Shadow and Bone author Leigh Bardugo got to share her thoughts, along with 20 other well-known authors, on the process of writing a novel, including your first one. As one who’s debut series’s final book has yet to come out, I’m sure the first time process is probably fresh in her mind. Read below what she had to say:
When did you decide to write what became your first book? What were you doing for a living at the time?
Leigh Bardugo (first book Shadow and Bone): I was working as a makeup and special-effects artist at the time and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Before that I’d worked as a journalist, I’d worked as a copywriter. When my dad passed away I decided to switch careers. I needed to be away from a computer screen and around people. I think not writing for my day job helped to let that muscle relax during the day so that I felt like writing when I came home at night.
Was the proposition of writing a book intimidating or crazy-seeming, or were you confident you could do it?
Leigh Bardugo: I believed all my life that I could write a book. I thought if not easy, it would be a pleasurable journey. I don’t think I could have been more wrong about that. I think that one of the myths we have about creativity is that sometimes we have a calling, that you know that every day of your life, when in truth, half of writing a first draft is very much about failure.
Had you attempted to write other books prior to the one you ultimately published first?
Leigh Bardugo: I tried to write a bunch of books. I would get an idea and I would race into writing. I was so excited. Momentum would usually carry me through 50 pages or so and then I would hit a serious bump or I would lose steam or I would have one of those slow days. That slow day would turn into a slow week and then a slow month and I would step away from it and never come back.
Did you show people sections or drafts of your manuscript as you wrote it?
Leigh Bardugo: I sent the draft to two people, a friend who’s a TV writer and another who’s an academic. Neither of them is huge into young adult or science fiction, but I knew they would at least appreciate what I was trying to do. They understood how to tell a story. This is something I tell writers, aspiring writers all the time: Choose your readers wisely. Choose people who aren’t going to bring their own ego or their own agenda to the page. You have to trust them wholly so that when they come to you with things you don’t want to hear, you can’t just dismiss them.
What helped you get through, despite the obstacles you encountered?
Leigh Bardugo: I basically tricked myself into writing the first draft of Shadow and Bone. Every time that voice kicked in that said, It’s not good enough, instead of trying to fight it, I said, You’re absolutely right. Nobody’s ever going to see it. I just have to write it and then I can put it in a desk drawer or send it out to sea or set it on fire.
All told, how long did it take you to write the book, from idea to selling it?
Leigh Bardugo: From idea to sending out the manuscript was a little under a year. It was a really great year.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known then? What advice would you give your younger self?
Leigh Bardugo: I used to believe in the myth of the big idea: The big idea hits and you never look back. It’s sort of like when you meet a couple that’s been together for a long time and the question you ask is “How did you guys meet?” And there’s always a great story. But the real question — and the one that hopefully you’re too polite to ask — isn’t “How did you guys meet?” but “How did you stick together?” That’s the story of writing a book. How did you stick with it? How did you get through the day-to-day? I think one of the reasons you get so many questions about process — “Do you plot?” “How do you do it?” “How do you do it every day?” — is because people want to believe there’s a way to take the pain out of the process of writing. And there really isn’t. You’re going to have days that are terrible.
You can check out the whole interview with all the other participating authors, including Dean Koontz and Charlaine Harris, on Buzzfeed.