Lessons From a Writer’s Summer

I was excited for this past summer. I was excited for my little cousins to stay with us, and to have some time to take advantage of my Disneyland Annual Pass. But, I was mostly anxious and excited to start manuscript prep. 

In order to graduate with my master’s degree in fiction writing from SDSU, I need to complete a book-length manuscript by the end of my third and final year, which is this year!

To aid in this endeavor, all third years are required to take a manuscript class, where we will be guided while we race to complete our book-length projects. In preparation for the class, I’ve been trying to get a significant head start on my manuscript, a fantasy novel that I am tentatively titling Lifelike. 

After I graduate in May 2020, the dream is to be able to write full-time. I used this past summer to get a head start on my manuscript but also to prepare myself for what it will be like when I hopefully get to write full-time. 

I learned a lot this summer about time-management and on the novel writing process. I’d like to share a few of the major lessons I’ve learned. 

  1. Make a Realistic Schedule. 
    • I say realistic because I think it’s in our nature to be optimistic and believe we have more time than we actually do. I found that to make a writing schedule, I had to basically make my life schedule first. I wrote down what I had to do aside from write (chores, obligations, etc) and then put writing where I could. I have less time to write than I wanted, but I was prepared for that since I took my other responsibilities into account beforehand. 
  2. Bread Crumbs 
    • You know how Hansel and Gretel found their way back because of bread crumbs sprinkled onto the forest floor? We are taught a very similar concept in our writing classes. In the context of storytelling, bread crumbs are the little details that hint toward a huge plot point or theme that appears later on in your story. They’re important not just so your story makes sense, but to make it cohesive stylistically and tonally. This summer, I got to put the concept into practice for the first time. I worked out the ending of my story and I’m keeping it in mind as I write the rest of my book. This way, I can keep bread crumbs in my pocket and drop them evenly so that I can control what my readers are thinking about, when I need them to think about it. 
  3. Love Your Characters
    • And I don’t mean make them into people that you want to be around. I mean love them like you’re in a relationship with them. Know their flaws and accept them. Learn everything there is to know about them, even the things that don’t seem important, like how they like their coffee or the last time they laughed uncontrollably. We all have tiny, unimportant details that make up our personalities, but they’re what make us real. Make your characters just as real.  
  4. Don’t Edit as you Write 
    • It’s a bad habit that I have that I’m slowly but surely breaking. It happens several times during my writing sessions. I’ll write a sentence that sounds, to put it mildly, really bad. The sentence will have the worst possible verb I could have chosen and will just sound cliche or sloppy or boring but the key is that it will get the point across. As long as a sentence does that, you can afford to leave it until you enter the editing stage. Plus, if you let the bad sentence simmer, you can get a lot more writing done as opposed to if you tried to fix the sentence right then and there. For your first draft, quantity is more important than quality. Get the ideas down quickly before they dissipate into thin air, and then go back and make them sound good. 
  5. Set the Mood
    • I kind of started this last year, but didn’t really perfect it until this summer. Music helps me, definitely. I made a writing playlist a few years ago but only recently have I made one that is relevant to what I’m writing. I’m working on a fantasy novel and have made my writing playlist reflect that with soundtracks from movies that inspire magic and adventure. All of the songs are instrumentals because I’m the type of person who will randomly start to type out lyrics as I hear them. Creating writing playlists has helped me so much, not just because it sets the mood. Music also blocks out unwanted noise and can fuel your inspiration. 
  6. Be Yourself!
    • I mean this in a couple different ways. Definitely write what you want to write, yes, but also let yourself be! I find myself trying to call upon some scholarly, professional version of myself while I write and it can be a good thing, but I’ve lost sight of myself several times because of it. I was trying to be smart or clever through my writing instead of just writing what spoke to me. Also, don’t beat yourself up for getting discouraged or getting burned out. It’s natural and you are only human. It hurts when that little voice in your head appears and tells you that you’re not good enough or no one will read your story. Let yourself be discouraged, then move forward. By taking time for yourself, you can look at your work from a new perspective and breathe new life into it.

I hope this helps you on your journey. Happy writing, everyone!

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