Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 14, 2022

The Hardest Book I’ve Ever Written

Julie Glover

I’ve got more than 10 full manuscripts under my belt and several short stories as well. While none has been a breeze, some have come easier than others. I recently got to wondering which book was the hardest to write.

Let me share my top three contenders, why they were so hard, and what I learned from them. Maybe by reading about my journey, you can avoid those bumps and jolts in the road that can frustrate or slow a writer down.

3rd Place

Coming into third place is the only novel that won me a NaNoWriMo badge one year. It’s not that the writing itself was a struggle—I found my 50,000 words to put down—but rather the result was messier than an unsupervised pizza party of preschoolers. When I read back through the manuscript, I realized that I got the story down quickly, but editing this baby was going to empty the red ink from all my pens.

Now, some do great with writing fast! If that’s you, keep up what works for you. But too many writers tell others they must churn out stories quickly to blow past that pesky self-critic that wants to question every word choice or to avoid getting stuck revising, revising, revising on chapter two.

Some call it the “vomit” method, meaning you vomit the words on the page, then clean it all up later to make it a beautiful story you can present to the world. And again, if that works for you, knock yourself out!

But after my experience, I know that isn’t what works for me. In fact, after I read that draft and realized how much effort would go into editing it to something good enough, I shoved the novel away and didn’t look at it for years. I’ll get back to it (because it’s a great story), but what I got out of NaNoWriMo was not a finished book but a lesson learned.

Give yourself permission to write the way you write, whether or not it works for someone else.

2nd Place

A cozy mystery idea came to me in 2017—the sort of sweet story fodder that sparks your excitement and makes you reach for a pen just to jot down the idea before you lose it. Then, I began writing.

But before I got too far, I was talked into plotting the novel scene by scene by a well-meaning mentor. After I finished that multi-page endeavor, I went back to the manuscript…and nothing came. For me, the story was out, done, not all that intriguing anymore.

Have you ever lost interest in a story that previously excited you? What snuffed out that spark?

While it might seem the lesson learned is the same as before—follow your own writing process—that’s not the full conclusion I drew. Rather, I think a writer should know what keeps them going. What spurs you on to finish a story?

Is it a deadline? A reward you’ve promised yourself? Hanging out with your characters? The sheer joy of word-by-word, scene-by-scene writing a novel? The sense of accomplishment when you see the final product? Or like me, learning whodunnit no sooner than two-thirds of the way through your own story? That is, I write in part to discover. If the discovery is already done, I’m a whole lot less interested.

Figure out why you write to The End, and lean into that motivation.

1st Place

In On Writing, Stephen King confessed to being a three-draft writer—the first rough draft, an edited second draft, and a polished third draft. Meanwhile, my YA contemporary novel Sharing Hunter took about 14 drafts. It’s a wonder I didn’t throw my hands in the air at some point and shout, “I give up!”

Or maybe I did. But I kept coming back, rethinking character arcs, reworking scenes, editing and polishing prose, until the product two drafts before the final one was nominated for an RWA Golden Heart* and landed me my dream agent. In 2019, I self-published that novel, and I am peacock-proud of how it came out.

Have you ever loved a story but gotten so frustrated that you wanted to chuck it?

Maybe you should chuck it. Some stories aren’t meant to be written. But other stories are worth the time and effort. Mind you, I could have cut down on a few of those drafts if I’d known sooner some of the wonderful things you can learn here on Writers in the Storm. If you can spare yourself some heartache, do so! But don’t give up just because it’s frustrating.

Former WITS host Laura Drake is the poster child for not giving up. She learned her craft, wrote and wrote until her manuscript shined, and sent out over 400 queries to agents to get her first book published. (And it’s a fantastic read!) As she has pointed out many times, if this writing stuff was easy, everyone would do it. They don’t, but we do.

Writing my hardest book taught me that it’s okay to move on from a project if you no longer want to do it, but…

If you love your story, keep writing and editing until you’re eager to put your name on the cover and get it out to readers.

I hope my lessons learned help you as well:

  1. Give yourself permission to write the way you write, whether or not it works for someone else.
  2. Figure out why you write to The End, and lean into that motivation.
  3. If you love your story, keep writing and editing until you’re eager to put your name on the cover and get it out to readers.

What’s the hardest book you’ve ever written and why? What lesson(s) did you learn from that process?

* * * * * *

About Julie

Julie Glover is an award-winning author of mysteries and young adult fiction. She also writes supernatural suspense under the pen name Jules Lynn.

She's currently working on book five in the Muse Island series, an honorable mention in the difficulty category due to scheduling issues. But it's her own fault for going to France this summer.

Start the Muse Island series with book one, Mark of the Gods!

Image by Wavebreak Media at Deposit Photos

*Golden Heart was a Romance Writers of America contest for unpublished manuscripts that was discontinued after 2019.

23 comments on “The Hardest Book I’ve Ever Written”

  1. Hi Julie!

    For me, thorough plotting takes the joy out of my writing discovery. Plotting made me sad.

    I do a very loose outline and let my characters have their way. Maybe that makes me a pantser with a plotter glaze.

    I used this method for NaNoWriMo. After a lot of laughing at my writing, (I was desperate to edit as I went and forced myself not to.) I managed to get a decent manuscript from it after many drafts.

    There is no one right way to create, in my opinion.

  2. Great advice, here, Julie. I'm a discovery writer, too. I usually know the beginning and the end (although not always) but the idea of plotting scene by scene gives me the shivers. So much happens when I begin to write and let my characters take over. Also, some people say you should keep a log of your characters so one of them doesn't change from having blue eyes in Chapter 1 to brown in Chapter 8. I can't understand this. I know my characters. I know what they look like. I have a whole bunch of characters in my current fantasy series, and know details of hair and eye colour, as well as many characteristics, as if they were my own family.

    1. I only need that kind of detail for a longer series, and even then just for secondary or tertiary characters. But others really want that checklist. Just goes to show that we have our own ways of doing things! Glad you found what works for you, Vivienne.

  3. Julie, I love this post and the lessons you share! I don't have as many books under my belt as you, but my first published book was the hardest I've written to date. I pantsed the first draft years ago but it took ten years and uncounted revisions and many, many lessons to get it ready to publish. But each book I write has new lessons waiting for me. One of the many reasons I love to write.

  4. I can't write a book in order, and I have 11 unfinished manuscripts to prove it. The orderliness of beginning to end takes the fun out of it completely for me, and it stops me cold in the process.

    However, if I figure out a basic story premise and write a bunch of scenes that can fit that, then I can stay excited about the story. I don't know exactly what will happen, but toward the end I have a scene list to check off.

    It's why I love NaNoWriMo - I've already got my basic list of scenes before I start so I don't go too far off track and it makes me stop and get my work done.

    1. Nice! I love your quilting method. I do something similar, though I call it puzzling (I think I got that word from Jaye Wells ?). Whatever works for you! And wow on 11.

  5. My toughest book to write was the first novel. A panster at the time, I knew just the bare basics and made all the mistakes one could possibly make. All of them. I was fortunate that the well-known editor took the time to tell me specifically what was wrong with it, in other words, how awful it was. I've come a long way since then.

  6. I did shelve one idea that I started once I realized the plot wasn't going to work. I have another 26K in that I stalled on and not sure if it can be salvaged. I have tons of story ideas that I've made notes for, outlined, or even written a synopsis for. I do that to get them out of my head when I'm writing a book. And it works. Sometimes, I look back and didn't remember I'd had that idea.

    My first book would need a complete rewrite as I was a total newbie with no clue about POV and passive versus active writing. I did love that story and those characters which I'd originally written their story as a movie that became a trilogy, but the motivation to write that has waned over the past decade.

    I think the hardest book to write was the first in my Bad Karma Special Ops series because I was learning so much that required me to rewrite and cut scenes - like over 40K cuts - TWICE! I probably match you on those 14 drafts (or more.) But I loved Mack and Kristie and it was the first in the series so it was key that the story and writing be solid so people would read the others in the series. And all that work did pay off. It has the highest rating of my books and I get great read-through to the other books.

    My first NaNo book did come together smoothly, however, the second I wrote out of order and piecing the scenes together ended up taking me longer than if I'd done my usual plotting and writing. However, my current project, is well mapped out and I hope to get through most of it during NaNo.

    I'm really glad Sharing Hunter was a GH finalist.

    1. Hey, fellow GHer! Yeah, that first book in a series sets the foundation, so I can see why that took extra time and effort. But you do have a great series going, so yay!

  7. Julie,

    Thanks for the post. I appreciate that you shared that part of your journey as a writer.

    Found the blurb about the first Muse Island interesting and have downloaded it to read over the weekend.

  8. Love this, Julie! The hardest novel I've written hasn't been finished yet and it may never be. Like you, I did the plotting thing and then it just didn't interest me any more.

    Leaning into your own process and what works for you is excellent advice!

    1. Thanks! I read a book a while back called PROCESS that really convinced me how important it is to just own your way of writing. Sure, try other ideas, but don't get stuck on someone else's method.

  9. I'm on the edge of tears as I write this, bc your words hit so close to the bone right now. I've got a women's fiction/romance weeks from launching (self-pub), and the assistant I hired to help me advised writing a short story similar to my novel. Meant as a lure to attract readers/newsletter subscribers. I had in mind to write the male MC as someone POSSIBLY neurodiverse,(like my son). I posted on a writing site for guidance, and got pinned to the wall. LOL. I was so excited to tell that story. I still might, Idk. Then, I find out the soon to launch novel is attracting exactly ZERO ARC readers on booksprout. Feedback on another site was that it's the cover, which I paid 500 for a professional to do. It's beautiful, but it looks too "churchy" "inspirational" not spicy romance, which it is. Sorry--don't mean to vent here, but so much seems wrong I don't even know what would take 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place at this point.

  10. Your experience with NANOWriMO is the same as mine. I wrote 60,000 words of trash and edited for months. I also put my work away as a tangled mess and went on to other projects. I know I'll get back to it, but it will require a complete rewrite. Where there's a pile of manure, there's a pony nearby.

    1. I have absolutely no doubt if I ever did NANo, this is exactly what my experience would be, too. No thank you. I have a hard time seeing the benefits of all that stress, but that's me.

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