Last Saturday I finally got to say what I’ve been dreaming of since I was a teenager — I’m a published author. I learned so much while writing To Astera, With Love, both about the writing process and myself. You see, I started this book in 2008 just after my dad passed away.
In 2017, I had a fellow author friend read the draft. She told me it was probably a good idea to go back to the drawing board. Looking back, I realize the original draft was shit — the characters were good, the dialogue was good, but it was such a stream of consciousness piece that there was no tension. In 2018 I took a day to workshop the idea with my mother-in-law. Within 24 hours, I had a complete outline for what would become To Astera, With Love. I won’t bore you with the minutiae of what changed since I’ve already got a blog for that. But I basically learned one of the most important lessons a writer needs to know about themselves — I discovered that I was a plotter, not a pantser.
As I mentioned, writing the first book in my Witchkind series (yes, Gawd) taught me a lot. However, here are the three most important things I discovered — how to overcome writer’s block, how to maintain a writing schedule and stick to it, and how to actually finish a book.
Overcoming Writer’s Block
Like I said, I’m a plotter not a pantser. The problem with my first draft is that I had no outline, and so my 19-year-old self just started rambling on the page. I won’t drag myself too much, but I do know that I have no business writing without an outline. EVER.
My first tip for you to overcome writer’s block is to outline your work. Even if you’ve outlined the whole thing, don’t be afraid to get more granular and outline each subsection. For example, A large part of the book takes place on the road. Before writing it, I charted Mercury and his friends’ journey across the country, selected the cities, and wrote out what would happen in each one.
Another way to avoid or overcome writer’s block is to create a playlist for your WIP. My playlist, which you can find here, is full of songs from some of California’s finest — E-40, 2Pac, N.W.A, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more. Each time I listen to it, I feel compelled to write. The songs I’ve chosen are so connected either to a scene (“Straight Outta Compton” helped me write the final confrontation between Mercury and Ellis) or a character (“Money Good” is one of the most emblematic songs for Sloane).
Inspiration can also come from Pinterest. The Pinterest board I created for helped me envision the areas I was writing about, the tattoos, the four elements, and who I imagined would play each character in the film version of the book. I’m speaking — er, writing this into existence right now — it will be a film someday. Even though we work with words, we’re visual creatures. Having images to think about may help you get into the groove of your WIP.
Maintaining A Schedule
I’m not the kind of writer who thinks you should write thousands of words each day to be successful, but maintaining a schedule and minding self-imposed deadlines is essential to finishing your WIP. If you want to take a page from ‘WRIMO and do 50k in 30 days, go for it. Other examples of writing goals are — writing for one hour a day, writing 20k words in 2 months, finishing Act 1 in two weeks, etc.
Most of the time I’ve been writing, I’ve had a full-time job. I’m an incredibly ambitious bitch, so I often have other projects going on while writing (at one time I was working FT, had a side hustle, was writing this book, and planning a wedding). To ensure I get balance, I set timed goals. Typically 25 minutes to an hour on weekdays, and 2-3 hours on weekends. Then I take breaks, starting at 5 minutes and ending at an hour. By doing this, you’re giving yourself an immediate deadline, and it’s easier to keep a balanced life.
I know a lot of writers who use dedicated writing software. But I like to keep it simple by using Google Docs. I write each section of my book in separate docs, i.e. Act 1 – the Setup, Act 2- the premise, Act 3 – the showdown, etc. That way I can access the sections I’m working on easier whenever I get an epiphany and I’m not in front of my computer. Even just a sentence or two counts as writing time, and you’ll be surprised when those moments add up.
Finishing a Book
What does it take to cross the finish line with your WIP? Aside from tenacity, you need a great support system, equal parts self-doubt and self-aggrandizement, and a lot of caffeine. It’s important to keep your “why” in mind. Why is it important to put in the work to get your book out there? For me, I wanted to speak on current events in my own way, create a different type of magical world, and bring more Black excellence into the world. Keep your why in mind and it’ll give you the drive to finish your piece.
Also, it’s important to stay inspired by reading a lot and taking in other content that will inspire you. Some of my biggest influences when writing this book were Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, listening to the podcast The Read, watching Umbrella Academy, and reading articles on The Root.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in the process of writing a good story need not write it from beginning to end. It’s easy to get hung up on writing the ending of your WIP, but you don’t have to save it for last. There are no rules against writing your book in any order you like, from end to beginning, from the middle outward, or somewhere in between. One of the best tricks I use when writing is I write the name of each section on an index card. I keep them shuffled and when I sit down to write I pull a card and start writing that section.
Bringing It Together
Don’t get caught up in the feeling that your first draft must be perfect. At this stage you really are just forming the mold of what will eventually be your finished work. Some of what you write at this stage may stay the same, change, or be totally eliminated. The important thing is to finish so you can carve your piece into a work of art.
What are your tips for staying inspired, writing frequently, and getting your first draft done? Let me know in the comments below.