Nine Things I’ve Learned Through Six Manuscripts

As I finished a round of revisions for my latest project, I did some reflection about what I’ve learned from this process. Is there a pattern to my process, or worse, my mistakes? What might I be doing right (if anything)?

Below is a list of random insights from my eight years of writing novels.

1. Once I reach a certain point (maybe the 25% mark?) I have to finish the book. Even if like, with the case of #4, I don’t plan to query it, I want to revise it and polish it and revise it again. There’s more to writing than publication (I need to say that again, in all caps), THERE’S MORE TO WRITING THAN PUBLICATION, and I want to write and revise something and know I did my best and gave the book the best chance possible of…lingering in a filing cabinet or in the “Old Unpublished” folder in Dropbox.

2. I love getting my main characters drunk. Sometimes the scene is cut. Doesn’t matter. I want to see how they act when they’re sloshed, when their inhibitions are weak, when they’re emotionally vulnerable.

3. For better or worse, my main character is at some point enamored with a total butthole, often to such an extent that critique partners don’t like the main character, because how could she like him? I don’t know why I keep doing this. Am I reliving high school and college? Is this therapy? (Er, this isn't a slight on my past love interests. There are some quite decent dudes out there. If you're reading this, I am sure you are one of the good ones.)

4. Someone has to say “stars” as in “oh stars” or “oh my stars.” I don’t actually say this in real life, but one of my teacher friends did, and it just stuck. For seven years and counting.

5. Pantsing my way through a novel stresses me out. I’ve tried it twice, and was so freaked out I had to abandon one project, and had to stop and outline the second half of the other.

6. During revision, I need some kind of story calendar, in addition to a plot outline. I have to know what day it is, how much time has passed since the prior scene, and so on. If I don’t have this, I’m totally lost. And it’s usually a huge pain in the bootie to make one, but if I don’t do it, I suffer even more.

7. The current WIP is the Golden Child. Sure, there are moments of doubt (What mess is this? Oh woe, angst angst angst, it’s terrible), but my own high opinion of my current WIP is generally steady. This is the manuscript that will get the agent, the book deal, the movie and/or mini-series. I need to delude myself into believing this, because even though THERE IS MORE TO WRITING THAN PUBLICATION, my goal is to (eventually) publish something, and I have to believe what I’m working on could be good enough or I’ll give up and herd goats in a cold remote place with no paper or computers.

8. I’m capable of more than I thought possible, and you are, too. Even while knowing this, I am not working myself as hard as I could. I could always be doing more, learning more, writing more. Stretching to write in new genres, new voices and points of view. Experimenting. Having fun, having no fun at all but doing worthwhile things and growing while it happens. We can all be doing this. But—

9. I need to give myself a break sometimes, and be kind to myself, and celebrate the successes, however large or small. So: YAY! I finished a round of revisions last week. Feels good. 

What’s a recent success you’ve had (big OR small), or something you've learned about your own writing process?


Love these! I so agree that I could be doing more. Every time I go back into a manuscript it feels like it comes out the other side better. It's so hard to know when it's done, but I think I pull the trigger on things faster than a I should.

I really want to get my characters drunk now! Thanks for the wisdom, Beth!

I'm still trying to figure out when to send things off. I wish there were a litmus test or something so we could KNOW when it's done!

Any time you want me to corrupt your characters, Adelyn, I'm happy to help! :)

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