Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Why Writing a Book Is Like A Dysfunctional Relationship

As you all know, I'm in the middle of trying to write a memoir about our adoption. It's pretty much killing me.  So, since it's on my mind, here is the sum of all my fears: 

Why Writing A Book Is Like A Dysfunctional Relationship: 
Stage 1: Infatuation
The idea hits you like a hurricane and suddenly you can't think of anything else. On the train: thinking about the book you're going to write. In a cafe: scribbling notes for your book. On holiday: disappearing for the chance to be alone with the delicious possibility of your book.  You write down ideas for titles. You doodle cover designs. You feel smug and self-satisfied about how wonderful your book is going to be.  At this point, everybody else's books look like pale, undernourished, sad little things. Your book will be so much better than that. You feel like this. But about a book.

Stage 2: Gifts
Getting started properly is harder than it looked. You buy - and read - books written by writers who are writing books about how to write a book. This is not procrastination, it is an investment. Then you size up the task ahead of you. This is the point at which it becomes clear that an ordinary set of writing tools will simply not be sufficient to do justice to the beauty that is your book.  If it were a woman, you would buy her diamonds, but instead you buy scrivener and set up dropbox and those who have truly been bitten badly make excuses to buy new laptops [not me, by the way. Obsessive, yes, but not financially irresponsible]. Then you set up your dropbox folders and fire up scrivener and actually start to... write.

Stage 3: Comfortable Togetherness
This is working pretty well. The words are flowing, the ideas are coming. When there is spare time, you spend it together. You love being with Book, and you're pretty sure that Book feels the same way about you. The word count goes up.

Stage 4: Faint Disillusionment
The only thing is.... some of this is seeming a little repetitive. And the structure is not really as clear as it should be. It seems that there are about three thousand words on what actually happened to you, and ninety-seven thousand words about how  that made you feel. Can that really be right? Better check again. Just as well scrivener has such an advanced word-count function. Okay, it is right. You give some of it to your husband to read. He says he likes it, but he doesn't ask for any more and he doesn't laugh at the parts you were pretty sure were funny.  Also - this just feels like a , colossal, unbearable amount of work. Your mother suggests, gently, that your time might be better spent elsewhere. 

Stage 6: It's Not You, It's Me
Suddenly, spending time with Book doesn't seem quite so appealing,.  There's nothing wrong with the book, you tell yourself, it's just that you are really really busy. You have other demands on your time. You have an actual life, remember? And friends. And work. And other commitments. Sheesh, if only Book could stop being so self-centred and see that your entire life isn't about writing it, then it would see that you have got Stuff going on.  It would give you a break. It would stop nagging. You are committed to the relationship, but you've got a lot on your plate, okay? OKAY?

Stage 7: Actually, it IS You, Please Stop Ruining My Life
And then, you realise that no, all that was lies, the real problem is that you hate your manuscript. It's boring, it's wordy, it's self-indulgent and you don't even like the main character which is a giant bummer because the main character is, well, you. You contemplate all the hours you have poured into it, all the emotional energy, and shake your fist at the stupidity that made you start it. It all seems like such a waste. You write procrastinatory blog posts like this one. The only silver lining is - at least nobody got to read it. At least nobody else knows how bad it is.   At this point, everybody else's books look like works of genius. All of those pages, and all with those nice little numbers at the bottom!  You seethe with envy and wish you had had a different idea. In short, you think that probably, life would be better without Book. You wish you had taken up crochet instead.

Stage 8: We Can Work It Out
But the thing is, you really don't want to live without Book. You slink back and apologise. You make plans for how things will be different this time. You will be more realistic, and not expect Book to meet all your emotional needs. 

Stage 9: Isolation
Having other people around just makes things complicated. Your mother suggests, more forcefully this time, that you are throwing good effort after bad but you tell her that Book is wonderful, really, and when the two of you are alone, nobody could be better company.  If the rest of the world doesn't understand the love you have for each other, well, that's fine. FINE. You and Book will make it on your own. 

Stage 10: Trying to Leave
The first draft is nearly done. Suddenly, you start to fantasise about how it will be when this thing is finished. You will have your old life back! All those hobbies, all that housework, all that time to watch reality TV. You whisper as much to Book, and Book whispers back - how will you know when you are really finished? Sure, it feels like the editing is done, but how would you know for sure? You don't want to push it out there too soon. People will laugh at you! The comma placement leaves a lot to be desired. There are too many adverbs. Okay, you decide, you really can't be parted from Book now. This whole thing needs a major re-think. 

Stage 11: Until Death Us Do Part
You decide to rewrite the whole thing in future tense. Would that make it seem more edgy? Perhaps you will change it around so that the main character (you) speaks in Latin and has psychokinetic powers.   Maybe it would be better if you stared at the end, or in the middle, or wrote the whole thing in verse.  There are so many ways this could be so good, you tell yourself; it's just not quite there yet. You no longer have any plans to actually finish. All your friends have forgotten what you look like. Your husband can no longer remember your name. You realise that you and Book are in this thing alone, together, forever and ever, amen, until your heart stops beating and Book's non-existent pages start to crumble. This isn't quite how you pictured your life, but here you are. So you fire up the computer, and shut the door, and make another pot of tea. And you massage your bony, ancient fingers and 
Because really, what else is there to do? 


  1. Ah, yes, I wrote a book once, did you know that? Only one draft and then I tried to edit it and we broke up. I think I'd be embarrassed to even look at it today.
    Hang in there. Your book will be wonderful, this much I know :)

  2. Just as 'if you build it they will come' ... if you write it, your readers will read! Have faith!
    Laughed at the part about your husband not asking to read more of your book ... I asked mine if he was reading my little blog - he said 'no way, no need, I'm living it in full colour' :)

  3. I can relate to most of this but not the overthinking part. By the time mine was done I did NOT care one bit :)

    I'm very tempted to be a perfectionist about it but I will resist or it will never get done :)

    Hang in there - you can do it :)

  4. Brilliant. I arrived at stage 8 just the other day.

  5. Well that last part sounds a lot like a paragraph from your book. Or could be....

  6. Kudos to you is all I can say.


    The end.

  7. I think it's probably similar to painting. In painting it's always much more difficult to create if you have a definite outcome in mind- in painting that would be if you know ahead of time how it should look when it's finished. I sometimes (well, usually always) have a time during a painting where I just can't go on, but that's usually when things get better for the painting. It's like reaching the frustration point will open up the doors of perception. Maybe that's where you're at now? I know one thing- the book won't write itself (like the painting never paints itself no matter how much I cajole it to do so)

  8. Here's the thing, I'm guessing it is brilliant and fascinating and I will thoroughly enjoy it. Probably give it as gifts. Seriously.

    I heard a quote from some awful woman on a tv show that I really love and try to remember often.

    "Why would you choose failure if success is an option"

    (that's a reflection on me, not you, just thought it might spark something).

  9. the fact that your writing can be this witty while you bemoan... your own writing? evidence that you MUST keep writing. :)

  10. i took up crochet. i'm not sorry.

  11. the title to my comment is:

    "Why waiting for Claudia's book is like a groom waiting for his bride."

    So at least there's that.

  12. I think your book will be brilliant because your blog is. I can't wait to read it!!
    Amy xx

  13. I would buy it. Just so you know...

  14. I am always so excited and impressed when someone shares that they are writing an actual book. That takes such commitment and courage -- it is awesome, and I have no doubt yours will kick enormous ass.

    A good friend of mine is a novelist, and it amazes me to see how even with real books on the shelves of real bookstores and critical acclaim, etc, etc, she still must fight like crazy with herself in so many ways to make writing happen. Oh, and now she has a toddler too, so yeah.

    Wishing you all the best with this! Honored to get a peek in at your process.

  15. I can't imagine taking on writing a book. And I really look forward to reading yours! :-)

  16. Indeed. What else IS there to do? It appears to me that you already have a captive audience. Fight on!

  17. Do you have a publisher and editor yet? I read someone else's blog about writing his book and it seemed that once he had a team on board things got radically different. Easier and harder. But definitely motivating. Just a thought.. (Amanda - watershed - too lazy to sign into blogger.)

  18. I just laughed *so* hard...and proceeded to retweet this to a few of my indie author friends. Thank you for writing this! (here from the Roundup)

  19. I just read this out loud to my husband because I got so excited about the fact that I could relate so much to this. I'm not sure he likes when I read that many paragraphs by someone he doesn't even know, but oh well!

    My book and I are taking some time apart right now. I think of it often, but am not quite ready to pick it back up yet.

    You have a first draft - amazing! You go, girl. You should be writing a book because you can write and you have something to say.


Over to you!