What I wish I’d known when I first started out – Kate Rorick

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By Kate Rorick

When I wrote my first novel, I was a baby. A dewy-eyed 23-year-old, I started writing a book mostly to see if I could. After about a year of numerous bumps and missteps I surprised everyone, myself most of all, by having a complete first draft. It took another year of rewriting and submitting to get an agent, and another bunch of months before that book was bought by a publisher. Another year of revising and anticipation, and the book was out in the world just a hair after I turned 28.♥

That might seem very straight forward, but bumps and missteps dogged me my entire journey. And just as the old bumps got smoothed out, each new book brought its own learning experiences.

You would think everything would be old hat by now. But when I sat down to write my twelfth book – but first in a new genre – The Baby Plan, I felt like I was embarking on a terrifying new adventure. (Not entirely unlike being pregnant, come to think of it.)

Luckily, by this time, I knew a few things that I didn’t the first time around.

1. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. (In fact, it might help.)

For all of my voracious reading, I didn’t actually know how to write a book when I first attempted it. And that turned out to be a good thing! Because I didn’t know how to write a book, I wasn’t desperately trying to avoid breaking any rules that might exist. When I only had myself to please, it freed me up to develop my voice. And hey, if there were indeed rules that I had broken? That’s what edits are for.

Don’t let yourself get hung up on how you’re *supposed* to write a book. Just write the thing.

2. Outlines are your best friends in the world and never ever forsake them.

One of the biggest lessons I learned on my first book is that I am the type of writer who needs a roadmap. I discovered this about halfway through the first draft: I had written myself into a wall. I knew where I wanted my characters to end up, but had no idea how I was going to get them there. I put the draft aside, and made myself plot out everything that was going to happen from there on out. Suddenly, I had a plan – and my writing took on a whole new drive.

Ever since then, I live and breathe my outline. It keeps me from meandering, from getting lost in my story.

3. Okay, there are circumstances under which you should absolutely forsake your outlines.

You are not infallible. The story that you plotted for yourself for those many months ago may not turn out to be the story that you are writing. Or, perhaps one of your characters has a different backstory than the one first envisioned, and it changes how they interact with everyone else, how they move through the story. Are you just going to ignore that?

Even with an outline, there always comes a point in the writing when my characters will do or say something that surprises me. And that is always the most honest moment in the book. If I were to adhere to what I laid out before, I know without a doubt my story would be worse off for it.
It might be painful changing tracks, but once you are on the right one, the writing will flow.

4. Your first draft is going to suck. But it’s also going to exist.

The moment I write “The End” when you complete your first draft is the most exhilarating, perfect moment in this whole job. For about half a minute. Then you realize how much work you still have to do – how many things you said you’d go back and fix, how no one will understand and you’re a complete fraud…

Stop! Stop doing this to yourself!

Even if your book sucks – if you changed your main character’s name mid-story or neglected to use any punctuation – it is still a book. A complete one! That you wrote! That’s the hardest part. Yes, you’re going to have to go back and do some rewriting – no one crafts eighty-to-a hundred thousand words perfectly the first time. For me, rewriting is always easier than the writing. So let yourself enjoy this moment… for a little bit longer than thirty seconds.

Emmy Award-winning writer Kate Rorick is the author of The Baby Plan for William Morrow. She is also a television writer and producer, most recently for TNT’s The Librarians. In 2014, Kate wrote for the You-Tube internet sensation, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and co-authored two books based on the series, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, and The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet. In her vast spare time, she moonlights as the bestselling author of several historical romance novels written under the pseudonym Kate Noble. Kate lives in Los Angeles with her family.


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