81% of Americans claim to have a book inside of them, but only 3% of people who try to write a book actually finish it. Why?
I had the great opportunity to sit on a writer’s panel and answer questions from aspiring writers. There is one common, ultimate question that I am asked – How did I do it? We’ve all got wild imaginations and great stories, but how can we get them down? How did I have the time, the motivation, and the patience? It does seem overwhelming, but as a teacher, I have to say that writing is for everyone, and writing a book is possible for everyone. I hate articles like this one à http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/28/opinion/think-you-have-a-book-in-you-think-again.html that discourage everyone and anyone. The difference between talent and skill is that talent is natural and a skill can be learned. It’s just a matter of how bad you want it. Of course writing a book isn’t for the faint of heart, but the process is challenging and wonderful.
There are traits that great writers have – they see the big picture, they are articulate (duh), they go deep, they’re imaginative, patient, explorative, great at critiquing, a little crazy, confident (at least most of the time); and become so completely absorbed, the rest of the world disappears. Ah, my happy place. Luckily, I get to escape to the future where there are aliens and cities inside of asteroids.
I would like to expound on one trait I believe is essential for an author. You’ve got to be insanely vulnerable, open, and fearless. My fiancé (husband in 5 weeks, eek!) is a mental health therapist…thank God ;) I’ve always been an emotional person. I cry at commercials, sunsets, and old couples walking down the street holding hands. Instead of fearing the wetness coming out of my face, Ryan smiles and lets me be without any judgment or critisism. Wouldn't that be wonderful if everyone could be so free? If little boys weren't told to "stop being a girl" or to "be a man." Psh, no wonder so many people have communication issues. Crying is just an extension of an overwhelming feeling, and feelings are the most beautiful thing about being a human. I’ve always trusted my emotions, whether they be good or bad, and this has allowed me to trust my instincts, trust myself, and ultimetely, trust my writing. If you’re scared of or routinely quench feelings, how can your characters have a believable sense of humanity? You are their literary liaison, after all.
Positive psychology is “the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals to thrive.” Everyone is different, and that is why there are so many unique and wonderful books out there. I truly believe that being positive and believing in yourself may be the single MOST important thing when it comes to finishing a book. Say those affirmations in the mirror every day to pump yourself up. But positive psychology isn't about thinking you're the best person out there- althouth affirmations do work - rather it is about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. For example, my strength, as evidenced by my degrees, is in science. I would be a horrible historical fiction writer. Got it. I also know my weaknesses and what I need to do to overcome them. Every writer thinks they suck a hundred times while they write a book, so don't let your weaknesses become your fears. Let them become something you dissect and probe and experiment with until they are no longer weakensses. Is yours your writing ability? Lack of time? An underdeveloped storyline? An inability to empathize? Personal issues outside of writing?
I taught a college-level life skills class last year where the students took a dozen surveys including personality tests, work ethic tests, strengths and weakensses tests, etc. I was amazed at how many of them had no idea about themselves. "I'm an introvert!" one of them yelled very surprised once. I peronally do best writing in cafe's, but maybe an introvert would rather have a home office. You can't improve yourself or overcome things if you have no idea who you are. And you have to take care of yourself. I'll admit, the first book for me was probably an escape as I was dealing with heartbreak, but is that bad? Perhaps you cannot write until you have come to peace with an unbalance in your life. You should know what's best for you. We are all different and need different things. Listen to your mind and body. I won't go on a rant about meditation here ;)
I do hear procrastination though as a main reason people cannot finish a book...
Why are you having procrastiaiton issues? Is it because you don't know where the story goes next? Sometimes reading other books helps rekindle my momentum spark. The important thing is to remember that it is OK to have your ups and downs – everything in nature cycles – but have the guts and belief in yourself that the ebbs and flows are healthy and inevitable. You’re not a robot after all! My second book came out 7 months later than I wanted.
Motivation is defined differently depending on the book, but I like the four “M’s” – mastery, momentum, mating, and money. When you get motivation to complete a goal, any goal, what drives you forward? If your motivation for writing a book is money, well then…excuse me, I just took a break to laugh. Trust me, I have dreams of being the next J.K Rowling or Stephen King too, but there’s a difference between positive psychology and practicality. You have to be motivated by something else. Is it mastery? Being the best at your craft? Do you want to experience fame and notoriety? How about mating? This is when you need to hear your loved ones or your crush say they are proud of you. Mine is momentum. I feel a sense of accomplishment pushing past hurdles and barriers and making progress even if it’s just a step in the right direction. When my positive momentum and kick-life’s-butt drive is stopped by something, it throws me completely off. I liken this to cheating on a diet for just one day and you throwing your hands up and giving up. That happens to momentum people.
Now, most likely you do not have just one type of motivation – I do have to put out a valuable product that I think is worthy of a best seller and I need Ryan to say he is proud of me too – but I do feel like my other momentum peeps out there make the best writers, just because the process is so long. I definitely make an excel sheet with small tangible goals EVERY DAY. Without my excel sheet, where I can look at my progress, albiet slow; I cannot seem to reach my goals. Is that a weakness? Maybe, but it gets me to where I want to go. I have an entire spreadsheet for health and nutrition goals too, haha.
As for having the time, most writers have other jobs...I teach full time and belly dance Friday and Saturday nights. With all things, if it's a priority, you will make time. Imagine if you wrote 300 words a day...that's 3 small paragraphs. You could write a 90,000 word book (VERY good size, going on too long for many genres) in 10 months! What are you waiting for? Now editing and marketing are whole other monsters, but if you can sit down and write a book, you're already a bad ass.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. Since this blog is getting a little long, I am going to stop it here. I need to find the motivation to start book #3! Talk to you all soon! Until then…
Keep Writing and Righting,
Ashley L. Grapes
Writing a book was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It takes discipline, time, bravery and serious commitment. When I finally submitted my quirky science fiction book, "Journey to Ohmani," I felt like I had just busted through the finish line ribbon at a marathon. Then, I remembered, there's a second one and I felt this heaviness come over me. This blog is about my experience and thoughts on writing a sequel. It really came with an entirely different dose of challenges, but I busted through the ribbon again.
This book was much harder to push through. I had writer's block that would last weeks! One time I even took a three month hiatus. I would sit down to write and go on social media. I would set-up somewhere without internet and start mixing wedding music. It was BAD.
"Journey to Ohmani" has done pretty well. My goal was never to make money, just for the story to be well-received. In general, I just felt more pressure with book 2. It had to be just as good because no one likes a crappy sequel. Most of the pressure came from my own fear that I couldn't produce another great story. Would I be a one-book-wonder? I don't know who to give credit to for this quote, but I love it...bad writers say "I suck, I suck, I suck," and stop writing. Good writers say "I suck, I suck, I suck," and keep writing. I've learned that pressure and fear of failure are so natural and even important in the writing process. You just have to make one with it and embrace the fact that you will be second-guessing yourself a lot.
I knew from the beginning that "Across the Infinite Void" was going to be a series, but writing book one was definitely a fluid process where I let the story take me along with it. The experience was fun and I was very open to the twists and turns that came along. A weird analogy I can think of is book 1 was almost like a "fling" where I wasn't committed to an overall storyline or ending. One of the hardest parts about writing a sequel in a three-part series is that the story has to tie in to the first and the third books. I know...duh, right? But I found myself really pressured. I needed to write a book that made the series cohesive, yet was able to stand on its own as a great read.
One of the reasons it took a year and a half to get the second one out was that I actually had to completely re-write the first quarter of the book. I wasn't happy with it. I was writing another adventure, this time with Talon, and I felt like I was wasting time taking the reader on a frolicking story of chaos (which, in this case, is a good thing as a space adventure). I decided to put the computer away and take some time. I thought for hours walking the beach with my dog or just minutes sitting at a traffic light. This book had to be just as entertaining, but I didn't have so much freedom. I feel like not jumping back into the writing, not letting the pressure get to me, was what I needed to relax, regroup, and tighten up the storyline. It was an important lesson for me that some of the most critical times as a writer are those that are spent not writing.
Another challenge was character development. A lot of the reviews from readers praise how much they love the characters...especially Bockie ;) On one hand, writing a sequel means you get to stick with the same characters. I feel like I know them. I know what each of them would do and say in certain situations, which makes it easier to write scenes. On the other hand, this book takes place five years later, and so your characters are not the same...at least I hope they are not static. They have grown and matured and experienced things that have influenced them. What has it been and why? It was a challenge and a joy to write my characters anew. Now to the biggest challenge...
As an author, you hold people's hearts in your hands sometimes. They trust you. I have a confession to make. Everyone has loved the second book more than the first, but not everyone has liked the ending. It's not a cliffhanger, it's just not entirely cheery. It's hard to hear, but I challenged people's expectations and I believe in the art I am creating. People were hoping for the same tone and happy ending as "Journey to Ohmani," but from the beginning I wanted to make this book and the next more mature. The characters have grown, after all. Levi and Talon are now working adults who have been dating for five years and there is a very serious terror threat looming in their world. Bockie will be there to make you laugh, but I will warn you, it's going to get darker before anyone gets a happy ending. I'm 100% happy with my vision, and another lesson I have learned is to trust myself. As much as you want to please everybody, you need to stand by your vision and see it through. In the meantime, I am just taking it as a compliment that people are that invested in the characters to be upset by an ending.
I'm sure my third book will come with its own set of challenges, which I look forward to. I plan on taking a few months break to mull and process and brainstorm. I want to finish my series with a worthy ending. Please buy my book when it comes out on JULY 20th! You can buy it early at Ancient City Con. Jacksonville friends, you can also get the second book for $5 if you review the first one!!!!! Thanks for sticking with it and supporting me. I do it because I believe in the stories and it's so amazing to know that there are so many of you that believe in them too!