When people learn that I write 500+ page books, the first reaction is usually one of astonishment. “How do you do that?” they ask in wonder, as if I just had told them that I possess the power to fly.
Typically I just smile and tell them that I love writing, how I possess a gift for plotting, etc., but really the truth is writing a book is both hard and simple. Let me illustrate with an example.
Pictured above is my new cross-stitch project. This one is more complex in than the last. It has not only regular cross-stitches, but also half-stitches, back-stitches, and more colors of floss, all stitched on 18 ct canvas (translation: the holes are spaced closer together than 14 ct, making the stitching harder on your eyes.)
Now as I work on this project, I don’t seem to be making much progress. I’ve probably put in a few hundred stitches, yet there are still thousands more to go. And after the basic design is stitched, I’ll need to do the back-stitching, which will likely take several more hours.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Honestly, how can one not be overwhelmed thinking about it all?
The trick is, you have to keep your focus on the stitches. The design is not done all at once; it is crafted stitch by stitch, and that is how you must work it if you want to finish.
The same mentality applies to writing a book. While I always need to keep the overall picture in view, my primary focus must remain on the scene or chapter right in front of me. If I can’t write even that, then I’ll never finish the book.
But there’s even more than that. You can’t just focus on your work; you must enjoy it.
I like cross-stitching. I find it enjoyable to work the different stitches using a rainbow of colors. It’s soothing for me.
My writing is the same way. To me, it’s fun to work with a massive cast of characters, rotating among the crew and throwing them in all sorts of different messes. At times it’s challenging, but the pleasure I derive from it is more than adequate compensation.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t get frustrated. I assure you, there have been times that I wanted to literally throw my books out the window (which fortunately is impossible because they are files on the computer. The blessings of modern technology…)
Usually when I land in this state, it means that either:
a) I’m tired and need a break;
b) I’m stuck and require help and encouragement from someone;
c) My focus is too much either on the details or the big picture.
If my focus is too detail-oriented, then that means I’m usually frustrated about a particular scene and not making progress on it. In that case, it’s typically best if I lay the scene aside and work on something else. However, if I’m too big picture focused, then I need to zoom in and get my feet back on the ground.
Basically, it comes down to the art of mastering the two mindsets and knowing how to keep them in balance. It’s not easy, and like everything else in life, it takes practice.
But that’s the thing about writing: you can’t expect everything to go right on the first try. You have to work at it. At the same time, you can’t be a perfectionist because then you’ll never make any progress (and trust me, I’d know because I am a perfectionist.)
To distill all this down to simple advice: press forward, don’t look back, and keep writing. Remember, writing is not magic; it’s practice. You only learn to write by writing.
And if you do get discouraged, don’t give up. Go have a bowl of ice cream. Then get back to writing.
Oh, and enjoy it!
P.S. I love this cross-stitch design. It reminds me so much of Hadrian and Fortis.