Whether you’re writing away with hope that this book you are writing right now is the one, or laboring on your tenth novel, odds are you are going to reach a point where you are stuck, and high above you, a circle of vulture-thoughts is descending to feast upon your brain. There’s so many it’s hard to pick out one at at time, but let me throw out a few I’ve personally had land near my carcass:
This book is hard to write.
I can’t fix this book.
This book sucks.
All of these thoughts have in common one thing: They’re lies, but they’re lies with just enough truth in them for us to not be able to directly deny them.
This book is hard to write. Hell yes, it is. Some books are terribly hard to write and some gush from our fingertips like blood from your mouth when you lick the edge of the tuna can and cut open your tongue. * Even the hard books still get written one word, one sentence at a time. Set your word count goal to 250. That’s roughly one page. Write one page, even if it feels like you are chiseling the story out of stone. One page at a time, it will get done.
I can’t fix this book. No, you can’t. Not until you get it written. You cannot edit what you did not write, so stop circling your manuscript bemoaning what is there while there’s huge chunks of it that aren’t there. It may be swollen, bloody and ugly, but so are most humans when they are born. Write it first, then we’ll talk about what you can and can’t fix.
This book sucks. Possibly. But it’s worlds better than any book not written. Even if your book consists of nothing the phrase “A rabid monkey flings loose stool at a canvas,” repeated for 300 pages, it’s still worth more than the great American novel that exists only in your neighbor’s head. Next time you see your neighbor and he waxes about how one day he’ll take time to write that book, smile to yourself and remember that your book can get better. For instance, you could substitute “my neighbor” for the word “canvas.” Odds are, whatever you wrote is way better than “Curious George and the Box of Prunes.” And while we’re at it, understand that almost all first drafts suck. That’s ok. Give yourself permission to suck in service of getting the book written.
Draft, draft, draft, then take a break before editing. When you come back from those weeks of rest, you may say “Oh, crap! I forgot to show the monkey entering the room. What if I had a sentence or two about the monkey setting up his easel? Or eating his dinner the night before? How did the monkey contract rabies? There must have been an armadillo…” Your monkey book just got way better. It was already better than any novel never written, and just got better with simple changes.
I suck. This one’s probably an out-and-out lie.
If I were to put together a formula for a book, I’d say it’s 99.99% hard work and 0.01% art. Most of the time, if you put in the 99.99%, you’ll look back at the book and discover that along the way, you accidentally arted all over it. The art may come at the beginning or creep it over time, but it will show up.
Do the hard work. Ignore the buzzards and their lies.
Somewhere in there, I bet the art creeps in.
(*) This is an entirely anecdotal incident which has never happened to me that I will admit to. Also, you pretty much can’t eat with a cut down the center of your tongue for about a week. Not that I would know