Something I’ve noticed over the past five years (which, by the way, is how long I’ve been writing novels with anything resembling purpose or motivation) is that almost every author I know has a “problem child” book.
It’s typically not their first book that earns this title, and I think that’s because first books are tortuous simply because they are first books, and we as authors are having to drag ourselves through the muck of learning how the heck to even do this. It’s like any other first: buying your first house, sitting for your first job interview, putting out your first toaster oven fire.
NOT THAT I SPEAK FROM EXPERIENCE.
(And yes, there was a first toaster oven fire, which means this has happened to me more than once. But we don’t have to talk about that right now.)
(The important thing is that we no longer own a toaster oven, and frankly, I don’t foresee a time in our future when that might change.)
What I’m trying to say is that writing your first book is a special kind of learning process. It takes forever (for me, anyway) and you have to do a ton of rewriting because you’re learning as you go. The difficulty of the process is expected, and we come out the other side feeling stronger, smarter, and more capable of producing quality work.
(Not that we delude ourselves into thinking there’s nothing left to learn. Because obviously, we still have–as our English friends might say–HEAPS to learn, no matter if you’ve written one book or twenty books or five books or no books.)
At this point in my writing career, I’ve drafted, revised, edited, and polished four complete manuscripts. And it hit me today that one of them has transformed from a sweet, giggling, dimple-cheeked Book Baby into a surly, snarky Book Problem Child.
Can you guess which one it might be?
It isn’t Shadows; that was my first one, my guinea pig, my Figure-This-Thing-Out Book Child.
It isn’t even Synthesis, as you might have thought; that was my Runaway Book Child. I couldn’t get it to cooperate no matter how hard I tried, and in the end, I had to let it go. I’m sure it’s doing fine, probably pursuing a TV acting career in Los Angeles, living in a closet-sized flat and waiting tables to make ends meet. One day I’ll catch a glimpse of Synthesis in the background of a scene on Law & Order, and I’ll smile, and then maybe I’ll get a card in the mail with no return address that simply says I made it, Ma, and then–as a single tear rolls slowly down my cheek and the sun glimmers across my face–I’ll finally gather the courage to turn Synthesis’s old room into an office and sell its elementary school soccer trophies at a yard sale.
(That got weird REALLY quick, didn’t it?)
The Book Problem Child isn’t Pull, either. In fact, Pull is currently making all A’s and just got named captain of the volleyball team. Sure, it’s got a few issues to work through, but what book doesn’t? It’s kind and thoughtful, always putting its dishes in the dishwasher and making dinner every Thursday night.
(I’m really sorry, y’all. This is not what I intended to do when I started this post. The crazy is just oozing today, I guess.)
So that leaves Creepy Faces, doesn’t it?
Yes. YES IT DOES.
I expected Creepy Faces (not the real title, for anybody who’s new around here) to be EEEEEASY. I thought I’d get it done in no time flat, that the story would write itself, that I’d have it drafted and revised and edited and polished in under six months.
That did not happen.
I wrote it the first time, and it was okay. I sent it to betas. They sent it back.
It was not, in fact, okay (and a good beta reader can help you see this without destroying your soul in the process.)
I wrote it again, and it was okay. I sent it to more betas. They sent it back.
It was really, really not okay. In fact, I think I made it worse.
I wrote it a THIRD time, and I was so overwhelmed with the manuscript, I couldn’t even finish it. I sent it to Agent Emma with a cheery LOL BET YOU THOUGHT THIS BOOK HAD AN END, DIDN’T YOU? at the bottom of my final page, which was somewhere around the 50,000 word mark and stopped in the middle of a paragraph.
She agreed it needed work. We talked on the phone, and that’s when I realized this book didn’t need work.
It needed REHAB.
I took a week away from it to gain some perspective, and then I dove in.
That was June, I think. And since then, I’ve worked on it, quit working on it, considered giving up, worked on it some more, thought about it, wished I could throw it across the room, dreamed about it, loved it, wanted to kick it to the curb, and worked on it again.
Then, the last week of August, I made a plan to get the thing DONE–and believe it or not, it’s working.
My plan is this: 1,000 words per day.
It’s more than I could normally do, given the fullness of my daily schedule, but I can manage it with this one because I already have so many words written. Sometimes my 1,000 words are simply copied from another version of the manuscript and then edited to fit the current version. Sometimes they are brand new words. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two.
But right now, I’m about three days ahead of schedule, and that feels pretty awesome given the way this book has gone so far.
It’s like we’ve had a “come to Jesus” meeting (that phrase might not make any sense if you don’t live in the Deep South, sorry) and we’ve set some new ground rules, and maybe I’ve taken its phone away and revoked its TV privileges until it proves it can cooperate for the long haul. Creepy Faces and I would appreciate your continued prayers and encouragement as we navigate the waters of this new healing phase in our relationship.
I’m cautiously optimistic, y’all. And that’s the best thing I’ve been able to say about this book in a long time.