Writing a book is not an easy task. Sometimes the process smacks me around, throws me into despair, wounds my pride, and yet, I keep coming back. Why? Because I simply cannot help myself. Because sometimes it goes right, and when it does, it feels like the best high ever. It feels like being madly in love and finding out the object of your desire loves you madly right back.
Right now, my latest book and I are temporarily at odds, but this is my fault. I was so excited, I wanted to rush the process. But it doesn’t work like that. Sure, cake batter takes about a half hour at 350 degrees to become a cake. A baby takes nine months to become a little human. But a book is done….when it’s done. You can’t set a timer or circle a date on the calendar.
Today, I’m thinking of an analogy I use a lot when I talk to high school kids (or anyone, for that matter) about the writing process. I find the best way to start writing a book is to pound out a rough first draft. I turn off my inner editor, and just let it out, in all its messy, creative, unformed beauty. Then, I have my lump of clay.
Sure, it’s just a blob, and it’s kind of ugly, but at least I have my blob! Hooray! It’s a start! Then little by little, I begin to smooth it into something with a little more form. Editing, brainstorming and re-writing give it more shape and structure.
Then, more editing. MUCH more editing…so that something hidden within the blob begins to emerge.
With time and dedication, little by little, that lump of clay starts to LOOK like something. Hey, this looks like a story! Maybe even a good story! I start thinking to myself…you know what, I know how to do this! I can love and smooth and craft this thing into something wonderful, I know I can.
And so, a few weeks ago, I typed “THE END,” and full of excitement and joy and pride and anticipation–“Look what I made!”–I sent my manuscript out to my agent and others for honest, give-it-to-me-straight critiques. The more excited I got about it as I waited for the responses, the more I imagined in my head that it might just be something good, something beautiful. Something, perhaps, like this:
Uh. But no. This is not how my manuscript was received. It was reality check time. Although the critiques were extremely encouraging overall, it was clear I had not sent out a finished, beautifully crafted work of art. Instead, I worried that I’d actually sent my cherished one out into the world looking something like this:
Okay. Cue the insecurities. (I suck at this! I’m delusional! Gaaaaahhhhh!) Yes, I railed for a little while. (In truth, it was only a few hours, but still…) Once I calmed down, I was able to embrace the kinder truth. No, my manuscript is NOT ugly. It will not make children run away on the streets crying, “dear God, what is that THING??” The truth is much easier to take. My manuscript is still a thing of beauty. It’s just not READY. It needs more editing, more polishing, more shaping. And so, within my process, I’m probably more realistically somewhere around here:
There is still work to be done, and I’m ready, willing, excited, (and yes, obsessed) enough to do it. Writing a book is not an easy task, and even though I have one published novel out there in the world, I am still learning. In fact, I doubt I’ll ever stop learning. There is more work ahead, more time to focus on this manuscript, much more love to give it. And it will be ready when it’s ready.