Shelving My Book (And Why It Was A Great Idea)

I wrote a book. It wasn’t the first book I’d ever written, but it was the first book I’d taken seriously. And I didn’t just write it. I wrote it, and then revised it, and revised it again, and then rewrote it, and revised it, and then queried it, and then rewrote it, and then revised it… I did everything I could to get that book onto the shelves, and I was planning to keep doing everything I could to get it onto the shelves. It was my baby, after all. The book of my heart. I knew and loved those characters like the back of my hand.

But then, a few weeks ago, I decided to stop.

Full stop. Dead halt. No more revisions or rewrites. I was actually already five chapters in on another rewrite. But then I decided that wasn’t the right course of action, because it wasn’t getting me anywhere. It was like I was on a hamster wheel, running and running but never making any headway. Sure, my book was getting better… but as my book got better, my relationship with it became strained. I loved it, but the thought of working on it caused me stress and misery, rather than joy. I was drowning in self doubt. I tried working on other, newer projects simultaneously with it, in the hopes of keeping things semi-fresh, but it didn’t work. Instead, I was hit by the hardest bout of writer’s block I’d ever experienced. It was miserable. I was miserable.

That was when I decided I was done. Enough was enough. And I am so glad I made that decision.

It took a little while to get used to. I had to force myself to stop thinking about it, to stop opening the document. But once I finally managed to leave it be, the creative floodgates opened. Suddenly, my writer’s block disappeared. I got a great idea for one of the novels I’d been writing, and I went with it. I sat down and wrote over 3,000 words in two days! 10,000 words in a week! And now I’m almost at 20,000 words! On another novel, which had been stalled at about 27,000 words for months, I’m now at 33,000 words! I mean, holy cow! Now that’s what I call progress.

And I know I wouldn’t be experiencing this kind of success in my writing now if I hadn’t let that first novel go. If I hadn’t put it away and decided to focus on my new projects. Yes, it hurt to do. It felt like a betrayal, and I had a lot of doubts and fears about doing so at first. I’d been so sure that it would be my debut novel, and the idea of letting go of that dream was scary and sad. But now I know, without a doubt, that it was the right choice. Shelving that book gave me the freedom to move on and love my other projects with the same passion as I’d loved that book. To give them the same kind of hope that they might be my debut novels as I’d given it.

This doesn’t mean I’m shelving it forever, though. For those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while, and who have cheered me on through the ups and downs of writing The Caspian Chronicles, I don’t want you to fear that it was all for naught. I will pick that book–that series–up again, and I will publish it if it’s the last thing I do. I love that story so much, and it’s a story I know needs to be told. But for now, I need a break. For now, I need to set it aside.

It wasn’t an easy lesson to learn, but it’s one I’m glad to have learned all the same. And I’d like to know: Have any of you had to shelve a project? How did that make you feel, and how did you deal with doing so? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

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Let’s Talk About Writing – New Writers: Stop Taking Writing Advice and Just WRITE

I love writing advice. I love writing advice blogs (like mine), I love writing advice YouTube videos made by AuthorTubers, I love writing advice Twitter threads by authors and agents… I love it all. However, I also think it can be detrimental to new writers. Let me explain why.

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Five Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Writing Books

  1. Looking in the mirror is just like reading your WIP for the millionth time. You know the story, so now all that’s left for you to do is nitpick. You start to doubt yourself. To see the flaws. But, to others, you’re something unique. Maybe you are flawed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be a bestseller, or someone’s favorite book. In the end, you truly are your own worst critic, and the best thing you can do is learn to stop overthinking and just love yourself.
  2. It’s okay to restart. Just like with your manuscript, if you’re not happy with what you’ve written in the past, you can start over. You can change your mind about what to study in college. You can decide to find a new job. You can choose to grow and be a better person. Your life is your story to rewrite however you want.
  3. You can’t worry about what other people have accomplished, or compare your journey to their successes. Doing this is like comparing your WIP to a published novel. Just because you’re not there yet, doesn’t mean you won’t get there. And, until you do, you’ve got to enjoy where you’re at and take in every experience along the way. After all, the journey is half the fun!
  4. You have to let the story of your life surprise you sometimes. Because, no matter how hard you try, you can’t outline every little thing that’ll happen in your life. Things will pop up that you weren’t expecting, and sometimes the best thing you can do is roll with it and see what amazing new doors they can open up.
  5. You need to write your life story for yourself, and not for anyone else. Because, the simple fact of the matter is that you can’t please everyone. No matter what you do, someone will doubtlessly have a problem with it. But so long as you are happy and fulfilled, it won’t matter if you get negative reviews every once in a while.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

My worst personality trait has always been my need for instant gratification. If I don’t get the thing I want the second I want it, I go berserk. Not in the crazy, screaming, throwing things way (well, maybe once or twice), but in the frantic, anxiety-riddled way. If I see something I really want to buy, I’ll think about it night and day until I finally get it. If I set a goal for myself, I’ll let it consume me and get down on myself if I don’t accomplish it right away. And if I develop a crush on a guy, I’ll go crazy thinking about him, wanting him to be my boyfriend without the fuss of having to flirt with and impress him.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Use Your Scenes (And Use Them Well)

Scenes. I love ’em. I love reading them, and I love writing them. My favorite thing to do is sit down and write out a random scene from one of the many story ideas kicking around in my head. It’s almost like a stress reliever, and it’s a surefire way for me to push past any writer’s block I might have. However, during my time at Columbia College Chicago, I learned that, for some people, scenes are difficult to write. It shocked me to learn that some people actually prefer summary to scene. I mean, don’t get me wrong, summary can be a great tool. We all know that not every moment in a story needs to be a scene. The last thing I want is a step-by-step account of how a character gets ready in the morning. But to write a story entirely in summary? Well, I’d argue that’s not really a story at all.

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Why I Keep Losing NaNoWriMo (And Why I Just Can’t Quit It)

Remember last October, when I made 31 posts about prepping for NaNoWriMo… and then promptly lost NaNoWriMo? I do. And you’d think I would’ve learned from that experience. But, no. This year, I got all jazzed up about it again, did some prepping for a new book idea, hammered out about 30,000 words, and then dropped the ball. So what is it about NaNoWriMo that just doesn’t work for me? Why do I do great for the first half of it, and then just… quit? Case in point:

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Creative Writing Degrees: Yay or Nay?

When you go to Google and type in “Are creative writing degrees…”, the very first auto-fill that pops up is “worth it?” And, it’s a legitimate question. If you’re going to go to college and spend tens of thousands of dollars on a higher education, you want to make sure you’re getting some bang for your buck, right? Because the last thing you want when you leave college is to feel like you not only wasted your money, but your time. I get it. And, having gone through four years of college to graduate with a BA in Fiction Writing, I feel pretty damn qualified to help you make that decision. So, with that said, let’s get started.

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Don’t Let the World Bring You Down

The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is getting off of social media.

I know, it sounds crazy. How can an aspiring author exist in this world without social media? How can they live without scrolling through the bookstagram tag or retweeting helpful threads written by agents? If they don’t stay up-to-date on the publishing world every minute of every day, how will they know if it’s the right time to query their debut novel? I wondered all of this at first, too. I believed the lie that the modern professional had to spend hours of their day on social media, or else they weren’t going to get anywhere. But I’m here to tell you that it simply isn’t true.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – The Shiny Thing

A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “The Allure of the Shiny Thing” in which I discussed how I was struggling to write one novel because ideas for a million other novels were vying for my attention. The phrase had been one I’d learned from a professor at Columbia College Chicago, and at the time I was adamant that pursuing the shiny thing was the worst thing I could possibly do. However, recently I actually did give in to the shiny thing. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Dust Off Those Vocal Chords

The title says it all. Dust off those vocal chords, because today we’re going to be talking about the benefits of reading your writing aloud!

“But Leighton,” you say, “why would I have to read my writing aloud? The whole point of reading is that it’s done silently.” To that, I say: Tell that to the audio book listeners out there. No, but seriously, this advice that I have to give you has nothing to do with whether your book will be read aloud someday or not (which, it totally will). It has to do with making your book the best it can be. That may also seem confusing, though. Like, how could reading a manuscript aloud make it better? Well, it helps in a few ways. Allow me to enlighten you.

First, it clues you in to how your novel’s language flows. As you’re reading aloud, you’ll be two thousand times more aware of any awkwardly-phrased lines, and you’ll be able to get a sense of the rhythm of your writing. For example, when reading your manuscript silently, those five sentences in a row that consist of seven words each may not even register. But when you’re reading aloud, the odds are better that you’ll realize the rhythm is starting to get monotonous, and then you’ll be able to pinpoint the problem and shake things up with shorter and longer sentences.

Second, repeated words and phrases will stand out to you more. As humans, we can sometimes become fixated on certain things. I’m especially guilty of this. Once I hear a word or phrase I like, I use it until I’ve run the well dry. In high school, I had this problem with the word “juxtapose.” I used it EVERYWHERE. The thing is, I didn’t realize I was using it everywhere. But if I had read my essays and writing aloud back then, it would’ve stood out like a sore thumb, and I would’ve been able to exchange a few of the “juxtapose”s with some “compare”s and “contrast”s. And, in case you’re wondering why it matters if you use the same word or phrase a lot, here’s the long and short of it: Word repetition just sounds clunky and lazy to a reader. The general rule is that common words (like “the,” “and,” “had,” “my,” “it,” etc.) can be repeated without someone noticing, but more complex words and any phrases should be used sparingly and interchanged with synonyms when possible. So keep your ears peeled for those repeated words while you’re reading your novel aloud.

Third, it gives you a better idea of your narrative voice and/or the first person narrator’s voice. When writing in your own voice, you want the narration to sound like… Well, like you! And when you’re writing in a character’s voice, you want the narration to sound like your character. As it turns out, this is easier said than done. A lot of the time, novice writers fall into the trap of writing awkwardly, for lack of a better term. They don’t use contractions, their language is stiff… There’s just nothing to the narration. And if a writer doesn’t read their writing aloud, it’s going to stay that way. If they do read their writing aloud, though, there’s a much greater chance that they’ll hear the awkward stiffness, and they can then work on correcting that. (On a related note, if you’d like me to make a post specifically about writing voice in the future, let me know in the comments!)

Fourth, it makes it easier to notice grammatical errors. When you’re reading your writing silently, you tend to skim. I mean, odds are you know your story inside and out, so skimming is only natural. The problem with this is that you can’t catch errors if your eyes are flying over the words faster than your brain can actually comprehend any of what you’re reading. When you read your work aloud, however, it forces you to slow down and actually read. When you do this, most of your grammatical and punctuation errors will be pretty obvious. They’ll make you stumble, trip over the awkward phrasing or oddly placed comma. For me personally, my biggest sin is accidentally putting a period where a question mark should go. Reading aloud helps me spot those moments and correct them without anyone else having to point them out to me.

Fifth, your dialogue will improve tremendously. It’s kind of like the voice thing I mentioned earlier. Many writers really struggle with writing realistic dialogue, and it’s because they allow it to become stiff and awkward. Reading the dialogue aloud, however, is the perfect cure. Doing so will help you recognize all of the parts that feel not-so-realistic. Then, you can work toward writing something more true to life. Sometimes I speak my dialogue aloud before I even write it down, in order to make sure it sounds how I wanted it to sound.

And if you take my advice and find that reading your writing aloud really does help to improve your writing, then I’ve got a challenge for you to take it one step further: Have someone else read your writing aloud for you. Or, at the very least, record yourself reading it aloud and then listen back to the recording. Trust me. Reading it aloud to yourself is one thing, but listening to someone else read your writing is so enlightening. You’ll be able to hear all of these things I’ve talked about in this post, especially if you recruit a friend to help you out and don’t just record yourself. This is because your friend won’t know the nuances of your story, while you do. So, with someone else reading for you, you’ll hear how your reader will perceive things rather than how you, the writer, perceive them. It’s like a beta reader for your ears. This, of course, is not as necessary as reading your own writing aloud, but it will make your book even better if you do follow through with it.

The most important thing to take from this post, though, is to take the time to make your book the best it can be. Dust off those vocal chords and really put in some effort to tidy up your story. Trust me, you won’t regret it.