Wednesday, April 11, 2012

This is what writing a book looks like.

First, you pluck an idea out of the ether. Or it plucks you. Either way, the idea starts to embed itself into your subconscious, weaving itself into the rhythms of your life until you barely even know it’s there. It sits with you, for months. Just sits. Maybe you mention it to someone, this idea that’s been following you around, or that you’ve been following around. People look at you funny or tell you, 'hey that sounds like a short story, not a novel'. You don’t listen because you don’t write short stories. You think in novels.

The idea lingers for half a year, and then you sit down to write it. The first chapter pours out of you, and you think, this is the best idea ever. This is going to be the best book ever. I love this!

You will soon change your mind, however.

After reading and rereading that first chapter dozens of times, you’ve decided that it’s actually perfect, and the rest of the book is going to pale in comparison, so you should just give up now. You tuck chapter one away.

At a conference, a big time editor sits down with you to talk about your manuscript. She’s not really interested in the finished one, the one that got you into the conference. But when she asks if you’re working on anything else, you mention ‘the idea’ and show her that shiny new chapter you just happened to bring with you and she hands you her card and says, “That one. I want that one. Send it to me when it's finished.” You leave the conference feeling dizzy.

The next six months are hell. You stare at chapter one. You sit at the desk, forcing yourself to pound out words. You give them to Joe to read, and then pound out more. Some weeks, you write thousands of words. Some months, you write no words. That’s right. Total monthly word count = zero. Some days, you love this book. It’s the best idea ever, remember? Other days, you hate it with a thousand burning hates. It’s boring. The protagonist is whiney. (Where did she get that from, I wonder?) Nothing happens. There’s no chemistry. Nothing is at staaaakkkee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You put the book away and go back to the first book. That finished one, the one whose characters you know so well, they can’t surprise you. You re-write that book. You re-write it again. You send it out, trying to snag an agent.

Meanwhile, there’s the idea. The shiny one. The one you love-hate. Your cousin takes you with him to Florida and you make yourself work on it. You start to fall in love again, you write lots of words, lots of shiny new scenes. And then when you get back, it quickly fades away. Too boring. Not enough happening. You don’t know how to tie it all together. It's the worst idea ever.

And then one day, as you're walking home through the park, lightning strikes. You get in the door and viciously start cutting scenes, putting some that were at the end near the beginning and some that were at the beginning near the end. You cut the timeline in half. You change the whole story around.

You finish the damn thing.

Wait, what? Seriously? Did that just happen? You sit there, staring at the very end of the very last scene, and it’s glorious. Or at least it’s ten times better than the first draft of your first book (which, let's be honest, was grotesque). You look up from the screen and think to yourself, “Whoa. Writing a book is SO EASY.” You think this because at this point you are completely delusional.

You give it to Joe to read. He confirms your feelings (about you being delusional, but also about the book being pretty good) and then he carefully or not so carefully nudges you with all the things that are wrong. So you sit down to fix all the wrong things, and all the crazy starts all over again.

This is what writing a book looks like.