Friday, July 25, 2014

No Two Books Are Written the Same Way-- and That's a Good Thing

by Shallee McArthur

Like Kris, I've been absent from the blog for a while, and like Kris, I apologize. Also like Kris, most of my absence has to do with writing. Specifically, writing a new book.

And I swear, it almost killed my sanity.

Writing the "next book" after selling one is a harrowing experience in and of itself-- constant questions of whether it's good enough, whether people will like it, whether or not you're just a one-hit-wonder with no real talent. I think I started about four different books before scrapping them because my confidence was wavering. When I finally hit upon the idea I was determined to write, it did not at all go the way I'd planned.

You see, I have a process. Or so I thought. While writing The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, I had a specific schedule, a specific way I wrote, specific writing techniques I used, and I thought this next book would be the same. Newsflash: no two books are written the same way.

This book was so different than anything I've tried before. It uses different writing techniques. It's even a different genre than what I'm used to writing. It deals with complicated character issues, literary references I had to look up, complex plot elements I had to research, and on and on. I had to do a lot of reading and movie-watching in this genre to make sure I was getting the right feel without falling into cliches. There were personal issues I struggled with at the core of the idea. I started the book three different times as completely different stories based on the same idea before finding the right one. Basically, I picked the most hellish idea possible for my sophomore novel effort, and everything about it was completely different than the way things had gone with my previous book.

Just for kicks, here's a brief look at timelines for comparison.

The Unhappening of Genesis Lee:
Pre-planning-- 6-ish months while primarily working on another story
First draft-- 6 weeks
Revisions-- 1 year

New Book:
Pre-planning-- 2-ish months full time as the primary story
First draft-- 6 months
Revisions-- 6 weeks (so far)

But here's the interesting thing. Even though I've gone through a totally different process and timeline with this book...I finished it, or at least a few drafts of it. And it's good. This book needed something different than my last one, and all that time spent finagling with the idea and wrestling with the first draft meant it was the most solid first draft I've ever written, and my revisions are flowing quickly and easily.

It can be panic-inducing, realizing that just because you've written one book doesn't mean you're going to know exactly how to write the next one. Each book is a totally different adventure and experience. And it should be. Stories come alive because of the way they are written, and if you want to breathe life into a lot of different stories, it's going to be different every time. It isn't any easier to write another book just because you've written one already. Oh, you learn--your craft gets better through experience, there's no doubt about it. But the art part of it, the act of throwing a part of your soul onto the page in the form of something that hopefully resembles a story--that's hard and different every single time.

It's scary. It's exhausting. It's exhilarating. And it's why I love writing.

Shallee McArthur originally wanted to be a scientist, until she realized what she liked best about science was twisting it into fiction. She earned a degree in English and creative writing from Brigham Young University so she could do just that. When she's not writing books, she's attempting to raise her son and daughter as proper sci fi and fantasy geeks. Her other adventures have included wrangling a group of volunteers in Ghana, changing her hairstyle way too often, and marrying a fellow nerd. She lives in Utah with her husband and two children. Her YA sci fi, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, debuts Nov. 4, 2014.

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