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December 11, 2017

Writing May Not Get Easier Because You’re Getting Better --- Guest Post by Erica Cameron, Author of SEA OF STRANGERS


When you're a writer, there's nothing more difficult --- or rewarding --- than finishing the first draft of a novel. You may think that a book's journey is over here, but then comes the editing and revising stage. While authors improve their skills with each and every draft, writing a book never really gets easier, especially as you become more and more imaginitive. In this post, author Erica Cameron tells us about the toughest book she ever wrote, which happens to be her most recent, SEA OF STRANGERS.

Practice makes perfect --- or at least grants expertise, right? That’s what I’ve heard time and time again, but sometimes I’m convinced that creative endeavors don’t follow that so-called rule. Within the realm of writing, each book is a new challenge for me, and those challenges never seem to get any easier to beat. That was definitely the case with SEA OF STRANGERS. No novel since my very first one was as much of a challenge as this book.

To put it in context, my debut novel SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE had an odd life cycle. It began as a short story, and then I wrote a novella from an alternate point of view. Eventually, I combined those two sides of the story into one book. When it sold to Spencer Hill Press, I worked with professional editors for the first time, and they helped me tear my book apart. I rewrote it entirely once, and then I rewrote pieces of it often enough to probably constitute a second rewrite. Although I’ve had to really dig into drafts since then, nothing has come close to the work I put into SING. Until this past year, at least.

The first draft of SEA OF STRANGERS took me three and a half months to complete, and I was editing NEMESIS --- the second book in my Assassins duology --- at the same time. It was a difficult book to finish, but I felt okay about it when I sent it off to my Entangled editor, Kate Brauning.

Only the first chapter has survived from that draft, and even that hasn’t come through unchanged.

Over the next seven-plus months, I rewrote the book twice. Completely rewrote it, as in scrapped it and started over. Although I did steal bits and pieces from the previous draft each time, most of the book was new. It had to be in order to fix everything that wasn’t working in the story. Despite how much work she demanded from me on the novel, I’m extraordinarily grateful to my editor. Even when I was sitting on my living room floor turning a printed copy of the book into an odd sort of jigsaw puzzle with scissors, colored pens, and lots of tape, I trusted that Kate’s notes would make the book better, take it to a level I definitely couldn’t on my own. After working on two books together, I trust Kate to help me whittle the book down to the core story I meant to tell.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t grueling, exhausting work.

Several times, especially in the moments I got stuck on a scene or couldn’t work out how to solve a particular problem, it was hard not to imagine giving up. It’s not like I haven’t done this before; why was it so hard this time around? Had I honestly forgotten how to write a book suddenly? No, but the world I created had gotten bigger, the characters had become more complex, the problems they faced had gotten trickier, and the solutions to those problems were suddenly harder to find.What I had to remind myself is that SEA OF STRANGERS was harder to get right because I had built a more complicated world. Also, I demanded more of myself than I had before. I knew what I had previously created, and I wanted this series to get better than each previous book in the series and everything I’d written before them.

Writing never gets easier because writers get better. Each book should teach an author something about storytelling, or character psychology, or their own process. With every lesson, authors find new goals to reach and new ways to get there. It’s something to remember as a new writer, something that’s hard to remember sometimes, but it’s necessary. Don’t get discouraged if you never feel as though writing gets easier. It’s not necessarily supposed to. If you’re one of the lucky few who do find it gets easier with time and practice, congratulations! The fates have smiled on you. For the rest of us, perseverance is the word to remember. Writing may not get easier, but that’s because you’ll be getting better.