It was the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon this weekend. And it was the first one without Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the surface of the moon. What also made headlines this weekend, though, was that they’d found the original engines from the Apollo 11 on the bottom of the ocean just off the coast of Florida. Serial numbers have verified they are, in fact, the ones. Amazing, isn’t it?
While I wasn’t around to see the historical moon landing or moonwalk, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of it. One of my all time favourite movies is Apollo 13—-which I never tire of watching—-and more recently, a fantastic documentary of the Apollo mission called IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON.
If you think about it, writing books is very much like going to the moon for the first time—-every single time. Everytime I start a new book, I feel the anticipation of going somewhere new. I don’t know how I’m going to get there exactly, or if the journey will be easy or full of problems, but I also know getting there will be a magnificent achievement, full of discoveries. It will take time, make me feel like I’m all alone in the world, and force me to do things I never thought I’d have to face. Hopefully, though, it’ll be worth it all in the end. But each mission requires a few steps:
- You must have a plan.
Preparing to write a book takes time. You need to have a clear idea of where you’d like to go, and a way to get there. Plotting is a great way to plan your journey. It allows you to see potholes, big swaths of space and also points you to the stars. If you don’t plot, have a few set goals at the very least (places you know you want your characters to go). These will give you landmarks to make the journey easier.
- You need to train for the mission.
Most of us can’t just sit down and write a best-selling novel without a little (or a LOT of) practice. Writing something everyday hones our skills and allows us to find our writing voices. Without sufficient practice, a writer will not get very far. It seems easy enough to just begin typing, but if you don’t have writing skills, your work will probably be immature, difficult to read or boring. Learn how to use grammar and dialog. Study character descriptions. Read loads of great books and figure out why they’re great. All of this is the perfect preparation for the trip.
- You need proper backup.
Most of us wouldn’t be able to write without the support of our immediate family and friends. It takes time to write. And that means putting aside outings, or laundry and even sleep sometimes, in order to get everything done. Without people supporting our efforts (and maybe making us meals or taking the kids out for a few hours), we can’t focus long enough to get our chapters done. Ask for help if you need it. The people at mission control understand your journey, and are usually more than willing to help.
- The G’s are a killer!
When you start your book, be prepared for the blast-off effect. You’ll need to write fast, maybe in short bursts, or long burns, and continue with it in order to get through the difficult parts. It’s uncomfortable. You’ll feel like your head is going to explode. Don’t worry—-those are all normal things. Just hang in there!
- Houston, we have a problem!
Nothing ever goes as planned. Even the most well-plotted books run into problems. Expect them. Don’t ignore them. They won’t go away, and in fact, will probably cause more issues as time goes on. Deal with the problems right away (try looking at something from a different angle, or run ideas past someone you trust). If you really can’t solve something, put it away for a few hours (or overnight, or for the weekend), and come back to it with fresh eyes. Often, problems have solutions we just aren’t willing to let ourselves see. But, given some time, our subconscious can often work things out.
- Rough landings are common.
By the time you get to the end of the book, you’ll be tired. The excitement of a fresh new idea has long since worn off and you’ll probably be feeling like you hate the thing altogether. This is okay. Just hang in there and do the best you can with the ending. It might not be perfect, but get yourself to finish. You can always re-work it when you revise. Just finish!
After you make it to the end of a book, you’ll find that the real journey is just beginning. There will be plenty of things you’ll need to look for now that you have the bones of the work laid out. What appeared to be a star from far away might just look like a rock upon closer inspection. That’s okay, you’ll find the shine again later. Take your time, inspect everything and you’ll probably be amazed with what you find.
- Sometimes you’ll have to leave the diamonds on the moon.
Whenever you begin to edit, you’ll discover great moments in your writing. Phrases or paragraphs or even chapters that are utterly brilliant can make the best of us weep with joy at our writing skills. But what if those beautiful, perfect passages don’t help the story? Can’t you keep them??? Sometimes, you’ll have to toss that gem right out the window to make room for the things that will really matter. Don’t worry. It’ll only hurt for a short time. 🙂
I’m taking a trip right now and can’t wait until I make my landing, hopefully sometime by the end of this summer. How far along are you in your journey?