What I Learned Writing Among Thieves
If there is one thing I know for sure about the world of writing, it’s that being a writer means committing to being a lifelong student. There is no such thing as being “done” learning about writing. Every project, hell, every chapter of every project, comes with a learning curve of varying steepness.
I’ve said it before, one of the best ways to learn about writing is just to write and figure it out as you go. But another great way to learn is by reading about the experiences of other writers. So, in this post I’m going to share a few of the lessons I learned writing my debut novel, AMONG THIEVES, in the hopes that you can learn them the easy way instead of the hard way like I did.
Lesson One: Build First, Draft Later
I was not a complete novice to novel-writing when I started writing AMONG THIEVES, but I was definitely still finding my sea legs. I had written four full novels previously, queried two, and gone on sub with my agent with one. But AMONG THIEVES was the first time I front-loaded the hell out of my work process.
I read about four or five nonfiction books for research, I spent hours worldbuilding and interviewing my characters, I did more prep work for this novel than I had done for the four novels before it combined. And you know what? It made eeeeverything else so much easier.
When I have a new idea all I want to do is put pen to paper and start drafting… but AMONG THIEVES made me realize that, for me, it works better if I spend some solid time laying my foundation before I start trying to build my story-house.
Lesson Two: Follow Your Gut
This lesson actually comes from before I started writing the novel I now call AMONG THIEVES. About five years ago, I started drafting a project I called SILVER CRESCENTS AND CELLAR MICE. It was a YA fantasy story set in the world that would eventually become Thamorr (the story world of AMONG THIEVES). I drafted probably 50k of that novel… stopped, started over… stopped 30k in and started over again, but it just wasn’t working.
Instead of insisting on trying to make that YA story work, I trusted my gut and let it go, starting work on another project (that also eventually got shelved). Then, about a year later, the idea for AMONG THIEVES came to me, and I realized that the unused story world from SILVER CRESCENTS was perfect for it. If I hadn’t followed my gut initially and let that YA sit and marinate, I don’t think AMONG THIEVES would ever have been written - or at least it would be a very different story from the story it is today.
Lesson Three: Be Flexible
This is honestly a lesson that anyone who wants to be traditionally published needs to learn. Before my agent and I sent AMONG THIEVES out on submission, we went through probably ten rounds of edits together on the project. Some of the edits were small, but some were pretty massive - changing or removing entire characters, adding whole plot points and chapters, etc.
As a realist and a person who wants to be traditionally published, I have always been pretty flexible with edits, but AMONG THIEVES is a great example of how making concessions on small points (e.g., the role of a specific side character, or the timing of an important reveal) can not only allow you to publish a story you really want to tell, but can make the overall message and story stronger. I now can’t imagine trying to publish the story as it was when I initially brought it to my agent. Being flexible not only got me a book deal, but helped a story I already loved become that much stronger.
Lesson Four: Good Things Are Worth The Wait
I have actually made a whole post on patience here, but it’s worth reiterating. I am not a patient person by nature. I don’t like sitting still, and I don’t do well with waiting.
… I also started writing AMONG THIEVES in 2016.
That’s right, me, the queen of impatience, has sat on this book (or, more accurately, worked on this book) for more than four years, and as of the writing of this post I still have about a year left to wait before it hits shelves. But in those four years, I have grown as a writer and a person - and the story has had the opportunity to grow along with me.
You only get one debut novel - take your time, wait for your opportunity, and work like hell.
What lessons have you learned writing your projects? Let’s start a conversation, you can find me on Twitter @mj_kuhn or on Instagram @mjkuhnbooks.