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Your Writing Process Says You’re a Failure


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WEBBI’m working on my eighth novel and it’s a confounding one. I’ve never written a dual biographical historical before, especially with two fairly modern “characters” (and with that, an absolute ENORMOUS amount of research). What’s more, this dang manuscript is giving me fits—it won’t let me write it my way or use the tried-and-true process I’ve relied upon in the past for biographicals. The process has completely toppled over and spun around and here I am, working BACKWARD from the END of the book. Though it’s moving slowly, I was completely stuck trying go in my typical linear fashion from beginning to end. I am also being forced to write several chapters in one point of view, and then the other, and afterward, weave them together in a way that makes sense before I start work on another set of chapters. scratches head I just don’t know, you guys.

If there’s one thing that has mostly remained a mystery to me as an author—even after writing eight novels and three short stories—it’s the writing process. The writing process is an amorphous, wiggly, glob with a million arms and as soon as I feel like I’ve caught hold of one, it slips out of my hands. To make it more challenging, we have all of these writerly emotions surrounding our manuscripts so when things aren’t going “well,” we feel like we’re constantly doing it all wrong, that there MUST be a better way to do things.

For example…

You write lean: You wrote a really shallow draft with few transitions and lots of gaping holes. You’re thinking, why is this manuscript so thin? Why aren’t more descriptions coming…why aren’t more inspired emotional moments or brilliant character insights happening? As you slog through, you despair at the work ahead. This can’t be right!

You write long: You have an enormous bloated draft that has more layers to it than a Napoleon pastry and more plot threads than the entire Game of Thrones series. You need to prune it—for decades, maybe. You despair at the work ahead. This can’t be right!

You’re embarrassed to show pages to anyone: You’re attempting something new and it’s terrifying to think about how it will go over with readers/agents/editors. Will it succeed or fail? But eventually you know you’ll have to share your pages or they really WILL suck because one doesn’t do their best work in a vacuum. You despair at the work ahead.

Your manuscript is misbehaving and you try to force it to fall in line with your typical process. Only it’s not working and you become frustrated and stuck and you lament being a writer at all. This can’t be right!

The reality is, a process is never wrong or bad. Yet even when we know this logically, it’s difficult to untangle ourselves from the emotional rollercoaster of writing a book. What we need to learn is one of the most important aspects of both being a creative person and also surviving a very difficult business: we must learn to be flexible about our vision. We must also learn to be flexible about the process of how we get from Point A to Point Be. We have to allow the unruly manuscript to take us down a path you’ve never been before, if that’s what it needs. Some paths are more arduous than others, but that still doesn’t make them wrong if the end result is a polished book that you love. The fact of the matter is, the writing process IS mysterious and I’d dare to say, it’s even a little magical. Don’t fight it. Fly with it. Even if you have to start at the end to get anywhere.

I’d love to hear about your processes and how they’ve changed. What sorts of techniques have you had to resort to get the words on the page or to tame that wild beast into a submission-worthy book?

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About Heather Webb

Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction. To date, Heather’s books have sold in over a dozen countries worldwide. As a freelance editor, Heather has helped many writers sign with agents and go on to sell at market. When not writing, she feeds her cookbook addiction, geeks out on history and pop culture, and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

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