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Some Things You Have to Learn the Hard Way

In my last post, I made a solid case for why my lack of discipline was the number one driver behind my inability to complete a book. But like with most things, there were multiple compounding factors. I wanted to write but despite my education I hadn’t spent enough time thinking about what kind of writer I wanted to be, or what drew me to the kind of stories I like to read. I thought I could open a Google doc, having done no research and with the barest of outlines in my head, and genius would flow from my fingertips. When it didn’t, I decided I was a bad writer and threw in the towel.

Since then, I accidentally did a few things that helped shape my approach to writing:

First, I started reading a ton of YA, especially LGBTQ+ YA. There seems to have been a shift in recent years, especially in the LGBTQ+ space, of portraying relationships between equals. The drama in these relationships come from outside forces instead of an innate imbalance of power. Stories of “regular” girls nabbing the prince or the quarterback or the vampire still exist, but there seem to be more and more stories about two flawed people coming together in the face of a shared adversity. (For some reason the adversity I like to read about most is homophobia, but maybe that’s because I live in a ridiculously progressive city and can just pretend at the end they all move here and live happily ever after.) This made me realize that I didn’t want the Edward and Bella dynamic that I was setting up by default and allowed me to soften the relationship between my characters.

Second, I don’t think I had a full grasp of what goes into a good narrative arc. Despite the English and Writing degrees, I don’t recall ever graphing out, beat by beat, what makes a story satisfying or well paced. But pre-COVID my life was very busy, and I stopped having time to slog through content on streaming services the way I used to. Shows got an episode or two, films twenty minutes, and books 100 pages before I gave up and moved on. Life is too short to deal with poorly plotted content. Upping my standards forced me to think about what wasn’t clicking for me. I learned that I am obsessed with strong character motivation and narrative logic. In revisiting my book, I worked very hard to have there be a why behind how the plot unfurled. It didn’t always have to be explicit, but I can’t stand a deus ex machina. I want my readers to be able to back the action up and say yeah, that makes sense.

Third, I had to let go of the feeling that everything I did was derivative. Every story worth telling has already been told. Every type of kiss had already been well documented. I had to free myself from the expectation to come up with something totally new. A trope is a trope for a reason. Usually that reason is that people find it compelling. This is part of why I’ve decided to self-publish this series. I’m still learning how to write. Maybe I have a unique story in me somewhere. But I no longer think I need to find that story before I publish. A book doesn’t have to be the Next Great American Novel to be worth writing—or worth reading for that matter.

In short, I don’t think I was ready five years ago to write a novel. I couldn’t have told you at the time what the missing ingredients were. It took a little growing up and living life to figure out. And now, in my thirties, I finally have enough perspective to know that I’ll feel differently, have learned more, in another decade, and hopefully the one after that and the one after that. I’m no longer scared of writing a book that belies my inexperience. Rather I am excited to sit down with this book when I’m sixty and shake my head at how much of an amateur I was.

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