Twenty years of writing for my own pleasure doesn’t mean I can write. It doesn’t mean anything, not really. So, since deciding to go ahead and try to self-publish I’ve been soaking up every drop of advice like the typical sponge. I’ve eagerly read blog posts about character development, editing, pace, more editing, point-of-view, yet more editing and it was great, I was learning and applying it to my work, but then something odd started to happen. I became afraid.
I’ve been approaching the end of my WIP (work in progress – yes I learnt that acronym too) and rather than be excited that I’m nearing the end, I felt anxious. This baffled me. In twenty years I’ve never been afraid to finish a story. I would sit and scribble my way through manuscripts when I was younger, or type on my laptop into the wee hours of the morning, until the story was finished. Not once was I afraid to finish it. This wasn’t like me. I began to wonder, ‘What is going on?’
There is a certain amount of pressure when you approach the ending of a book. Everything I’ve been working towards, every word on the page, has all been leading up to those final scenes. I don’t want to let my characters down and I don’t want to disappoint my readers. There’s a great deal of pressure there, the expectation to tie it all up in one gift wrapped bow. But I had never choked before.
Then I realised something. In taking all of the new information on board, all of the advice, hints and tips, I was becoming overwhelmed. I was concentrating on what I should be doing and not what I wanted to do. Whilst typing, I was second-guessing my work, worrying about dialogue tags and ‘show, don’t tell,’ – so much so, that I was finding it difficult to get into the ‘zone’ at all. I was trying to be the perfect writer and failing miserably.
It wasn’t until I reluctantly finished the book and walked away that I had enough perspective to see what was happening. I dislike my ending and know I need to rewrite it, but I understand why it went wrong. I’d forgotten the thrill of the first draft in my attempt to check and double check my work as I wrote. You know what, you can’t write a first draft if you’re trying to edit yourself as you go along; it just doesn’t work. At least not for me. My confidence took a hit, self-doubt crept in and the result was an underwhelming ending that left me feeling disappointed.
So, here’s some ‘advice’ for newbie authors out there. The advice for writers flows freely. There’s reams and reams of it out there, blogs and websites, forums and twitter conversations but every writer is different, every book a unique experience. Follow the advice to the letter and you’ll fall over with the weight of it. I beg all writers to just write and forget the ‘rules’ until you have your first draft completed, because that well-meaning advice can be a party-killer.
Your first draft is meant to be wild and free. It’s meant to be a bit wooly around the edges and a little unravelled in the middle. That’s okay. Really. What it isn’t meant to be is stifled, wooden or restricted by the rules. So, as a feisty female would-be-pirate once said, hang the code and hang the rules, they’re more like guidelines anyway.