Tuesday, December 18

On Writing a Book


Writing a book is hard. Yesterday, as Liz and I had our usual morning g-chat she said, okay, she typed, those words. Simple as the words are, the idea is huge because of the truth of it. In these days of indie publishing, where anyone can put a book up on Amazon, those words need to be said.

I’m not going to rant about the folks who put up the books that haven’t seen an editor, the books that are full of misspellings and bad punctuation and lousy story structure. The folks who read a book, think well, I can do that, and throw a few weeks’ worth of minor effort up on Amazon and voila, they’re a novelist! We’ve all grabbed those books, often because they're free, thinking that the blurb sounded interesting, only to find out that although the concept may have sounded good, the execution made the story impossible to read. Sometimes we're surprised and the book is great, but more often they're disappointing. The saddest thing is maybe they could have been good… if the author had realized that writing a book is hard.

I’m going to talk about the writers who get up at five thirty or six a.m. every morning because they need to get in at least an hour of writing in before their “real day” begins. Or the ones who are pounding away at their keyboards at two a.m. because at last, the way to make that quirky scene work finally came to them. They’ve gotten out of bed to write because after weeks of thinking and toying with the recalcitrant scene, gutting it and starting over ten times, they’ve woken up out of a dead sleep with it fully written in their head. So it’s a mad rush to the computer to get it all down before it disappears because it will if they wait until morning.

You know the writers I mean, right? The ones who are sitting in roomful of people, but it’s clear they’re somewhere else? They probably are, they’re creating a setting or running dialogue in their heads while everyone else is discussing who got eliminated from Dancing with the Stars the night before. And if they’re staring at you, don’t worry—they’re probably trying to find the words to describe the amazing azure blue of your eyes because it’s the exact same color as their heroine’s eyes. Or they’re watching how you gesture when you talk, making mental notes as you lean forward in your chair to emphasize whatever point you’re emphasizing.

I’m going to tell you about the writers who carry a notebook or use their phone’s Notes app to capture people, places, ideas, pieces of conversations, and words, no matter where they are. Writers who’ve even been known to jot down a quick note about an idea on the edge of church bulletin because yes, they know they should be listening to the sermon and they are, but that word the pastor just said set off a string of creative ideas that they just have to get down before they’re gone.

I’m talking about the writers who discuss their story endlessly with their fellow writers, who suffer over every word and then suffer again after they’ve turned the work over to critique partners and then again when it goes to an editor. You know what the hardest thing for a writer to do is? It’s not putting the book up on Amazon because anyone, literally anyone at all, can do that. Nope, it’s letting a professional editor read it because that writer knows the editor is going to take all the months of writing apart, paragraph by paragraph.

But if they’re good writers, they listen to what the critique partners think, to whatever the editor says, carefully considering each comment and suggestion. They may ultimately not make an editor’s changes, but they’ll deliberate over every one, and mostly they will make the changes, because real writers always want their stories to be better and an objective opinion is frequently how that happens. That’s why they pay an editor. 

I speak from both sides of the desk--as a writer and as an editor--when I tell you this, writing a book is hard. However, if you're called to be writer, it's also a glorious passion and when you know in your soul that your stories are the best they can be, sharing them with the rest of the world is the ultimate satisfaction. 

9 comments:

  1. I love this! A great, great post. And it is hard, damn hard!

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    1. Yup, it is, but having you in my life makes it bearable. ;-)

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  2. Hello--I saw this link on one of my FB pages and came over to have a look. And then I saw that Liz is here! Very nice post--and yes, it's hard. I come at from both a writer and an independent editor, too, so I've both done and seen all the various strategies to get words on paper! What we do for love is nothing compared to what we do to write! Thanks--I'll be back.

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  3. So glad you came by, Virginia! You know exactly where I'm coming from, don't you? I love, "what we do for love is nothing compared to what we do to write!" Thank you for that!

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    1. I signed up on the followers list--looking forward to reading more.

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  4. Great post, Nan. Writing is so hard and it's discouraging when some people don't take the process seriously, or respect readers. I'm going to keep trying to be one of those writers who weighs each word carefully.

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  5. I find I weigh the words more when I'm editing/polishing...because there are times when I'm drafting that I just have to get the gist down.

    I remember writing at McDonalds one more when bebe was in pre-K and I must've been staring at this woman for *a long time* because finally she yelled at me to stop staring. I hadn't even realized she was there. I was totally somewhere else, working out a scene in my mind and she just happened to be in what should have been my eye-line. I apologized to her and tried to explain that I wasn't actually staring but...

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  6. Haven't we all done that, Kristi? Husband doesn't accuse anymore, he simply says, "You're writing, aren't you?" when I'm gazing at him over coffee in the morning. Uh, yup...

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