Write your second book already

You’ve written a book. It took you thirty years and eighty-million revisions. You’ve gotten some positive feedback from agents/ editors/ critique partners/ your mom, but you can’t seem to ramp it up to the sales-ready level.

Here’s my advice to you: let it go.

Goofy meme aside, I genuinely mean it. You can’t tie yourself to any one story. You are a writer, not a writer-of-this-one-thing. As much as you love it, as much as you worked on it, it doesn’t define you.

Write a second book. See what happens.

 You don’t have to throw your first manuscript into a symbolic fire and curse cruel fate.

Print it out. Kiss it. Tie a ribbon around it. And stick it in a drawer. Maybe as you go along you will gain the tools you need to take it out of the drawer and make it into something marketable. Maybe in three years fae­­­-werewolf adventure/romances with speculative elements will be in. For now, write something else.

You’ll go in this time with all of the research and internalized advice you’ve received while going through the hell that it is writing your first book. You are starting from a better place. You can do this, I promise. You can write again.

Setting word count goals

Too High

Are you ready for a controversial opinion?

I don't "get" NaNoWriMo.  I haven't since I first tried out a NaNo club in college. Strangers sat next to each other, unblinking eyes glowing in the lights of their laptops, caffeine-addled hands clacking against their keys. I didn't find myself inspired.  I found myself choking in the capitalist-inspired write-at-all-costs-or-you're-trash mentality. 

I packed up my laptop and went back to my dorm. I never looked back.  

Here's why: I get to know my characters as I write, forcing me to revise my outline as I go. Sometimes I have to stand in the shower for unreasonable amounts of time and think about what should happen next. And let's be real, sometimes I just need a break from writing. NaNo doesn't allow space for those moments, and it certainly doesn't support writers in the long, hard revisions that need to follow a first draft.  

NaNo is so ubiquitous that I worry that writers who, like me, draft on the slower side might believe they have to complete this challenge to qualify as a “real” writer.

You do not have to be able to write 50,000 words in a month to be a writer.

You do have to keep writing, revising, and rewriting month after month.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. As exciting as writing 50,000 words is, it’s probably not the end of your novel, and writing that much in a month may leave you with mistakes that won’t be so fun to clean up later. . .

Too Low

All throughout college, I drafted and revised the heck out of a Contemporary YA novel with three first-person points of view.  I set no word count goals and had no idea of when I would be done writing it. While I did get to a pretty standard word count (75,000), it took me two years to get to draft 1, and the revisions never seemed to end.

Writing was a nebulous thing that I did when I felt like it. I was sure that my writing was better when I felt “inspired.”

Narrator: It wasn’t.

Writing should be treated like a job, because it is. Take a look at the “total editing time” in the Word document with your novel. You do not want all of that to go to waste.  

Just right

Here’s what I did for my second novel: I set a goal of writing 15,000 words a month. This comes to about 500 words per day, but I gave myself the flexibility to write more on the weekends and less on weeknights. I also gave myself the flexibility to write more on some days (like my work’s floating holiday) and less on important personal days (like my boyfriend’s birthday).

500 words a day was steep at first. The first month was hard. But eventually, I started looking up at the end of the night with 700 words written, and I still felt like I had more to write. It proved that writing is one of those things you need to practice to get good at. Now, as I’m in between drafts, my hands are itching to write.

I didn’t stick exactly to my writing goals, but nevertheless, in six months I had finished an 85,000-word first draft. Given the floundering first novel that took me two years to draft and endless cycles of revisions to give up, this was a miracle. This process not only gave me a more polished, cohesive first draft, it gave me confidence. For the first time I felt like I could really do this professional writer thing, with its steep deadlines and word-count expectations.

The numbers are arbitrary. What matters is setting a goal for yourself and pushing yourself to stick to them. Good luck!

Get you a job that can do both

Step 0 to starting a sustainable writing career is to get a day job that you at least don’t mind. I understand that it’s not what you want to be doing. What you want to do is write and make enough on a debut novel to never have to work in a stuffy 9-5 again. I get it. If you have a job just to pay the bills, why spend the time and energy getting one you like?

But I urge you to not let yourself be pulled into a toxic environment. It will affect your writing. For a year of my life, I worked as a secretary, a position that forced me to interact with strangers for eight hours a day. Since I am as introverted as they come, this was a nightmare.

The marketing aspects of the job that had made me take it in the first place were dangled like carrots to make me stay, then flung away. Instead, I dealt with vendors calling me “sweetie” and “young lady.” My worth as an employee seemed to hinge on how full of soda I kept the fridge in the breakroom.

Certainly not the worst job I could have had after college. But not the best. When I got home every day, I ranted to my boyfriend and watched mushy animes just to make myself feel okay again. This didn’t leave much time for writing.

I decided to go back on the job market because I knew I could do better. I applied for a job at a small press that had almost hired me for the same position a year earlier. It was a bit humbling to apply again, but it showed my dedication, and I got the position.

Now I work with books every day. And I love it. At the end of a day, I have more emotional energy leftover, meaning I have less ranting and anime-watching to do to feel ready to write. It’s made a huge difference in what I’m able to accomplish on any given weeknight. It’s done as much or more for my writing as craft classes have.

Self-care is an integral part of the writing process. Take it with as much seriousness as you take grammar and punctuation.