[Editor’s note: The Book Project is a two-year program offered through Lighthouse that gives writers the classes, mentorship, and support they need to finish a book-length work. The Book Project is currently accepting applications. Click here for more information. Applications are due June 20!]
By Erika Krouse
I asked my graduating Book Project group to write about what they learned while trying to complete their books during the program’s two years. I feel so fortunate to have worked with this brilliant group of people! Prepare to be inspired.
- Writing is a craft, made up of skills you can break down, decode, and learn. Skill by skill, you become a better writer. Put a story on top of that, well, then, Marjorie, you got somethin’ there.
- If you learn point of view early, early on, then all those crazy people inside your head get their shots at the wheel. You learn point of view and peace to boot. And your books become a lot clearer and simpler for the reader. He said.
- All those stupid exercises and prompts? They work. Do every single one of them, and one day, bam, you will thank yourself. Like that day when, on Uber-Endings Question #732, you write an ending that haunts you so much that it blows away the last 30 versions you loved and plops into place right before The End forever. Like me. The End.
- Characters don’t fall out of the sky. They have to grow from the world you make for them. So all those exercises (see above) that have you poking and prodding at your protagonist, giving them parents, asking if they had a broken ankle once? Do them, ya character.
- Over two years, if you’re lucky, you’ll grow into a group of fellow travelers who will stick with you. Applaud for your crappy reading at author’s nights. Drink your cheap drinks. Be interested in the next thing you put on paper. You will find a level of commitment you don’t find often, to writing and to you, all in one. I got lucky myself.
- I guess the most important thing I learned was to take myself more seriously as a writer, which sounds somehow dumb and pretentious at the same time. Like I should say it while wearing a dunce cap as well as a beret. But working on a book, seriously working on a book, has taught me how to prioritize my writing and say no to less important things, like reruns of 30 Rock (most nights anyway…). It’s also meant holding myself to a higher standard. Before Book Project, I really didn’t think of my stories as things that would maybe, I hope, be published someday, so I wrote stories that would definitely never be published someday. I’ve learned how to aim higher in my drafts and make more considerate choices, which is a lot harder but a lot more rewarding.
- I’ve also learned that writing a book is really very hard, and it’s a lot easier with other people. Especially other people who drink margaritas with you and like going on weird road trips and are maybe the best people you’ve ever met. *All the heart emojis*
- It’s great to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and the Book Project did that for me.
- I had several knowledge gaps about the craft of writing (plot, setting) and this helped me start filling those in.
- Revision sucks.
- I need to take time between classes to let them soak in.
- Other people are really nice. The camaraderie and support of my peers has been invaluable.
- I learned how to handle volumes of material.
- I learned how to become a writer. Meaning, I learned what worked best for me, my schedule, and my style. I’m episodic. I write in bursts. The Book Project is flexible enough to work for all different types of writers.
- I learned to believe in myself as a writer. I joined the project with aspirations of becoming a writer—and I am one.
- The community sealed the deal. I am so grateful to have such a fabulous cohort and a great mentor!
- It is reasonable to struggle (or maybe what I really mean is something more like wrestle or spar and lose most of the time).
- Everybody struggles (see aforementioned definition of struggle).
- It’s better to struggle together.
- I got to know a bunch of amazing people who happen to be amazing writers. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
- I learned that 50 percent of writing is “just” being willing to take emotional risk.
- That our evolution as writers happens in fits and starts.
- Writing is an exercise in empathy. This includes with our imagined reader(s) and ourselves.
- Quit chasing so many metaphors. Metaphors are dangerous in good/bad ways.
- Learned a hell of a lot about how plot works although I’m not sure I know how to do it yet.
- Learned how to not be in constant mortal panic with my writing. Not really kidding either.
- Learned most writers are nearly as crazy as most therapists. It’s usually a good crazy.
- Learned that at some point in a draft you have to totally commit to what you’ve started and see where it ends or you will start over again ad infinitum.
Erika Krouse is the author of the novel Contenders and the short story collection Come Up and See Me Sometime. She is one of the Book Project’s four mentors, along with William Haywood Henderson, Eleanor Brown, and Benjamin Whitmer.