Friday, January 30, 2015

My Book, My Baby


I’ve often heard writers refer to their books as their babies. I used to think that was just a wee bit precious, until I had a couple babies…and wrote a couple books.


I wrote “Happy, Indiana” in just over 9 months (Coincidence??? Uh, yeah, actually) but I planned the book, reading background materials and meticulously outlining it, for a year prior. This is how I approach most things in life--researching, studying, thinking, and I do the same with parenting--a stack of books by the bedside before we even conceived. It’s the anxious child in me still wanting to be prepared for any eventuality.

Note to self: I am not, nor will I ever be, prepared for any eventuality, in publishing or parenting.

Nevertheless, here’s some of what I’ve learned:

Writing a Book* is an incredibly emotional process, leaving you physically wrung-out on many days but utterly buoyant on others.

Writing a book is risky. There’s no guaranteed pay-off. You can’t do it because you want to be rich or famous, neither or which is very likely to happen. You can only do it, ultimately, because you love the process. But here’s the thing…how do you know you love the process of writing a novel until you write the novel?

Writing a book is different every day; every chapter, every scene, every page requires something new from me.

Writing a book gets easier…sort of. “Happy, Indiana” is actually my second novel. The first, “Come As You Are,” still awaits a home, and its near misses with publishers is the reason I’ve considered changing my middle name to “Runner-up.” I learned A LOT writing that book. There are mistakes I made writing it that I definitely did not make with the second book. (And yes, I’m now looking at my daughter, eldest child, poor thing…). But I made mistakes with “Happy, Indiana,” too, (and with my second child), entirely new mistakes, because, guess what, it’s an entirely different book!

No matter how long you spend outlining a book, the actual writing of it might take you in a completely different direction. This can be scary. It can also turn out wonderfully.

There are moments when I’ve loved this book so ferociously that I wanted to humble-brag it from the mountaintops of social media, and other times when I’ve said, fuck it, and left my laptop open and in dangerous proximity to a full glass of wine.

I can try and protect my book from the outside world, from comments (from agents, publishers, maybe someday reviewers, readers) that wound my tender sensibilities. I can do all the right things, but sometimes my book is going to be disparaged. And I have to know when to ignore, and when to notice the kernel of truth in that disparagement.

Writing a book is never “finished.” Even when you put down the red pen and say it’s finished, even if you manage to sell it and give readings to standing room-only crowds, you’ll still see things you wish you’d done differently.

*Replace Writing a Book with Being a Parent and see how that works. Non-parents, replace it with Baking a Perfect SoufflĂ© or Learning to Play the Ukulele. Whatever form of creativity you indulge in is bound to be messy.  Learning to embrace that messiness is what makes the process more enjoyable and the completion of it, even though it's never really finished, more satisfying.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Write More, Write Better: The Writing Resolution to End All Writing Resolutions!

My birthday is on New Year’s Eve, and oh boy, there’s a lot of pressure there, double the pressure I might say, to examine a whole year’s worth of accomplishments and shortcomings and look onward with either the rosy glasses of optimism or the very, very dark glasses of pessimism, depending on how many champagne toasts have been had.

Seriously, it’s the worst day ever for a birthday, but this post isn’t about my recently turning a year older, but about growing wiser, at least when it comes to writing resolutions.

I used to resolve to publish things in the coming year: a book, a higher number of short stories than I published the previous year, an essay in The Times (okay, I’ve never actually said that one, out loud).

I published in some nifty journals and magazines in 2014, and also came this close to getting my first novel published. I have considered changing my middle name to “Runner-up.” But I can’t control my competition, and there are a lot of talented writers out there, my friends! Plus, publishing decisions are based on many others things besides the quality of the work. Fun Fact: I once sat in on a judges’ panel (to hear how they determined which applications should receive grants) where a judge exclaimed, “I just really liked this writer's short story because I thought the talking bear was funny!”

I think it’s time to say, finally, in 2015, that I will leave publishing out of my resolutions. I can only resolve to do what is in my control, and that is, very simply, to write more, and write better. The more I write, the better I get. The better I get, the more the publications tend to happen.

All in all, 2014 was a good year. Seven pieces published (three stories, two essays and a humor piece) and a new novel finished! I have ambitious writing goals for 2015 as well, though sadly, they don’t include a talking bear.