I have spent the last seven months or so wrangling with The Impossible Book. Never mind the working title, that’s what I’ve begun to call it in my head. Now, I’ve published 8 books at this point, so I do know the universal truth about book writing: it is freaking hard work. No author–at least no one I know–shrugs and says, Oh yeah, easy-peasy. when asked about their work in progress. In fact, if you’re writing a book now, just go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back for being brave enough to tackle the challenge. Because every book is a challenge. Every book I write is going to present those moments when I realize that the plot’s timeline needs to be restructured, or a whole chapter needs to be ripped out, or that I need to dig deeper into the hero’s emotional journey.
But this book–Gah! It started off as almost a lark–an idea that popped into my head and I thought, Oh, that will be a quick, fun book to write.
Ha. Ha Ha Ha. Has anyone out there seen the movie Austen Powers? You know that scene where he’s trying to kill the evil spy woman who just won’t die no matter what he does to her? And finally they fall out of an upper-story window together and he has his hands around the woman’s neck saying, WHY. WON’T. YOU. DIE? I was just telling my husband that that is how I have begun to feel about this book: WHY WON’T YOU LET ME TYPE ‘THE END’? I have a file of everything I’ve deleted from this book that is now approximately twice as long as the book itself. And the book is over 100K long! I’ve ripped out huge chunks of plot threads, changed the voice, the setting, the characters . . . and not just once for any of those.
Why has this book been so hard? I have no idea. Seriously. Seven months into the process and the best I can come up with is ‘some books are just like that’. Anyone who has thoughts on why some books are just like that, sound off in the comments and let me know! However, what I have discovered is that the past seven months of book-wrangling have pushed me towards some valuable lessons, which I’d like to share here today. Because focusing on the positive enables me to suppress the eye-twitch I’ve also developed over the last seven months. No, just kidding. Mostly. I really am grateful for the whole experience. But in the hopes that maybe I can help you shorten your own impossible-book-wrangle, I will tell you what I’ve learned.
I can do hard things. I read about this idea somewhere and decided awhile back that I was going to make it my personal mantra: I can do hard things. It’s so simple–and yet it’s just an invaluable mindset to be able to place yourself into when faced with a challenge. And let me tell you, I have seldom needed it more than when wrestling with this book! Every book reaches a point where it would be so much easier to give up on it, scrap the whole idea and give in to the siren call of a shiny new idea that promises that, No, really, I will be an easy book to write. Don’t do it! Don’t give up those characters of yours. They’re counting on you to tell their story. And you can do it–because you can do hard things.
Likewise, this is also invaluable when faced with that other inevitable aspect of book-wrangling: editing. Cutting. Killing your darlings. One of the most painful realizations you can come to as an author is that a piece of writing–a sentence, a scene, a whole series of chapters–is an absolutely brilliant piece of writing, something you’re just repulsively proud of . . . and yet it has no place in your story. It’s hard to be brave enough to scrap writing that you love. It’s hard even to scrap writing that you know deep down just isn’t working and face the terror of having to start afresh. But you can do hard things.
Go back to basics. When my work in progress hits a brick wall and I find I have no idea what happens next . . . or when I know something is wrong but I have no idea how to fix it or make it better . . . I find it’s really helpful for me to go back to story’s roots. Every story starts out with a tiny seed, a germ of an idea. Ask yourself what was it about your story that made you fall in love with it in the first place? Why did you feel that here was a book that you absolutely had to write? Remembering that helps me to recapture that initial enchantment with the heart of the book. And it helps me to remember what the heart of the book is. That’s really the biggest question you have to ask yourself when you craft your plot: what is the true heart of this story I’m telling?
Trust that you have a unique story to tell. I was e-mailing back and forth with my writing partner about this Impossible Book of mine, and she wrote, These books don’t write themselves, you know. Someone needs to wrestle with them, and for this story, that’s you. Now, that’s really profound if you think about it. I knew there was a reason I love my writing partner so much! It’s true, and it’s vital to remember: you are the absolutely the only person on the entire planet who can write the book that you are writing. Take five people and give them each identical plot ideas for a book–and they will still turn out five completely different books, because each of us writes with a unique voice and has a unique story to tell. And if you give up on your story, it’s never, ever going to be told.
I’m happy to report that (unless of course the Impossible Book yanks the rug out from under me again!) I’m almost there. I’ve rounded a corner, broken through the clouds, am at a point where I’ve got a draft that I’m truly happy with. And I’m truly grateful to have gone through all the steps that led me to this point, both for the lessons learned and the nearly completed book I now have. Even if I wish just a little bit that the wrangling hadn’t gone on for quite so long. :-)
What about you? Have you wrangled your own impossible book? What lessons did you learn?