this writing thing ain't easy: what I learned in writing a next book

Sunday, January 5, 2014

If anyone is under the impression that writing gets easier with each book, I'd beg to differ. The first book is an open book—it has not yet been judged, branded, marketed, categorized. It comes from some pure, unfurnished room in the mind. It belongs, most truly, to you.

The second book is harder. You have whispers in your ear. You have that stuff that critics said. You have already used some of your favorite images, your most primal memories, and you have expectations now—those that originate within yourself and those that come from external forces. You move on, perhaps. Try a different genre or approach—a book with photographs, a corporate fairytale, a river talking, young adult novels for tweens, young adult novels for teens, young adult novels that you would rather not categorize, a book about the teaching you do. You keep redrawing the maps and raising the ante to somehow get yourself back into that place in which the writing can somehow feel brand new.

Yesterday, I sent Tamra Tuller, my editor, the final draft of a novel that has preoccupied me for eighteen months. I gave myself what seemed at the time to be the right degree of challenge—a foreign but not overly exotic setting, a condition no novelist (to my knowledge) has yet explored, an obsession that strikes at the core of me. I learned, in the making of the book, that I had set myself up for a long, long journey. I could get some parts right at the expense of others. I could be technically correct, but dull. I could deploy some tried and true strategies, but they felt like that—like strategies. I could go all out with a secondary character but miss the boat on the person whose story this was. It was like trying to manage a sine curve. The wrong things rose, the wrong things fell, I couldn't strike the balance.

I could write a book on the writing of this book. I could tell you how much Tamra has meant to me along the way—her truthfulness, her supportiveness, her ability to stop me from giving up on myself. "Think of how proud you will be when you get it right," she said, and I held onto that, through thick and thin, and a lot of the time it was thin.

The work I've done over the past few weeks was almost like writing the whole book again, new. Into the substrate of what I had finally figured out as plot and theme I at last worked the intimacy and urgency that all novels, especially those written for young adults, need. Nearly every page of what I had thought, in November, was a near to final draft, ended up looking like that one above. Written over, written over again, crossed out, tossed, begun again.

Oh, I have said to Tamra, and I will say to you: What I have learned, in writing this book. Not to give up, for one thing. Humility, for another.

5 comments:

kelly said...

Oh, man. Oh man oh man oh man I FEEL YA . . .

I too have plotted myself into a corner then had to knock holes in the walls to let the light in. Choosing between the ice pick and the mallet . . .

oh man. oh man.

Amy said...

I guess the good thing is that it comes together in the end?

Serena said...

You will only love the result more...

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

It would be so much easier to write the book right the first time. But I've never managed to do it. Has anyone?

Wendy said...

And when at long last it is published with a shiny new cover and the words that are just right...yes, Beth, you will be proud of yourself. Nothing worth having is ever easy. Can't wait to read it in its finished form! xo

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