I have always loved to write. When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said that I wanted to be a writer. I thought of it as one of those unattainable, magical jobs, as if I was dreaming of being a princess or an astronaut.
Turns out I didn’t need superpowers to write. I just needed two simple things: motivation, and a plan.
In Spain, we say that there are two types of writers, depending on their process. The escritores brújula – translates to “compass writers” – are those that have an idea for a story, and start writing from there without knowing where the plot will take them. They just have a general direction they want to follow and let the story lead them.
Being a writer seemed like a magical job.
On the other hand, the escritores mapa – translates to “map writers” – are the ones that need a detailed plan of everything that is going to happen in the story before they can sit down and put pen to paper. They make outlines and have every character arc and plot development tracked.
Both methods, and everything in between them, work. However, finding the one that worked for me was key in order to write my manuscript.
When I was 12 years old, I started writing my first novel. It was a fantasy story about a young girl who discovered that she was The Chosen One. Similar to many others? Yes. But it was mine, and that was the most important thing. However, I never got passed the 20th chapter. I got lost in the characters and the world I wanted to explore and forgot to pay attention to the plot.
After that, I continued quitting most of my writing projects soon after starting them. I enjoyed building worlds and characters, but I had trouble committing myself to the story. I wrote some poetry because that was a genre that was open to interpretation.
I eventually got distracted by the need to focus on my grades and the stress of finding a career. “Writing is not a real job”, and therefore I didn’t have time for it. The truth is, I didn’t make time for it. I thought it wasn’t worthwhile since it was never going to take me anywhere. I couldn’t write for the sole sake of writing…
Or could I?
Writing is not “a real job” and so I didn’t have time for it.
I have recently re-discovered writing.
It began when I started following and interacting with authors online. I realized that they were not mythical heroes, they were people like you and me. Some of them were my age and wrote their novels while pursuing their degrees or working their day jobs. They wrote because they loved doing it, because they needed to do it, not because it was their job. I learn that becoming a writer was completely up to me. Eventually, I too found a story that I felt compelled to tell, no matter whether it would ever see the light of day. A story that I needed to write for myself.
Last November, I finally sat down to write that story. I accepted that I am a “map writer” and therefore needed to make sure I planned the novel before I started it. I controlled my urges to open a blank page and start typing the first chapters because I knew that, ultimately, I was going to hit a brick wall. To avoid it, I made sure I had an outline of every chapter of my book. That meant that no matter whether I was feeling writer’s block, I would always know what had to happen. It also meant that I could write the story without order and jump between chapters depending on the mood I was in each day.
Making a plan freed my creativity. Moreover, I made a commitment to that creativity. I didn’t keep hoping for that time in my life when I would finally have time to write. I made time. And I wrote.
Everyone’s creative process is different. For my first novel, I needed a goal and a community that motivated me to pursue it. I found it in NaNoWriMo, an online community that sets up the challenge of writing 50,000 words in one month. That is 1,667 words a day.
I found a story that I needed to write for me.
I also learned to free myself from the pressure of writing a “good book” or a book that “would sell”. I wrote the book I wanted to write, and that was enough. Because I wasn’t writing for anyone else, only for me.
I learned that a first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It only has to exist. The rest will come later.
Focusing on writing those daily 1,667 words, without going back and editing, without overthinking whether they were good enough or whether they were the best words I could write, freed me. Writing became, once again, something that I enjoyed, rather than work or a task to complete.
Several months later, writing is still not my job, but it is something that gives me joy. I am still very much in the process of finishing that first novel. However, I now have 50,000 words that prove that I can do it. For the first time, I can see it happening. I see my final manuscript as a next step rather than an impossible wish.