By: Liv Constantine
I have a sticky taped to the wall by my desk that reads The book you have to write vs. you have to write a book. A daily reminder of what I’ve come there to do, to write the story of my heart rather than churn out a book just because I have a looming deadline. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between the two. The pressure of time restraints, of advance earn-outs, of past failures and successes…they all can mess with your mojo. But remember those early days before agents and contracts, when you were telling the story for no one but yourself? That is the feeling I look for when brainstorming my next story—one that I have to tell or otherwise I will explode.
Sometimes these books of my heart flow out of me quickly and with relatively ease, and sometimes they take more finessing. Three Days Missing was a fourteen-month slog from first word to last edits, and I don’t want to tell you how many times I rewrote The Ones We Trust but suffice it to say a lot. And now, ten months into my next book, Stranger in the Lake, and I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I’ve finally drilled down to the heart of the story, figured out what the heck I’ve been trying to say.
Over the course of my career, I’ve spent a lot of time stressing about why some stories are more of a struggle than others. Is it because they’re less compelling? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere, choose the wrong POV? Or is it worse—is this the dreaded I-have-to-tell-a-story story? Should I just chuck it and start over?
But each time, I found the answer was no. There was something in these plots that just wouldn’t let me go. A character that had come alive in my head, or a twist that was too good to shelve. I kept writing, kept digging and finessing and layering until finally, finally—the story that all those months ago I had imagined it to be emerged. The story-I-have-to-tell story.
But I’m not going to lie; getting there sucked. Here are a few things I learned along the way.
Remember why you’re writing.
I mean this at both the macro and micro levels. Keep in mind why you began down this writerly path in the first place, and hold tight to that breathless, tingly feeling when you first came up with the book’s premise. What is it that compels you to write it? What are the elements, characters or hook or plot points, that won’t let you go? Write them on a sticky and look at them every day. These are the things that will keep you typing when it feels so much easier to shove your laptop in a drawer.
Embrace the suck.
Even the books that come relatively easy have had their difficult moments. A plot hole I didn’t foresee during the drafting phase, or a timeline issue that takes weeks to unwind. And now, six books in, I’ve become convinced that struggle is part of the process. Some stories are bigger and sprawlier than others. Some need more time to cook in your mind and on the page. Every book feels like its own particular journey, one that comes with a sizeable dose of frustration and performance anxiety, and maybe that’s okay. It means we’re taking on new challenges, learning new skills. If writing were easy, everybody would do it.
Find your tribe. Love them hard.
Success in this industry can sometimes feel as elusive as fairy wings and pixie dust. The publishing industry is hard, and it’s erratic, and it’s nuts, and it’s a place where the best book doesn’t always win. Market trends, unfair reviews, marketing and publicity that doesn’t catch on. So much of what happens once we send a book out into the world is out of our control. What makes a story soar or flop isn’t always predictable.
But one thing we can control is to surround ourselves with people like us, fellow authors and industry professionals who understand. Treat these people not like competition but as a refuge. Use them as sounding boards and brainstorm buddies and accountability partners. Ask them questions, get their advice, let them talk you off the ledge. Take comfort in knowing we are all in this same crazy, rocky boat together, rowing for the same shoreline, cheering each other on. This job is so much more fun and fulfilling with friends.
Stop doubting. Just write.
This one’s the hardest and the easiest at the same time. Let go of the doubt, the insecurities, the comparisons to other authors who are doing better/earning more/getting bigger deals, and just do what you know how to do: write. Trust the process, even when the process is muddling through more shitty drafts than you’d care to admit. Get off Twitter, where writers go to brag about 10,000-a-day word counts or seven-figure movie deals, and focus on the story. Your story, the story of your heart. Some days you will produce nothing but tears and frustration, but other days will end in words. Good words! Fixable words. As Margaret Atwood once said, if we waited for perfection, we would never write a word.
So write and then write some more until one day, that story you just have to tell?
It’s here, and it’s awesome.
Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of five novels, including her latest domestic suspense, Dear Wife (June 2019). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam. Her latest book is DEAR WIFE.
Keep up with Kimberly on Facebook (www.facebook.com/KimberlyBelleBooks), Twitter (@KimberlySBelle), Instagram (@KimberlySBelle) or via her website at www.kimberlybellebooks.com.
Best. Advice. Ever. Especially Find your tribe. Love them hard. Thanks for being here and congrats on DEAR WIFE!
I loved this blog….I read and reread it and so appreciate all of the sentiments and encouragement here — especially the comments about authors helping each other. How true (that's exactly what we
Rogues try to do). Thanks for being our guest blogger today, Kimberly!
My problem is that I keep trying to write the book of my heart, but it never turns out like my heart thought it would be…!
My heart’s not being specific enough !!!
Great advice, Kimberly!
hahaha! Great comment, Lisa!
Such wonderful advice, Kimberly. (I absolutely need to stay off Twitter and FB. Especially Twitter. I get sucked into that far too easily!) Thanks for stopping by!
Thanks for reading, James! 🙂
Thanks so much, Jamie! I do love my tribe ��
Thank you, Karna! I'm so glad something in there resonated. Honestly, the encouragement and support from other authors has been one of the best – and most pleasant – surprises of this biz. Thanks so much for having me! 🙂
Ha! That happens to me sometimes, too. So many stories in there 😉
OMG Twitter is such a black hole – once you're in you can never leave lol. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
Love all of the comments, and I love your THINK/WRITE/EDIT/POLISH circle. I always have to tell myself not to EDIT my first draft as I write it. That comes later. First things first. WRITE! Thanks Kimberly, for some great advice!
Love this advice. It's so apropos at the moment as I'm in the throes of finding the story in my new work-in-progress. Looking for that heart. Thank you!
In the bowels of the 2nd edit and these words were what I needed before I walk into my office this morning. Thanks!
SO HARD!! I have to constantly remind myself to get it on the page first, because you can't fix words until you have them. Good luck with your writing!
So happy something in there resonated, Chris! Good luck with your WIP, may the words flow 🙂
Yay! This makes me so happy to hear, Sherry. Good luck with your edits xo
What fabulous advice, Kimberly … but then, it all makes sense coming from someone who writes such fabulous books! Gayle