What Writing a Novel Has Taught Me

Guest Blog by James Ramos

James Ramos 2

James Ramos is a native Minnesotan who has called Phoenix, Arizona his home for the past five years. He has been writing since the age of nine. He is a professional dork and lover of all things geeky. When he isn’t writing he can be found cosplaying as Spiderman or conversing with his extraordinarily brilliant cat. The eleventh Doctor is his favorite. Visit his website at thejamesramos.com.


 

For me, writing isn’t a hobby. It’s a compulsion. I have to do it. It’s this intrinsic need that I can’t shake. But man, oh man, is it hard to do, and I’ve learned that nothing will make that more abundantly clear than writing a book. If I knew back when I first decided I wanted to try and become an author how hard it was going to be, the sheer hours of frustration and mental turmoil and stress that it would take…well, I’d still do it. Because it is absolutely worth it.

The reason I say this is because I know a lot of fellow writers who feel the same way. Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on writing. Heck, I’m not even an authority on the subject. But I’ve recently had the privilege and honor of having my first ever book, That Girl, Darcy, published, and I’ve learned, just, a metric ton of stuff that I feel like I really must share with my fellow writers, especially those who have yet to make this incredible journey.

It’s easy to be excited about an idea for a story. That moment when lightning strikes and the muse descends is, at least for me, one of the most exhilarating feelings I’ve ever experienced. Exhilarating…and fleeting, because that idea, or concept, is only the beginning. An idea in itself simply isn’t enough. We have to grow that seed of an idea into a tree in the form of a full-length, seventy-odd thousand-word story, and that is no easy task. But I’ve learned that what separates writers from would-be writers is the simple act of writing. Shia Labeouf has a point. Don’t just want to do it. Do it.

Writing a book reminds me of the holodeck on Star Trek. In this scenario, we, the writers, are the holodeck computer, and it’s our job to fully render a fictional world in such a way that it’s believable, a world that the reader will be fully immersed and invested in. That takes time and an extraordinary attention to detail. And, perhaps most importantly, it takes care. We can’t expect the reader to fall in love with a world we’ve created if we aren’t in love with it ourselves. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that sometimes, that care is hard to sustain throughout the life of your work-in-progress. That much I can attest to from experience.

I have the attention span of a small woodland creature, one who somehow subsides on sugar and caffeine. Writing an entire book was, and continues to be, a daunting task. How do authors do it? Beats me. Every time I manage to make it through a draft it feels like an accident, as if I somehow got lucky, and that it had nothing to do with hard work or skill or talent, because there’s just no way in the world I could stick with something long enough to see it through to completion. That just isn’t me. I’m irresponsible. I’m young and stupid and noncommittal. I’m the type that can barely sit through a single episode of a TV show, even one that I like. I’ve switched my major in college at least a half a dozen times. I have books that I’ve owned for months with the bookmarks tucked firmly at the halfway point—all because I don’t have it in me to finish anything.

Or, so I thought.

Maybe you feel that way too. Maybe you’ve tried to write a book, or a short story, or a script, only to stop without finishing it. Maybe you don’t think you can finish it. Well, guess what? I was wrong, and so are you. You can see your work-in-progress through to the end. You can get to that final draft. But it will be challenging.

Getting back to the holodeck analogy. The difference between we writers and the holodeck computer is that computers do their jobs without burdensome things like feelings or lack of motivation or discouragement to hinder them. We as writers and human beings have no such luck, so if we want that world fully rendered, we’re going to have to work at it, and, I’ve learned, there will be times when that’s the last thing you want to be doing. There may be days, maybe weeks, or even months, when you’re an unstoppable wordsmith, a cornucopia of vivid setting descriptions, witty dialogue, and unique and wonderful characters. Other times…let’s just say the well may run a little dry. It took me twenty-three months, four drafts, and countless hours of research and revision to get That Girl, Darcy finished to the point where I felt I couldn’t do anything to improve it. And while I loved doing it, I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t times when I wanted to give up on the whole thing. Twenty-three months is a long time to be in someone else’s head, even if that someone else is a character you created. It’s a long time to spend in one setting, thematically and tonally. It’s very easy to grow fatigued. It’s easy for your vision to lose focus, to become less crisp, for your writing to become dull, to lose sight of the themes and the characters with their unique voices, especially if your work includes many different characters (which it probably does). It’s easy to slip into the mindset of just wanting to get the whole thing over with. But you can’t let yourself write with that attitude, because if you lose focus, if you stop caring, your reader will, too.

I like writing. No, I love writing. That’s by no means a unique thing. But if you’ve got the goal of completing a manuscript, it may just take more than love of writing. I’ve learned that you’ve got to be able to write even when you don’t love it. Especially when you don’t love it. You have to learn to treat it as a job. A nurse doesn’t get to walk away from work halfway through their shift just because they lost the will to do the job. At least, I don’t think they do. A teacher has to finish their class even though they may not feel like teaching as much that day. Again, I think. When we have a job, we typically (hopefully) don’t walk away from it just because we aren’t particularly in the mood to do it at the time. We have to treat writing the same way. If it’s what you want to do, you’ve got to do it.

Writing has taught me many things. I’ve learned that working toward your goals won’t be easy. But it is worth it. In the end, I think the most important thing that writing a book has taught me is that I can. And you can, too.

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.

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