I’m halfway through the fourth draft of my book-in-progress and I felt it would be a good time to share some of the tortuous journey with you so far. Also, I really like critical self-reflection. And complaining.
Most mornings when I rise before the dawn, I just want to go back to bed for another hour, or, if I’m feeling lively, curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a book before I take our doggie for a walk and go to work. I know it’s my choice to get up that early to ensure I get my writing done for the day, because later on I often don’t have the time or the mental capacity after engaging with people and their negative energy all day, but like I said, I do like to complain.
And of course I need to get it done because I want to make money off my writing. It’s a sweeping generalization to say that every writer, especially those of us who write pop fiction, wants to make money off their work, but I do feel many of us do. However, in a moment of humility, may I liken myself to my hero, Stephen King, when I say that for me it’s not just about making the big bucks (which aren’t often very big, after all, unless you actually are SK). I’d still wake up every morning to write knowing full well I’d never make a cent because writing is what I want to do and what I love to do. Imagine discovering an entire world under the fabric of our own, and sharing it with other people using copious comma splices and adverbial fragments.
(Another reason I love writing fiction, which, if my old English students ever read this or my stories, would reveal my hypocrisy, and is also probably part of the reason I couldn’t hack it as An Academic … too weird, out there, grammatically incorrect.)
But it’s also a compulsion. If you, like me, suffer from migraines, then you’ll know what I’m talking about when I talk about writing as a kind of unseen darkness that fills your skull and makes light look strange, too shiny, as if your eyes are filled with water, or mirrors. And then the unbearable pressure which eventually bursts into a mind-numbing spike-filled vice on your brain and your senses. When I don’t write, I get the darkness and the pressure, without the burst, and it stays in my head all day, which, for me, is always worse than the migraine itself.
That could be a different problem, after all.
Anyway, it has been a long, and certainly tortuous, road to get to this point with my writing. I had the initial germ of this idea back in college, one semester when I was taking a course called Women in Medieval Literature and another, Old English. But I officially went into labor back in September 2016. The story went through months of conceptual development; then the first draft which I like to call Draft Zero, or Shit on Paper; then another complete draft, Shit the Second; a very gracious friend and beta reader named Anna who is also an amazing writer; another draft, in the midst of which I completely overhauled my chapter breakdown; and now this one.
Whenever I FaceTime my grandma she’s like, did you write your book yet, your aunt wants to read it, and I’m like yeah almost four times, can she receive a PDF?
And I’m still not done. Maybe there will be another draft after this, depending on my readers’ feedback. Then there’s the synopsis and query letter. Querying itself.
Some people say Don’t Worry, It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect. Which I know, and I’m not trying to make it Perfect – even if I use a lot of comma splices, one thing I stand by from my teaching is that a text is never perfect, it’s never finished, it’s always living and, therefore, can always be changed and improved – but I am trying to make this the story that’s in my mind. I can see everything playing out in my mind’s eye as if it were a film.
It’s hard for me to translate that to the page because, honestly, I’m just not that great of a writer naturally, I need to work really hard to be decent – but it’s so much fun, it’s so worth it. Even though I’m braindead each morning when I make my coffee and sit down to write, there are other minds at work. Other people waking up and coming to life on the page. I don’t think writers are gods, because I don’t think writers create stories, or characters, or worlds. There really isn’t an Original Idea, just your way of telling it.
I think writers are oracles. I think we are conduits, facilitators, translators – magicians. We give access to others’ lives and stories and worlds that we’ve been honored to bring into this one. We’re midwives to something that lives inside all of us. The miracle of existence.
And to be honest I would rather be an oracle than a god. Many oracles (stereotype alert) live in darkness, and scented smoke, and depression, and have cool things like crystals and Tarot cards and echoing chambers or caves, which I like very much. Or maybe that’s just me.
Either way, I just wanted to say writing is hard work and I think about giving up all the time, but that would be like giving up breathing, or walking, or eating pizza, which I would never do, so – see you again in 50k.