Recently I was asked if, now that I have written about 30 books (mostly as Shoshanna Evers, only three as Shoshanna Gabriel), writing novels has gotten easier.
My first thought was “Nope. Still really hard.” But the more I thought on it, the more I realized that every time we write a book, we learn something as writers (especially if we go through a critique process with beta readers or with an editor, followed by revisions).
I wrote my first full novel (as opposed to the myriad of first chapters I’d accumulated and abandoned) at the age of 19. It was a contemporary YA romance based on Macbeth. I still love the concept, but the actual book I had written was terrible. It contained every cliché, every bad-writing red flag you can think of, and as someone who loved to read, I was able to recognize my novel didn’t meet my own expectations. I printed it out, admired that it was the longest thing I’d ever written in my life (at a still-too-short 30k words), and put it away in a drawer.
The second novel I wrote (a romance targeted toward Harlequin) was better, much better, but it was still terrible. At this point I had the über-confidence of someone who hasn’t yet realized she is a newbie, so I sent my 50K-word “masterpiece” to Harlequin.
Form rejection, right off the bat. I was devastated. How could they not love it? It wasn’t until over ten years and a dozen published books later that I went back to that second manuscript and re-read it, finally noticing the glaring plot holes, wooden dialogue, stilted descriptions, and POV head-hopping that I hadn’t had the experience to notice when I’d first written it.
When I finally got published in 2010, I had already written and discarded numerous manuscripts. I’d taken writing classes, and read a hundred writing How-To books. And still, when I look back on my first traditionally published book (which was probably the sixth book I’d actually written?), I can see issues with my writing that aren’t in my current books. My writing had gotten better with time. Hopefully in another 20 years, I’ll look back at my books now and recognize that future-me has learned a few things.
But has writing gotten easier? In some ways, yes. I no longer stare at an empty page and wonder if I’ll ever be able to write a whole book, because I’ve done it many times before. History tells me no matter how long it takes, it will eventually get finished if I stick with it. I know about how long it takes me to write a book—that time period is significantly shorter now that I have so much practice under my belt. And I’m quicker at catching problems as I go: if a character lacks motivation or a goal, or if a scene is lacking conflict (both internal and external).
Some writers tell me their first book took five years to write, the second book took a year, and the third book took six months! As with anything, the more you practice the more efficient you get. When I fold laundry, I can get it done in a few minutes. But if my toddler daughter wants to “help”, it takes ten times as long because she is still learning how to fold clothes. She tries to do what she sees me doing, yet her efforts are clumsy and ineffective. She’s able to recognize that the crumpled shirt she adds to my pile of folded clothes isn’t the same, but she doesn’t know how to fix it. My toddler folding laundry is what I was like as a new writer. I knew what a good book looked like, but I didn’t know how to write one that wasn’t a crumpled mess.
So I guess it really *does* get easier. And your books will definitely get better, too. Keep writing. Write the next book, and the next and the next.