Practice Makes Better

Are you tired of writing & childbirth comparisons yet?

I made one a few months back, though it might not have been quite the metaphor you expected. Today I have a new one!

In lieu of attending the Historical Novel Society’s annual conference last month (my oldest’s softball tournament got in the way!), I gifted myself three books on the writing craft. One of them was Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing, by novelist Libbie Hawker.

Ms. Hawker’s introduction tells the story of her promise to complete the first draft of a novel in (brace yourself) THREE WEEKS. And she did it, thanks to her solid outlining process. She assures other writers they can do the same with a little practice. I confess, I was completely mesmerized by this possibility.

And herein lies the childbirth comparison.

My first labor was really, really long, forty hours between water breaking and delivery (via c-section after all that). When I began preparing for labor the second time around, I really only cared about two things: 1) Having a VBAC, and 2) Getting it done in fewer than forty hours. Great news…I did it! My second labor lasted 11.5 hours, my third lasted 8 hours, and my final labor was only 4. That’s great progress, isn’t it?

Something they don’t really tell you when you are pregnant with your first baby is that first labors are quite often long and arduous. Forty hours might be extreme…turns out she was stuck in a crooked position, hence the cesarean. But the common reason for long first labors is because your body is doing something REALLY HARD that it has NEVER DONE BEFORE. 

In the process of that first labor, though, if you’re lucky, your body sort of gets “programmed,” and when labor starts the second (or third, fourth, fifth, etc.) time, it remembers. It thinks, “Hey, I have done this before! I practiced! I know what’s going on!” So it can now get the job done more efficiently.

What is writing other than practicing? When we write our first novel, it’s REALLY HARD and we’ve NEVER DONE IT BEFORE. The more we do it, the process doesn’t necessarily get easier (just as labor doesn’t get less painful, trust me), but with experience we get better at it. We cope with the pain and the challenge more skillfully than before. When we sit down to write the second (or third, fourth, tenth, twentieth) novel, we remember we have done it before, and now we have a much better idea of what it takes.

Libbie Hawker makes no guarantees, but if she wants to teach me to draft a novel in three weeks, I am all for it! In reality, though, I don’t have a certain timeframe in mind. The only thing I want is to finish a novel in less than the two years it took me to write, revise, polish, and begin querying my first one. That’s not such a big ask, and as I diligently work on the second draft of my second novel, I see a tiny ray of light: the possibility that I could be querying this one by fall or winter, which would only be a little over one year since I started drafting. 

There is no magic formula. We work hard. We practice. We get better. And in the process, faster and stronger, too.

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