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photo by Vincent Lock

I’m at the stage where I don’t really look any different. I feel different. (Oh, belieeeeeve me, I feel different, i.e. starting to feel better but still pretty much at least slightly queasy all. the. time.) I’m also at the stage (early second trimester) where I’m past the ‘holding my breath’ mentality and moving into the ‘cautious exhale’. But it’s still too soon to be feeling any of those reassuring kicks or flutters, and it’s easy to catch myself looking down at my not-yet-all-that-different stomach and thinking, Are you still there?

When that happens, I reach for my phone and play a recording I took during my last appointment with my midwife: a hummingbird-rapid but steady thump thump thump that’s– incredibly– the heartbeat of our fourth baby. I don’t usually go for book/baby or writing/pregnancy comparisons, because although everyone is different, the way I love my books and the way I love my babies = not at all the same thing. Also, I would approximately one million times rather write a book than go through all day “morning” sickness. (Although like I say, baby #4, so clearly I’m either a slow learner or insane). However in this case, I’m going to break my own rule, because listening to that little reassuring thump thump thump on my phone, it’s occurred to me that sometimes we need that kind of reassurance during the writing process, too.

I’m also in the early stages of writing a new book, the potential start to a new series. 20,000 words in, I’ve got a good start made, one I’m happy with and having fun with daily. It’s a solid enough beginning that I’m feeling pretty confident that this book isn’t just a will ‘o’ the whisp idea that’s going to die on the vine. But it’s also a bit of a crazy idea, one I’m not entirely sure it makes sense for me to be writing right now, at this point in my career. I absolutely loved Therese’s post this week, That Time Jane Friedman’s Advice Saved My Novel [1], because I’ve been there, too, one hundred percent. The publishing world is so changeable and uncertain. Actually, the ultimate outcome of pregnancy, though not guaranteed, is pretty much far more assured than the outcome of writing a novel. It’s so easy to give in to the moments of doubt, but so important, I’ve found, to instead tune into that beating heart of your book in progress: that tiny spark of life that made you fall in love with the idea in the first place, the certainty deep down inside you that this is a story you just have got to tell.

And if that’s true for each individual novel, I think it’s even more true for your writing career as a whole. I recently saw a question that someone had written in to another author’s blog: “I desperately want to be a writer. I attended a book signing and I could picture myself doing it, like it could be me. What does it take to make it?”

I have to confess that initially on reading this, my eyes wanted to roll up far enough to enable a view of my own hair growing. But, really, I can’t and shouldn’t judge, because I’m not so sure that the pre-published aspiring-author me would have thought so much differently. Of course I would have said I wanted book signings with hundreds of eager fans, bestseller list placement, etc. Probably most aspiring authors do. But what I very quickly found out, even before I was lucky enough to land my first contract, was that that can’t be your why for writing. Instead of picturing yourself at book signings, you have to picture yourself alone at your keyboard, hour after hour, learning and re-learning and refining your craft, striving to make each story, each chapter, each individual sentence the best it can be. If that vision doesn’t make you happy, if that’s not something that you want desperately . . . well, then, I’m not sure I could honestly advise you to consider writing as a career.

I’m incredibly lucky, because that vision (and the corresponding reality that I’m fortunate enough to call my career as an author) does make me happy– incredibly so. I’m grateful for every sale of one of my books, every good review or piece of fan mail. But, really, the beating heart of why I write is all about just me and the words, the characters in my head and the stories I tell. In his post yesterday, Donald Maass expressed that feeling of being lost in your own story world with so much beauty and eloquence– literally, I got chills reading– and if you haven’t read that post, stop immediately and go read it now [2] because it is the best remedy to any kind of writer’s block or other discouragement I’ve ever read. But sitting alone with my laptop, writing and re-writing until I’ve got a story, a chapter, or a single sentence just the way I want it to be . . . plenty of other things in my life make me happy, of course, but that’s my job, my why for writing, and I couldn’t love it more.

What about you? What are the “heartbeats” that you tune in to, either in your individual writing projects or your writing life overall?

About Anna Elliott [3]

Anna Elliott is an author of historical fiction and fantasy. Her first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend. She wrote her second series, the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen's classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths. Anna lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and three children.