360 Days

8 Things I Learned from Writing 10 Books

Things I learned by escaping reality.

Between July of 2019 and June of 2020, I’ve written about 800,000 words.

The words in blog posts aren’t part of that number. The words in that number all went into different novels. Some of them are published, and others are still in draft stage.

I have written every day for about a year. Before the pandemic, I’d already been setting a goal of producing at least 3,000 word every day. Three thousand words is roughly one chapter of a novel. 

After the pandemic closed down airports and all kinds of establishments and limited movement, the writing has been what’s kept me sane. It gives me a reason to get up every morning and do something that means a lot to me. You could say that I’ve written no matter how bad it got in the world, so that’s one thing I’ve learned—that you can find the discipline to get up and do something every single day no matter what happens around you.

Here’s what else I’ve learned, in no particular order, from writing 10 books between summer 2019 and summer 2020.

  1. Writing requires emotional investment from a writer.

I wrote a few romances, and whenever I had to put the characters through separation or angst from separation, I would find myself agitated by the suffering the characters were going through. This was highlighted for me when a friend whom I call almost every day told me, “You’re always like this when your character breaks up with someone.”

It wasn’t just breakups between characters that got to me. In a book that is not a romance, when the father of the dead protagonist remembered a time when he’d taken his son to the lake, I cried when I read through the scene. It was just really sad.

In the last four months, I’ve been writing fiction and now four books later, I feel exhausted from the emotional turmoil of my characters. The upside of that is, when the character gets what they want, in the end, it feels great.

2. Noise is a writer’s kryptonite.

Right now I am writing this as the people who own my accommodations are doing construction below my apartment. Sawing. Pounding. Yesterday, drilling.

The house across the street has these guys who turn on hiphop music sometimes in the afternoon when they pretend to be boxers in a ring. They’re exercising, which is great for them. But their music is blasting so the entire neighbourhood can hear. A favourite of theirs is Eminem: 

This is your moment, and every single minute you spend
Try’na hold on to it because you may never get it again.

Till I colapse
Success is my only motherf—in’ option, failures not!

Yeah. When I see the sparring partner drive in to the property, writing time is over for the day and it’s time to watch movies with the headphones on.

Yesterday, I ended up watching an entire season of Big Bang Theory because there was (a) neighbour’s boxing and hiphop session (b) sawing, drilling, pounding and (c) loud conversation from other people around.

Of course just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean your neighbours stop doing things that are noisy. Yes, I know this and will move to another place in two days from the time of writing this.

3. Interruptions are focus-killers.

People who write in hotels should get medals. I mean, how many interruptions can hotels provide? They clean once a day. They want to turn down your bed in the evenings. 

Where I’ve been writing for the last two months which is not a hotel, there used to live an extroverted influencer next door. She’d wake up around the same time in the morning as I used to, and she’d open her terrace door, parallel to mine but a few doors down, and have her morning beverage while watching the sunrise change the sky. I also did that initially, opened the door and sat on the terrace to have coffee to the sun rising. I changed my schedule when I discovered that the neighbour, when she saw someone else was awake or in the vicinity, would wanted to strike up a conversation. She would talk to anyone within distance of a semi-yelling conversation.

It sounds anti-social not to like that. I mean, what kind of foolish thing is it to not want an attractive influencer woman to talk to? 

But attractive or not, random conversations across terraces are interruptions, especially when you are thinking about the chapter intention you want to achieve that day.

I mean, once I was on the terrace thinking about action and reaction in a difficult part of the plot. Influencer came out in a sport bra and yoga pants. (She looked good.) She saw me and said, “Hey, what time is it?”

I replied, “Uh, nine a.m.””

She said with a wink, “Nope. It’s time for me to do yoga!” And with that she giggled.

I ran inside before she could wipe the novel scene completely from my brain with yogic abandon.

A random conversation about what someone is about to do can cost a writer focus. There’s research that interruption can delay regaining focus for 25 minutes, and each time you are interrupted from something that requires a lot of focus, like writing, you are less able to get the same level and intensity of the focus you had before the interruption. 

Because I had decided to succeed at my daily writing intentions, I started sleeping at 8.00pm and waking up at 2.00am just to get a few hours of writing in before everyone else woke up and started making random sounds with their mouths. (No offence intended to neighbours, but everyone has the right to make their goal a reality.)

4. Selling books is hard.

My books cost less than a Venti Starbucks, but it’s really hard to sell them. I think I need to learn how to do marketing.

5. Likes do not equal sales.

Lots of friends on social media can like an announcement of a book launch. That does not mean they will buy your book. Alas, reading a good romp of a romance isn’t an essential activity these days (Was it ever?).

Also: I’ve had better reception from strangers than from people I know. Maybe Jack Ma was right about anything that involves sales:

6. There are 10 basic plots.

This means that if you wanted to, you could write thrillers or romances or rites of passage books as long as you learn what the basic plots are. There are ‘shapes’ of stories that a genre follows, and if you read a lot in that genre, you can learn how to craft a plot. You could write books you want to read. It’s loads of fun.

7. Imagination allows you to enter alternative worlds.

This is the sanity-saving characteristic of writing fiction during a pandemic. Instead of steeping my consciousness in how many deaths were happening in the US or in Italy at the worse times, I was in a pre-pandemic fictional world writing a meet-cute between a hot woman and a nice guy. Instead of feeling panicked that the flight paths between countries didn’t exist and holy-crap-I’m-trapped-here thoughts, I was crafting the best way to make a pasta dish sound like you’d want to eat it.

Writing has been escapism at its best. 

The funny thing is, when a person does this just for the heck of it, it’s called insanity. When a writer does this for the sake of a book, it’s called creativity. Hmm.

8. You can learn a lot from researching a book.

I had to write about someone with a facial disfiguration in one novel. The character had been assaulted by a bad guy and had to get medical treatment, so I talked to two doctors, one of them for general treatment of acute hypothermia (the injured character was left to die in a ditch in the middle of winter) and cosmetic surgery. I learned a lot from the research, medical terms and all kinds of procedures.

Then I learned that it wasn’t necessary to write all the medical stuff in detail in the book. (Readers don’t care about technical detail unless the book is about the technical process itself.) 

I also attended two workshops on world-building. World-building is a thing. If you want to create a fictional world, there are all kinds of systems you have to make up. The workshops were fun, and I got to ‘meet’ other people who are having fun building worlds for their books.

I am really glad I decided to devote myself to writing for a year. I’ve had a lot of fun, and having something creative to do every day has helped me survive isolation during a pandemic and not feel like I’m missing anything. I learned so much about a bunch of different things. Because I was doing research and learning about the different shaped plots that writers use over and over, I have also read a lot of fiction.

It’s summer again, and I miss being able to pick up and go to the beach or enjoy a good meal in a restaurant, and I probably want to do those things as soon as I am in a place wherein I am able to partake in interactive experiences with other people.

For now, I have a dork-ish date with a character. 

Photo credits:

Chris Speigl for writer photo

Markus Winkler for emoji photo

Esmee Holdijk for selfie photo

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