If you go to writers' conventions or even read blog posts like this one online, chances are you've read an article by a true guru on writing. Someone who has all the answers, someone who has this writing thing down to a SCIENCE. They can tell you exactly how they got from point a to point b, how they created characters that jumped off the page, and designed plots so well constructed they were leak-proof.
I'm sure you've also heard people say, "You aren't a real writer unless you write a thousand words a day." "Real writers have to plot." "True creatives never plot, because that stifles them." "Never edit when you are writing your first draft!" "Your first draft has to suck! That's its job!" "You should plot carefully so you have a clean first draft."
There are methods out there, ranging from the Snowflake Method to the Marshall Plan to the Hero's Journey, to Save the Cat.
Holy crap. I don't know about you, but I've had some points in my writing career where I've been overwhelmed with the choices out there. Everyone and his brother seems to have a method that is guaranteed to work, and they all seem different. And then there are people who write five thousand words a day, and then those who only write on weekends, those who say you have to write every day or you're not a writer, and then some who say you have to have your own room dedicated to writing or you will fail, and some who say you need to write in front of the TV...
What the right way? Which rules should you follow? How can you decide between things, how can you possibly know what's RIGHT? It's paralyzing! Especially when half your friends on social media are sharing this one article that advocates--nay, INSISTS--that you do the complete opposite of what you have been doing. What if that doesn't work for you? Does that mean you're a failure??
OK, settle down. Settle down, and listen to these words:
It's all bullshit.
All of it. Every word. ESPECIALLY if the person giving advice says anything that resembles, "the only way," or "if you don't do this, you won't be considered professional," or "you'll never succeed," "you'll always be second rate," etc.
You know what? When people say there is only one right way to write a book, they aren't wrong. There IS only one truly right way. Want to know what it is? Here, I'm going to tell you. It's free, because I'm a giver like that.
The only right way to write a book is the way that works for you.
If I've heard, "You have to plot or else you won't be able to be a professional author" once, I've heard it a thousand times. But are you going to tell me Stephen King or Joe Hill aren't real writers? neither of them plot. Joe Hill told me, point blank and straight-faced, "Plotting is the devil."
How about, "You have to write every day in order to be legit?" I don't know about you, but I consider Nora Roberts a legit author, and she used to only write at certain times of the year.
When someone says, "THIS IS THE ONLY THING THAT WORKS!" what they are really saying is, "This is the only thing that works FOR ME." Yay, it works for you. Gold star! That's the hard part, figuring out what works for you. And then you move on and write books. But what works for me isn't going to work for you wholesale. It just isn't, for a million reasons. Maybe you don't have a day job and I do. Maybe you don't have kids and I do. Maybe you don't have ADHD, and I do.
YOU know your situation. You, believe it or not, know what's best for you. You might be in denial about some of it, but you really do know what is best, what works in your personal situation. And maybe it changes every couple years. So what? The only thing that matters is that you are writing. That you are making forward progress. That you are finishing projects and submitting them.
Sometimes it takes some experimentation to find out what works, and that's fine. If you honestly don't know if you are a plotter or pantser, try what seems right. If it works, stick with that. I know some people (*cough* not that I would EVER be guilty of this myself...) who, ever time they come across something new, have to try it, even when they have a perfectly good system in place, have to uproot everything to try it whole hog. They try this, and then something else....and then something else...just for the heck of it. Just to chase after the ever elusive perfect system. And guess what? They are so busy chasing after this golden system that they never finish a book!
If there is no one RIGHT way to write a book, there sure as heck is a wrong way, and that is to not write it at all. And going from method to method, trying advice after advice, searching for the perfect key that will make writing easy and give you overnight success is one surefire way to procrastinate enough to never get a real word of prose on the page. Some people write 250 words a day. Some write a thousand on the weekend for the week. Some write 5000 words a day. You aren't any of those people. You are you, and you have an entirely different set of parameters to work with. Concentrate on those, and get that novel written in the way you need to. Some people can write a book in one draft, others ten, and they are both right.
Writing is work. Yes, there are a lot of enjoyable and rewarding parts to it, but in the end it's a lot of work and time. There are no short cuts to a good book. But there are lots of short cuts to no book at all.
If you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others, shut off social media for a couple weeks. Seriously. At the very least, post your stuff but don't read others'. Focus on your book, your work, and what works for you. If you are completely stuck? Try to relearn what works for you by just writing, brainstorming, and playing with your story. Let go of what you THINK is right, and just do what comes naturally.
Writing isn't a "my way or the highway" situation. There are as many different ways to get the damned book done as there are writers. Don't let someone else's opinion deter you from writing the best book you can, in the best way you know how. The ONLY way you can fail is to give up, to never write the book that is inside you.
No matter if you are fast or slow, full time or part time, pantser or plotter, longhand or computer, there is only ONE thing that makes you a writer.
Melanie R. Meadors is an author of fantasy where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She has edited two upcoming genre anthologies, MECH: Age of Steel and HATH NO FURY, and is the science and pop culture blogger at The Once and Future Podcast. You can find her at her website, melaniermeadors.com, on Facebook, and Twitter, @melaniermeadors.