Writing Advice #42: What to Write

I know that I promised to talk about my method this week, about how I actually do the work of writing a book, but then a question came in from Melissa. And it’s a good question, something I probably should have covered way back when I first talked about those pesky million bad words.

Melissa says:

I’ve come to believe in that Million Bad Words theory of yours.  But I also believe that some words are more efficient than others at improving my craft.  I used to think keeping a journal was pretty good writing practice, and it is in a way, but I don’t think it’s all that helpful for my fiction.  To get better at fiction, I have to write, well, fiction.

I’m wondering if you think certain parts of the fiction writing process are more helpful than others as writers practice.  If I know I’m working on a practice novel anyway, should I just bang out a full draft and then move on to bigger and better things?  Or do you think it’s best to sweat through the whole process, including multiple critiques and rewrites, for a book that will probably never make it?

First of all, Melissa, you’re doing exactly what you should be doing: Working hard, practicing, asking questions about the process. So, good on ya.

Also, I think you hit on something important when you talk about your journal: I would say that a journal CAN be a very valuable tool, but here’s the thing: Whatever it is you want to write…that’s what you need to write! If you want to write novels, for example, at some point you need to sit down a write a novel! Keeping a journal will help; writing short stories will help. But eventually you need to write that novel. That needs to be your primary focus. The other stuff isn’t a waste of time and effort, by any means, but you want most of your work to be in the field/format/genre you plan to “specialize” in (for lack of a better term).

In other words, my little writer wannabes out there: Your blog doesn’t help you all that much towards your million bad words! :)

By keeping a variety of projects going, of course, you can keep your brain limber and can keep yourself from getting frustrated when things aren’t going well with a particular project. But remember this: ALWAYS keep one project at the top of the heap in your mind. Always designate one project as the most important and the one you want to finish the most. Dedicate most of your writing time to this special project. Otherwise, you may get so distracted by other projects that you’ll never finish ANYTHING! This way, by picking a Number One project, you can have a better chance of finishing something…AND of that something being really important to you!

Now, as to the question of just “banging out” a draft of something and then moving on… I think that can be helpful, but truthfully, I think you’re better off actually going through the whole write/revise/rewrite/rerevise/lather/rinse/repeat cycle at least once. You’ll learn a lot about the process and about your own writing by doing so. If it’s a “practice novel” (I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard that idea), then why not use it to, well, practice? Really tear into that sucker. Treat it like a punching bag or a tackling dummy and go to town on it. That’s what it’s there for, right?

Next week: Unless another question comes in — My Method. How I write a book, pretty much from start to finish.

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