Writing comes from the place of play. In its pure form, it’s compulsive. If you starts strong, you’re excited, you look forward to writing every day, and then you start actively hating it, you’ve made the wrong turn somewhere.
Wrong turns come in many varieties. Here are three most common ones and sometimes the problem is a combination of all three.
Something somewhere isn’t making sense and your subconscious is standing on your brakes until you fix it. This is a common issue. It happens to established writers all the time. We are just better at recognizing it. The common symptom is that you are either bored with the next several scenes you must write or you feel out of your depth, like you are floundering. Sometimes it feels like you are a child who is suddenly trying to do something very adult. It’s incredibly frustrating and will make you cranky.
The cure for this is going back in the narrative and finding the last scene that makes you feel good. Now get yourself a large piece of paper and lay out your plot structure from that scene. Okay, now go do dishes or fold laundry. Don’t write. Don’t fix. Let it percolate. Chances are in about 24-48 hours, the problem will resolve itself in your head. Sometimes it might take longer, but it will happen. You’ve put yourself under pressure, and when the resolution pops up, it will feel liberating. You should be reenergized.
This happens much more often than people think. Suppose you are writing a thriller. You have this whole thing with secret agents and government conspiracy, and it feels just unwieldy. The story sits there like this massive amorphous blob that you somehow have to drill your way through. There is too many moving pieces. It’s overwhelming.
Ask yourself which scenes were your favorite to write. What is easy? If your favorite scene are where the heroine is flirting with her girlfriend and they seem to write themselves, you might be a romance writer. You might be forcing yourself down the thriller path for no reason at all.
Look at your book in its entirety and figure out which scenes almost wrote themselves. Now restructure your plot and character arcs to have as many of those fun scenes as possible. If you have a side character that you just can’t get enough of and that steals the scene every time, perhaps his story should be the main story. If you are trying to write a cozy mystery, but what you really like is flirting with the possibility of the paranormal, you may need to write an urban fantasy instead.
Writing must be fun. It’s still work, but it should be fun.
Sometimes you are tired. You are emotionally exhausted. Things happened outside of your control, and writing, which once was an escape, now feels like a horrible chore. You just don’t have it in you. And you are terribly bitter because you are frustrated with your work stalling and here is this stupid author who has another book out and it’s dumb, and why won’t anyone just give you a freaking chance? Why can’t you finish anything? Why?
Take a vacation from writing. Give yourself at least 2 weeks – a month is better – and watch and read as much as possible. Feed the brain. Look at art, read comics, try new TV shows, read – only if it doesn’t make you grind your teeth – and go outside. Your brain runs on input from your environment. You can’t make new things out of nothing. You have to put something in for your brain to process without the pressure of doing it right away.
It’s very important to process. I have been thinking about 2 particular books for about 3 years now. I don’t have the spot in my schedule to write them, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve abandoned them. It’s okay to think about things without immediately launching into writing them. Allow yourself to breathe and imagine with no strings attached.
Let your mind wander. I wish you happy daydreams. May they be many, colorful, and strange.