About a year and a half ago, I decided to write a book. For “fun.” Now, I am 104,000 words in and mired down in the mess of it all. Frankly, I am peeved at all of you. I was clearly not in my right mind when I embarked on this little hobby. You could have warned me. Would it have been that hard to leave a few breadcrumbs of reality in the comments section?
Fine. It’s not your fault, but I am my charming, blaming mood, and Jeff’s out of town so there is nowhere for the rage to go.
Because I am a good, kind, and decent person, I am sending up the warnings. Just in case YOU, wonderful, idealistic, ready-to-pen-your-story YOU, are thinking “Hey, I’m going to start my book,” let me tell you the five things I wished I would have known in advance.
- Lots of drafts suck, not just the first. Every writer loves to quote Anne Lamott who famously urged writers to commit to writing those “sh*tty first drafts.” I clung to that advice as I slogged through draft numero uno. Looks like I’m going to have to write the sequel to Lamott’s Bird By Bird— it’s going to be called Turd By Turd: Write Dozens of Sh*tty Drafts. Because I am two drafts in and it still smells like a sewer when I open my document.
- It gets harder not easier. In addition to thinking why didn’t I dive into knitting or fracking, I spend a lot of time thinking how the process gets harder. Because of gems like this that roll through my noggin: You’ve been at this for 18 months and it still sucks.
- Not everyone has a story to tell. Not everyone has a symphony in her, right? It’s possible I may not have a story to tell. I may just have a random collection of scenes that mean something to me, but don’t come together as a story that someone else would actually want to read.
- I can’t do it OR maybe I don’t want to do it. In the dark nights when we are out of ice cream and my soul aches for artistic solace, I think I cannot do it. I squirm in my chair and consider ditching the whole thing to watch a Sanford & Son marathon. It’s entirely possible that I lack the stamina and discipline and passion to carry this book thing to the finish line of official publication. But also? I am not sure I want to. Eight more years of this? Twelve? Twenty? Maybe I want to spend my evenings laying on the bed watching the moon through the clouds. Maybe I want to watch YouTube videos. Maybe, just maybe, I don’t want to write a book.
- It’s OK to let go. I know I haven’t given myself permission to just let this go– you know, to let it be something I worked on for almost two years and learned a lot and then moved on. Moving on feels like failure, but then I open the document and see those 104,000 words staring at me and I think I am deeply confused about the definition of failure.
Confidential to Ms. Lamott: I adore your work and think we could really make a go of Turd by Turd.