I've been in the writing business a long time. Before I was a published author, I was an editor at a publishing company, and before that I was writing papers and building lesson plans for my English teaching degree. I feel like I've taken part in a lot of aspects of the business of writing. I also feel like I've changed dramatically from when I first started.
As all of you know, I've been purging my paper piles this year and last week I came across the first full-length fiction novel I'd ever written. I skimmed through it and chuckled a bit, realizing how dramatic I sounded and how many mistakes I'd made (like starting out the first chapter with weather. It had a sort of dark and stormy night feel to it.) It was so fun and a bit cringe-worthy to read through that manuscript.
I also came across letters from students I'd been student-teaching, thanking me for motivating them to be better writers. I am so glad I kept those letters because they are worth their weight in gold to me. Not because I was being thanked, but because it made me feel like I'd helped someone and made a difference. Those things are crucial to have on hand when you feel like you suck as a writer, believe me.
But after looking at my humble beginnings, I realized how much my priorities in the writing process have changed. I used to be more of a pantser, writing whatever struck me, letting my characters take me wherever they cared to, but this book I've been working on has been completely different for me. I think it would have been done about four months ago if I'd been my previous self. This time around, I've plotted, I've outlined, I've done the character bible, and I've gotten myself three critique types---an in-person critique group, an online critique partner, and my trusty alpha, beta and sigma readers. I honestly feel like this is my strongest novel yet because I've learned so much from the previous seven books I've written and I've taken so much time to revise my current one and make it stronger. And I'm not saying my previous books are bad, I'm just saying I've learned. A lot.
Brandon Sanderson once said that he'd written thirteen novels before his first one was accepted. When I heard this I thought to myself, boy, if I'd written thirteen novels before one was accepted I probably would have given up. But I'd missed his point. He was learning the craft, honing his art, and climbing a curve in his quest to be a good writer with the first thirteen. I think I finally get it now.
I'm interested to see how my readers respond to my new novel. I wonder if they'll see the subtle difference in tone and writing, in my characters and plot. Will they see the sub-plots and shades of gray throughout? Or will it just be another Bellon suspense with a dash of romance to cuddle up with on a cold winter night?
I know I've heard other writers say that with every novel they learn something new. Have you found that? If so, what things have you learned? Have you changed your writing process over it or do you feel like your writer's formula is working for you? I'm really interested to know how it is for other writers.