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5 Things I Learned About Myself Writing My 5th Book

Image by TanteTati from Pixabay

This morning, I finally finished drafting my fifth novel: almost 86,000 words across 78 chapters.

And while I couldn’t be happier, there’s a part of me that is a little frustrated by the moment of success: namely, that I planned to have this moment last February.

In my infinite wisdom, I set up an Amazon preorder for this book back in February 2020, expecting to release it to the masses and write a few more books this year. Instead, I missed my preorder (and lost my preorder privileges from Amazon), my book cover has sat in my Google Drive collecting dust, and I limped through 2020 desperately trying to get to the end of this book.

Ah, writing.

As I reflect on the last year of failure after failure en route to finally dragging this book across the finish line, I have to take stock in where I’m at, how I did, and where I’m headed. Truth is, the future is pretty bright.

But I won’t be the success I plan to be if I don’t take the time to analyze what went wrong and learn from my mistakes. Here are 5 things I learned this year getting this book to The End.

I get bored if I plan too far ahead.

This was the big one, and I noticed it very early in the process.

I figured that I could knock out this book rather quickly if I preplanned the whole thing. My books are structured in six parts. Instead of planning one part, writing it, then planning the next part, etc., I decided to plan all six parts at once.

This gave me a big, beefy outline to work with. It was beautiful.

That is, until it got in my way.

I love what I write, but because everything was planned out in so much detail, I left no room for myself to play with the story. Every beat had been decided months prior. There were stretches of the story where I really had to push the outline to make it more interesting to me as the writer.

This was especially true towards the end, where I completely changed the last 4-5 chapters of the book simply because my brain wanted to do something else with that particular murder case. It was the right call, and the freshness of that plot change ignited the part of my brain that could produce words at a faster clip.

As such, the first 5 days in December, I wrote more than I wrote in all of November.

The future plan: Get the story arc for the whole book plotted, but leave some room for play in each part as I approach each section of the book. Don’t plan too far ahead.

I overthink things and forget what works.

In the fall of 2018, I took up ghostwriting. For the rest of that year and most of 2019, I was writing anywhere from 2-4 novels every month for clients.

It was exhausting.

But during that time, I also had to keep close tabs on my word count every day. I was getting paid by the word and had lots of deadlines to manage, so I had strict word count goals. Using my large whiteboard in my office, I tracked my daily word counts by the month, broken down by day.

This was really useful for me, as it gave me a clear visual representation of my productivity. And I could see very quickly if I was falling off the writing wagon.

Once I gave up ghostwriting, I stopped tracking word counts on my whiteboard. But that led to entire months being lost because I would skip writing for a few days and then be oblivious to how long it had been since I wrote last.

In October, finally fed up with my lack of production, I grabbed a set of dry erase markers and drew up a new word count tracker on my whiteboard. Since then, I haven’t gone a full week without writing anything, including the week my wife had a baby. And while I’ve gone stretches without writing, I’m far more aware of them than I was before.

The future plan: Keep the whiteboard tracker. When getting frustrated with my lack of production, I have to examine my processes and see if there are any methods that worked in the past that I can bring back.

I need options.

A few weeks ago, I hurt my arm.

I don’t know how. I’m in my mid-thirties. It could have been anything, really. But I couldn’t lift my arm to the keyboard, so I couldn’t get any deep writing done.

Instead of giving up for the day, I went into my office closet and dusted off my Blue microphone. I plugged it in and switched on Google Docs voice typing. I hadn’t used dictation in over a year (during my ghostwriting days), but I had no choice.

To my surprise, voice typing worked very well. The performance had improved quite a bit since the last time I used it. Not only that, but my word count output was quite high for the day.

I can type fast. That’s why I couldn’t stick with dictation. What’s the point of learning a new method of writing if I can write with my fingers just as fast?

What I realized with dictation was that it refreshed my brain. I started using it even when I didn’t have to. I could knock out 4 or 5 blog posts for one of my freelance clients in about an hour using dictation and then just lightly editing the draft.

I don’t know that I will always use dictation. There will be times when I want to just write with my fingers – late nights especially. But having that option easily accessible seems to have awoken a productive streak in me.

I recently revamped my workspace, and I added a $30 microphone arm to my desk. It looks really cool and works very well, so I can dictate whenever I wish.

The future plan: Keep my head open to available options for writing. There might be a way to write I’ve neglected in the past that can actually freshen up my writing process a little bit. And dictate more often.

There is always a solution to the problem.

Many of us focus so much on our obstacles that we forget there are likely solutions.

This was the case for my switch to dictation. But there are other ways this occurs, too.

I write on a Chromebook, and I love it. But writing apps on a Chromebook are not always the most sophisticated things. I tried writing my book in Google Docs for most of the year, but eventually I lost my interest in managing a full manuscript across dozens of different files.

I really wanted to use Scrivener, but there isn’t really a Scrivener solution for Chrome OS.

After searching around, I found Wavemaker. This app gave me the ability to structure my story in chapters how I see fit, with fast navigation, and it backed up to Google Drive.

I’m looking forward to writing Book 6 completely using Wavemaker rather than managing a bunch of Google Docs. It should be fun – it has the core elements of Scrivner that I wanted with none of the fluff.

The future plan: Build Book 6 with Wavemaker from the get-go. Always be aware of whether or not the process I’m using is hindering or helping.

Consistency wins.

I’ve written 30,000 words in a day.

It’s terrible draining, but it’s doable.

So why can’t I just hunker down for a few days and knock out a novel? I could do that once a month and release 12 novels a year!

Well, I’m not a robot, for one. My energy and creativity ebbs and flows. But also, when I put that kind of pressure on myself, my brain shuts down. And when I fall behind on those goals, it gets even worse. That’s why ghostwriting was such a bad fit for me.

When I reached October, I started focusing on just moving the book forward every day… and it worked.

I didn’t finish Book 5 because of a few days of big-time production. I finished Book 5 because I was willing to take 3 days to write a chapter. I was willing to say, “Okay, I wrote 533 words today, at least that’s progress.” I didn’t let myself get frustrated.

Consistently showing up was what won the day for me.

The future plan: Just move projects forward every day. Eventually, momentum will build. No more waiting around for a really productive day. Be happy with slow progress at times. It’ll come back around.

The year 2020 was a roller coaster for my writing work. It was full of fits and stops and starts and everything in between while I tried to get a handle on things.

In 2021, my goal is just to stay consistent. It’s the one thing I haven’t truly tried, and it might be the one thing that gets me to a full-time publishing career finally.