Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Secret Is, There Is No Secret, by Chris Tebbetts

When I first tried my hand at writing for kids, I thought I wanted to create picture books, not novels. I couldn’t even imagine writing something as long a whole novel. How did people even do that? 
Flash forward a few years, and my picture book manuscripts were going exactly nowhere. Meanwhile, at a summer manuscript workshop, I met a guy who told me about his work on the Sweet Valley High series for a book packager in New York. When he suggested that I contact his editor to see if she was looking for additional writers, I felt conflicted. 
Part of me thought, what’s the point? I have no idea how to write a novel. 
And part of me thought, So what? Just email the editor and see what happens.
A few weeks, several emails, and two sample chapters later, I had an offer from the book packager--not to work on Sweet Valley High, but to write a new four-book fantasy-adventure series they were developing, called THE VIKING. Just like that, I had six weeks to write the first draft of the first book, and eleven months in which to complete the entire four book series.
Talk about trial by fire! The pressure was on from day one, which was arguably a good thing. I usually need some kind of pressure to get my work done. Mostly, though, the feeling was something along the lines of, AUUUUGHHHHHH! WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO????
And then….
I just started writing. There was no other choice, but to get my fingers on the keyboard and develop some good writing habits, ASAP. 
That’s when I learned first-hand about the benefits of working every day, whether I felt like it or not. It’s when I learned to ignore the abject awfulness of my first drafts, put my head down, and just keep going.  
But maybe most of all, it’s when I discovered that there’s actually no big secret to writing a novel. Just the opposite. Writing those first books completely demystified the process for me, and showed me that a 600-word picture book is written in the same way as a 40,000-word novel: one word at a time. One paragraph. One chapter. 
Over and over, and over, and over again. 
Step by step...by step....by step...
And to be clear: I’d never say that writing a novel is easy. Of course it's about more than just putting words on a page. But in terms of actually getting it done, at its most basic level, there is something very simple about the process.
Showing up is everything. Butt in chair. Fingers on the keyboard. Filling pages today, and worrying about making them better tomorrow. There’s no magic in that, but realizing the truth of it was a bit like learning how to do magic. Or maybe more like learning the tricks behind the tricks—not how to make a card disappear, but how to palm that card so that the “magic” can be performed.
To this day, I still feel a sense of overwhelm when I start writing a new novel. How did I ever do this before? What if I can’t get it done this time? The difference now, though, is that I know what I need to do if I want to start getting some answers.

3 comments:

  1. WOW! Four books in 11 months! Talk about starting with a bang...

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  2. Yes!!! So much wisdom here. Showing up IS everything. Butt in chair is mandatory. And sentence after sentence, page after page, chapter after chapter will get a book done a LOT faster than moaning about it, curling up in terrified fetal position, and doing nothing at all!

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  3. What a great post! I'm going to use that duckling photo as my background to remind me about those daily little steps!

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