Starting and finishing books

Since I finished a book last week and am picking up another one I started on a couple months ago, I decided to share some thoughts.

Some of you might not have written a book before but are thinking about it or are busy on your first. And it’s terrifying and you’re biting your nails and thinking, “OMG, I have NO IDEA what I’m doing!” And you know what? Don’t let that feeling discourage you, because you will pretty much always feel that way when you start a new project. I’ve finished eleven books over the past eighteen years, and I’m starting my twelfth now, and I still have no idea how to write books.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. Obviously I’ve learned a lot and improved my skills and all, including my discipline and perseverance (I highly recommend getting some levels in those two, because they will be invaluable if you want to write novels). But novels are big and messy and complicated and there’s no magic step-by-step formula for figuring everything out. And the methods I use to figure out who my characters are and what they’re going to do in one book won’t work at all for another book, and I have to muddle through the confusion with no real map. In short, there’s nothing scarier than a blank page. It strikes terror in the hearts of millions.

The scary never goes away, and every time I start something new, I find myself going, “Uh, wait, how did I do this before? Was I possessed by wizards all those other times I made this happen, because I don’t even know how to get started, and obviously if I’d really done this so many times before, I’d know what I was doing by now.” I look at the book on the shelf with my name on it and think, “How exactly did that get there?”

I don’t remember who, but someone once said that you can’t learn to write books, you can only learn to write the book you’re working on. It’s so true.

Finishing a book is much less scary than starting one (or at least it’s scary in a different way), but it’s hard to get there. I think for every book I’ve written, there’ve been times when I thought I was really never going to finish. Some of them I *knew* I would finish, but there were still extreme moments (read: days, weeks, months) of doubt. Doubt that even if I finished it, it was going to be stupid. Doubt that the whole premise was stupid. There was a time when I was writing Renegade X, about 1/3 of the way through (that’s where I ALWAYS have my freak out–I’ve learned now to ignore any doubts I have at the 1/3 mark), where I started questioning everything. My scenes started to unravel until I was worrying that this book I was loving working on and writing in like mad was completely stupid. Too stupid to exist, really, and here I’d written so much of it and I should probably toss it all and start over on something new.

NO! Thankfully, I didn’t. And you can convince yourself that *any* book is too stupid to exist, or that no one will love it. Your brain will set traps for you while you’re writing. No matter how much fun you’re having, no matter how in love with your characters you are, some part of your brain is sitting there rubbing its hands together and going, “Now, what lies can I spread to sabotage this?” There is unfortunately no cure for this, but the good news is it can be treated with discipline and perseverance.

The more books you write, the more you learn to ignore the lies your brain tries to tell you. Doubts go with the territory, but you can learn to ignore them and keep going. And frankly, if writing wasn’t scary, it wouldn’t be exciting either.

  1. Steph Su

    This book post came at such a great time for me. So THANK YOU.

  2. Puss in Boots

    “if writing wasn’t scary, it wouldn’t be exciting either.”

    Good point, Campbell. You will be spared when I unleash my zombie hordes.

  3. ti

    You are the first person to say ” no matter how much fun your having” most writers who give advice on the “process” don’t say it’s fun. They describe months and years of hamster wheel work. Thank you for the Ray of sunshine into the writing life.
    Also, let me say I LOVE the Renegade books!
    Just finished the second book three days ago!

    • Chelsea Campbell

      Thanks! There’s definitely a lot of work involved, but if it’s never any fun, then what’s the point? Plus I feel like I learn a lot more when I’m having fun, and that’s when I do my best writing.

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