A member of our Writer Unboxed Facebook community (hey, Karen Lauria Corum!) posted something last week that caught my attention. She wrote:
“I had my mentor tell me early on to never love one book too much because you would at some point have to let it go off into the world…”
It’s interesting advice. And while I understood the letting go concern–though I think that’s more a product of fear than anything else–I couldn’t get beyond the “love” part of her mentor’s instruction or the idea that there could ever be a “too.”
Love a book too much?
“I think you should love the hell out of every work-in-progress, because you’re going to be with it for a long time, and love is the only good antidote I know for the resentment that can otherwise build up in a long-term, intimate relationship.”
Truth is, I’d been there, and not done that. Learned a few lessons, too.
To share this with you, I have to spill some of the Uncomfortable Real that Sarah Callender mentioned in her last post. My debut novel didn’t sell as well as my publisher had hoped following the generous deal I received in 2008. Granted, it isn’t an uncommon situation, and my book sale did come about seven-and-a-half seconds before our economy crashed here in the U.S., but the reality of my numbers left me with a big steaming pot of woe-is-me. On top of that, I had to write a second book because I had a two-book deal, and that second book carried a lot of weight on its embryonic thread-and-glue spine. It needed to, if it could, earn more than my first book. Be as good as if not better than my debut. It seemed then that my career–at least in its current incarnation–might have depended on it.
The one word that would describe my state of mind while writing the first draft of my second book would be disillusioned. Because this wasn’t how it was supposed to be after you’d worked and worked and sold your book in a fabulous deal and had so much support and love, and reviews had been good and expectations high, and…
Life isn’t always fair. Buck up. Carry on, old chap.
But the chasm between reality and what I had anticipated (and been told to expect) was wide, and I began to feel bound to the second book against my will. Oftentimes while writing the first draft, I felt an edge of resentment for all of it–the work, my contract, others’ easy confidence that I could get through it when it felt anything but easy. And you know what? It showed. When I submitted that first draft to my editor at the time, she told me what I already knew: It wasn’t great. In fact, it was a long way from finished. [Quick aside: I love both Top Chef and Project Runway, and there are times when the judges critique a plate of food or an outfit and correctly guess that the contestant was in a negative head space while working. I think it's safe to say that emotions trickle down to our art.]
Things began to turn around for me when I started to love the story. How did this happen?
I stopped avoiding the thing I knew how to write but was afraid to face.
I began reading my scenes aloud again, and remembered how much I enjoyed the sound of words, the poetry of a well-made sentence.
I realized that I was really, really lucky to have the chance to write another book for my publisher, and I needed to chuck that pot of woe-is-me already because no one was forcing me to eat from it. (It was moldy at this point, besides.)
And I wrote notes to myself, as you already know, to get through the harder times.
Love the rock you’re pushing. Even if the task feels Sisyphean. Especially if it does.
And be grateful. It took time for me to see it this way, but once I did everything became easier: If I hadn’t had the two-book contract, I wouldn’t have kept going. Meaning, I may have tucked my pencils into a drawer, applied for that banking job I so often joke about, and never tried to write another book.
I’m glad that I did try, because I fiercely love my second book, The Moon Sisters. No, I didn’t feel the fast-sprung love for it that I had for my debut. Rather, the love I feel for it is complex and powerful, reflecting the nature of its journey. I love it in part because it was a rock, and because I pushed it instead of allowing it to roll back over me. I love it because it taught me that I have more in me than I’d realized.
The lesson, from my perspective? It isn’t that you shouldn’t love your story, or that you should take care not to love it too much. It’s that you shouldn’t let expectations taint the well of your creativity. Because from that well you will draw the water that will fill every steaming pot in your writing world, and it is you who will have to drink from it.
Have you ever not loved your work, and felt it on the pages? Do you think you can love a work too much? Why?
(And p.s. My publisher just started an ARC giveaway for The Moon Sisters on Goodreads. Head on over, and you can see the cover, enter for a chance to win a copy, and add the book to your “want to read” shelf if you’d like!)