ROW80 Check-In 5 : Claire Legrand on How To Come To Terms With Your Writing

Hello gentle reader,

And it is time for another ROW80 check-in! My goals for this fourth round are as follows:

Write or edit every day DONE

Editing – Finish my current round of editing for The Last Queen, get my manuscript critiqued and beat-read, then edit some more.

DONE: This week again I have been editing every day.

Writing – Write a short story, and continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King

I didn’t do any writing this week since I was focused on editing The Last Queen.

So this was another good writing week for me and I’m still happy with my goals. This week I also posted on my blog two posts you might enjoy: my Halloween reads recommendations and a discussion on the popularity of YA High Fantasy novels.

Now, on to an inspiring story to keep us going this coming week. Today I’m sharing YA author Claire Legrand’s tips for writers. Claire’s debut novel THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS came out in August 2012.

“When I first started writing, I spent a lot of time online researching what writers should and should not do. There are many rules floating around out there dictating what supposedly makes for a good writing process and a bad writing process, a good writer and a bad writer, a book that will sell and a book that won’t.

Some I have encountered are:

  • You must write every day.
  • You should NOT write every day.
  • You should write [insert number of choice] words per day.
  • You should make a writing schedule and stick to it, absolutely no excuses.
  • You should be writing [insert number of choice] books per year if you ever hope to make a living in this business.
  • You must write at this pace.
  • No, this pace.
  • No way, THIS pace. Slackers.
  • You should write at least one million words before even thinking of querying an agent with a manuscript; before then, you’re not ready.
  • You should create an account for THIS social media service, and THIS one, and THIS one too, and post THIS many times a week.
  • You should blog regularly, on a set schedule, and stick to it. If you blog irregularly, you’re a bad blogger/writer/human being.
  • You should use Scrivener.
  • No, you shouldn’t.
  • You MUST outline, in detail.
  • You MUST outline, but only the main plot points.
  • Eh, you don’t need to outline.
  • You should plan your book around this method of story structure.
  • No, this one.
  • No, those suck, THIS one.
  • You should query one agent at a time.
  • You should query five agents at a time.
  • You should query ten agents at a time.
  • Your book should be between [number] and [number] words long, and anything else won’t fly.
  • You must use critique partners.
  • Your first drafts should look like this.
  • You should only have to do [insert number] rounds of revisions; anything more, and something’s wrong with you/your book/your soul.

Frankly, these shoulds and shouldn’ts start contradicting each other pretty quickly, and it can make a fledgling writer feel pretty lost. Heck, I’m all fancy and published now (and I say that tongue-in-cheek because there’s not much that’s fancy about it, and also, I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing), and reading these kinds of statements STILL makes me feel pretty lost. They also, if I focus too hard on them, make me feel like I’m doing everything wrong when I can look at what I’m producing and rationally know that I’m not.

Rules can be a good thing. As Victoria Wright might say, rules help the world run just so.

But writing is not always a quantifiable activity. Much of it is instinct, luck, and plain old dogged persistence, whether that’s rigidly scheduled in a spreadsheet or just crammed into whatever spare thirty minutes you can find as your day allows it. And much of what works and what doesn’t for one person’s writing doesn’t translate to the next person. Therefore, I would say that many of the so-called universal writing rules we might see in blog posts, online articles, and tweets are really just what the author has found to work for herself, or for her friends, or for the majority of people within her peer group.

But that doesn’t mean it has to–or will–work for you (or for your book).

Such a statement seems elementary enough (everyone’s different! we’re all unique snowflakes!), but I still have a hard time accepting it. I’m a person very influenced by others, for good or for ill. This means some of my most productive writing days are when I’m “sprinting” online in the company of friends; this also means that other’s successes, failures, methods, and “musts” all have a way of affecting me deeply. I start to think I’m not doing enough or that I’m not doing it right, and then I lose confidence, and then I sit there staring at a blank Word document while scarfing down a box of Cheezits.

The thing is, I don’t do half the things on that list up there above.

I don’t use Scrivener; I have a notebook in which I scribble random thoughts. The rest is done in plain old Microsoft Word, with a lot of world-building and character notes jotted down in Notepad.

I don’t use critique partners. There is one good writer friend whom I trust to look at my unpolished work, but beyond that, no one looks at my books before my editor except for me and my agent.

I outline in detail, but I don’t have a set writing schedule every day, nor do I log my word counts or have micro-goals of any kind. I tried doing that, but it didn’t work for me because if I didn’t meet a goal for the day (or the week) I felt like a failure, and my work suffered for it. Instead, I shoot for big goals (finishing the book by this date) and as long as I meet that big goal, what happens until then doesn’t matter.

I write long what I call “zero drafts” (that is, the first ever draft of the book, before I make preliminary cuts, before I send to abovementioned good writer friend, before I send to agent). And when I say long, I mean long. And even beyond that, once a book has gone through revisions, it’s still on the longer side. I’m just plain wordy (as you can tell by reading this post and really my blog in general). (…)

What does this say about me and my writing?

Absolutely nothing. Except that I write long and then cut back during revisions. It does not reflect on the quality of my writing, the effectiveness of my methods, or how I measure up against the writing and methods of others.

Likewise, my method of outlining, my writing schedules, the fact that I only have one beta reader, etc. etc., means nothing except that this system is what works for me and my books. End of story.

You hear that, brain??

So I’m going to tell you this, in hopes that myself, through writing it, will soak in the reminder (and because I know there are others out there who, like me, doubt and compare and wonder if they’re nuts or stupid or somehow wrong for writing like they do):

The way you write is not necessarily how others write.

Your books are not going to be as [insert adjective of choice] as others’ are.

Your writing will be just that: how you write.

Your books will be just that: your books (and no one else’s.)

Know this, accept this. The sooner you do, the sooner you will come to terms with your writing. And the sooner you do that, the sooner you can get to writing that next book (and the next one, and the next . . . ), no matter how long/short/bracketed/messy/outlined/pantsed/critiqued/Scrivenered/Worded/slowly written/quickly written/ it ends up being.”

How are you other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

10 thoughts on “ROW80 Check-In 5 : Claire Legrand on How To Come To Terms With Your Writing

  1. I think I’ve read all the ‘helpful’ (contrasting) advice in the course of writing and it almost undid me. Such good advice – essentially do what works for you! I love hearing from people who have travelled the path before and made it through beautifully. Great post.

  2. EM Castellan says:

    I followed Claire’s journey on her blog long before she got an agent. She’s the one who made me want to start my own blog and join ROW80. I couldn’t NOT share her advice here 🙂

  3. S. J. Maylee says:

    That list cracked me up, too funny, and she’s absolutely right. It has taken me some time to figure that one out and ROW80 sure has helped.
    You had a great week, EM, good for you. Hoping you have another one.

  4. Lena Corazon says:

    Sounds like you are having a fantastic week, EM. Bravo!

    Thank you SO much for sharing Claire’s writing wisdom. As someone who is (1) a notorious perfectionist and (2) all about following rules, I spent about a year driving myself crazy with the things I should and shouldn’t do. I think I’ve finally started to figure out what works best for me, and it is a really good feeling.

    Have a lovely week!

  5. Yeah, writing is a lot like parenting that way — everyone has (and offers) advice and no one knows what’s really going to work for you, except you.

  6. Nick Wilford says:

    Great post! The list made me laugh. It’s true – the best tip is to do what works for you. And congrats on keeping up on your goals!

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