I’ve got more than 10 full manuscripts under my belt and several short stories as well. While none has been a breeze, some have come easier than others. I recently got to wondering which book was the hardest to write.
Let me share my top three contenders, why they were so hard, and what I learned from them. Maybe by reading about my journey, you can avoid those bumps and jolts in the road that can frustrate or slow a writer down.
Coming into third place is the only novel that won me a NaNoWriMo badge one year. It’s not that the writing itself was a struggle—I found my 50,000 words to put down—but rather the result was messier than an unsupervised pizza party of preschoolers. When I read back through the manuscript, I realized that I got the story down quickly, but editing this baby was going to empty the red ink from all my pens.
Now, some do great with writing quickly! If that’s you, keep up what works for you. But too many writers tell others they must churn out stories quickly to blow past that pesky self-critic that wants to question every word choice or to avoid getting stuck revising, revising, revising on chapter two.
Some call it the “vomit” method, meaning you vomit the words on the page, then clean it all up later to make it a beautiful story you can present to the world. And again, if that works for you, knock yourself out!
But after my experience, I know that isn’t what works for me. In fact, after I read that draft and realized how much effort would go into editing it to something good enough, I shoved the novel away and didn’t look at it for years. I’ll get back to it (because it’s a great story), but what I got out of NaNoWriMo was not a finished book but a lesson learned.
Give yourself permission to write the way you write, whether or not it works for someone else.
A cozy mystery idea came to me in 2017—the sort of sweet story fodder that sparks your excitement and makes you reach for a pen just to jot down the idea before you lose it. Then, I began writing.
Sadly, I then got talked into plotting the novel scene by scene by a well-meaning mentor. After I finished that multi-page endeavor, I went back to the manuscript…and nothing came. For me, the story was out, done, not all that intriguing anymore.
Have you ever lost interest in a story that previously excited you? What snuffed out that spark?
While it might seem the lesson learned is the same as before—follow your own writing process—that’s not the full conclusion I drew. Rather, I think a writer should know what keeps them going. What spurs you on to finish a story?
Is it a deadline? A reward you’ve promised yourself? Hanging out with your characters? The sheer joy of word-by-word, scene-by-scene writing a novel? The sense of accomplishment when you see the final product? Or like me, learning whodunnit no sooner than two-thirds of the way through your own story? That is, I write in part to discover. If the discovery is already done, I’m a whole lot less interested.
Figure out why you write to The End, and lean into that motivation.
In On Writing, Stephen King confessed to being a three-draft writer—the first rough draft, an edited second draft, and a polished third draft. Meanwhile, my YA contemporary novel Sharing Hunter took about 14 drafts. It’s a wonder I didn’t throw my hands in the air at some point and shout, “I give up!”
Or maybe I did. But I kept coming back, rethinking character arcs, reworking scenes, editing and polishing prose, until the product two drafts before the final one was nominated for an RWA Golden Heart* and landed me my dream agent. In 2019, I self-published that novel, and I am peacock-proud of how it came out.
Have you ever loved a story but gotten so frustrated that you wanted to chuck it?
Maybe you should chuck it. Some stories aren’t meant to be written. But other stories are worth the time and effort. Mind you, I could have cut down on a few of those drafts if I’d known sooner some of the wonderful things you can learn here on Writers in the Storm. If you can spare yourself some heartache, do so! But don’t give up just because it’s frustrating.
Former WITS host Laura Drake is the poster child for not giving up. She learned her draft, wrote and wrote until her manuscript shined, and sent out over 400 queries to agents to get her first book published. (And it’s a fantastic read!) As she has pointed out many times, if this writing stuff was easy, everyone would do it. They don’t, but we do.
Writing my hardest book taught me that it’s okay to move on from a project if you no longer want to do it, but…
If you love your story, keep writing and editing until you’re eager to put your name on the cover and get it out to readers.
I hope my lessons learned help you as well:
- Give yourself permission to write the way you write, whether or not it works for someone else.
- Figure out why you write to The End, and lean into that motivation.
- If you love your story, keep writing and editing until you’re eager to put your name on the cover and get it out to readers.
What’s the hardest book you’ve ever written and why? What lesson(s) did you learn from that process?
Julie Glover is an award-winning author of mysteries and young adult fiction. She also writes supernatural suspense under the pen name Jules Lynn.
She’s currently working on book five in the Muse Island series, an honorable mention in the difficulty category due to scheduling issues. But it’s her own fault for going to France this summer.
Start the Muse Island series with book one, Mark of the Gods!
Image by Wavebreak Media at Deposit Photos