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November 15, 2007

On other people writing

When I was about 24 I decided to write a book and got about six pages in before I went off and made iced tea and never came back to it. A few years later I added a few pages and then again when I was about 28 or 29 I started something else altogether and got about eight chapters written before I set it aside. Maybe I got unfizzed on the idea, or the main character began to bug me, or I just couldn't figure out what to write about for all those many pages. Or maybe I was tired, or had to make dinner, or wanted to go shopping, or wanted to do anything but try to figure out how to write a whole long scary book on that particular day.

I always knew it would come together one day. I had no idea it would end up being about my own actual experience of coming unglued and eating Cheetos off my chest and knitting weird stuff with pom poms on it but hey, not complaining over here!

Anyway, prior to writing this thing I had NO FREAKING IDEA how much work goes into a book. I sort of thought that one day I would be inspired and write a whole book and that "one day" would occur in my vague and misty and awesome far-off future and between the Right Now and the far-off Future, I was pretty content to write in my diary and write essays and write articles that no one ever read and play with the sound of the words and experiment with horrible punny titles and get my comma splice on.

And of course, I read books. Which I believed made me an expert on books.

I've always been an equal opportunity reader. Well, I did go through the highbrow "I read nothing but classics and cutting-edge literature" phase (coupled with my highly aromatic Patchouli phase, alas, gasp.) I even remember once -- before a date with an adjunct History professor who I was TOTALLY IN LOVE WITH OHMYGOD -- I actually hid my copy of Wifey behind a strategically placed Henry Miller. If that isn't pie-pan-shallow trying to be deep I don't know what is.

Anyway, aside from that ill-fated and smelly phase I've always enjoyed books just for their appeal at the moment, and I've never cared much if they fall into some category or not. I read children's books and history pieces and paperbacks (LOVE my Sidney Sheldons and Michael Chrightons!) and I like cookbooks, Henry James and anything first-person, especially from the European front of WWII. I am a nerd. I also like chick lit and lit-lit and feng shui manuals and self-help guides and biographies.

But I never actually thought about the mechanics of getting a book together. It never dawned on me to think about method and writing schedules and editing and deadlines and structure and plot and all that stuff. It fell under the category of "shit I will figure out once I find a story that I need to tell that takes more than three pages to tell. Including descriptions of food." I just assumed that writing a book would be as easy as writing anything else, you just had to make more time for it and have a story that exceeded the length of a newspaper article.

I was so incredibly wrong. And also kind of right. But still, very wrong.

You do need to make time and just sit your butt down and type. But there's also an enormous amount of work that goes into a book. There's the contracts and proposals (if you go that route) and meetings and the actual writing and deadlines and edits and turn-around edits and (if you are me and have no idea what the hell you're doing) there are more edits and "Why is this book as long as the encyclopedia?" and then there are covers and art and bios and press and publicists and advertising and logistics and also, MAYBE I WANTED TO WRITE AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OKAY. heh.

I remember once many years ago buying the paperback Jemima J. at the bookstore and reading it on a weeknight, lying in bed next to a snoring husband and getting madder and madder at the author for making this heroine who has to get skinny to be acceptable. I was specifically SO MAD that the author, Jane Green, made the fat descriptions of Jemima seem so greasy and horrible and blah blah blah and I had all sorts of critique about ol' Jemima J. Yes I did. I was just a walking literary critic. Said nary a nice word about poor Jemima J.

Now that I have written my own book and spent approximately seventeen hundred hours editing, refining, and taking out thirty bazillion pages and trying to tell a story without going off in a ditch or a tangent or a maudlin weepy pile, I would like to say for the record I have more respect for Jane Green than ever before. SHE WROTE A WHOLE BOOK AND I BOUGHT IT. And then she wrote another and another. YOU GO ON WITH YOUR BAD SELF JANE GREEN.

It's kind of like those episodes of Dr. Phil when a man thinks it's so easy to be a stay-at-home mom and then he has to swap places with her for a day and later he's so grateful she's the mom and he gets to run off and play office all day. Now when I read a book I don't love some things about specific plots, or maybe I'm not completely overwhelmed by the story or the writing, but I find myself saying nice, reassuring things to the author in my mind. I think I may have gone just a little more nuts than usual, but I tend to give the author the same kind of leeway I'd give my best friends. Telling them how proud I am of them for getting off their asses -- or more accurately, getting ON their asses -- and writing their book down, page by page and word by word.

Posted by laurie at November 15, 2007 4:29 PM