Thursday, July 22, 2010

First Book Blues

“I found a pen; another person found a scrap of paper; a third person, the words. “Dead End,” we wrote and left it on the side of the road for the next traveler to find and perhaps turn around in time.”

-A Prologue from For Sarah by Annie Harmon

Writers leave notes.
Yes, Writer, what you're doing is as important as a child's musings which will go on to become The Diary of Anne Franke, and as fleeting as the list you made for last week's trip to the grocery store. You never know if someone will pick up the note, publish it and pay you millions of dollars for the privilege… or if it will just blow away, lost among all the others on the remaindered table, or worse, never leave your desk drawer and so never have a chance to be read.

Finishing the first book is perhaps the worst first a writer can face. Writing is like having kids. When you have the first one, especially in the middle of the night when the baby is squalling and you’re exhausted, it's hard to imagine wanting to go through the process again.

Even in the good moments, when the little darling sleeps or coos and you’re full of pride and delight, it’s hard to imagine loving another child as much as you do the first.

You’ve struggled past the rocky beginning, perhaps edited and rewritten and rethought. You’re coming down from the euphoric high of the writing that flowed as the middle came together. All of a sudden, you realize it’s almost over. All this hard work, all this effort, will be put to the test. You’ve journeyed and laughed and gasped with your characters. You’ve come to know them and love them. Once you write the final sentences, and print out the manuscript, the boundaries of the sheltered world you’ve shared with them will be defined, and it will be time to decide to send them out into the bigger realm, to see if they will soar, or fall flat with a dull thud on the bottom of some editor’s trash can.

You start to sweat. Fear overtakes you. What if this was the only book you had in you? What if it fails, and all that effort has gone to waste? What if you succeed and you are expected to write another one? What if your book turns out to be a one hit wonder, or a never-has-been, collecting dust in a slush pile?

Never fear, Writer! Soon the next child, the next idea, comes along, and captures your heart in a whole new way. And you learn, and you grow, and you do a better job the second time around, or maybe just a different job, but you are getting better with practice.

The bad news is, I don’t have any magic bullet or secret formula to help banish the terrible phantom of firsts. (Though quantities of good chocolate, taken internally, do seem to help.)

The good news is it gets easier. Exercise produces fitness, and the more you work out, the stronger your writing muscles become. Having finished a book, you know that you
can indeed write a book. It's no longer just a pipe dream, some childhood fancy. You are capable, Writer, and potential breeds responsibility.

No matter how wrung out and sick of writing you feel you are by the time you type that last sentence, it’s not over. Chances are, you have more books in you, maybe more books about the same characters, maybe a whole new book that you'll be just as excited about and into as the first one.
Don’t be afraid to follow your characters past the “end” of your book. Writing more about the same characters, you may discover you’ve written a sequel. Or perhaps a new character will emerge, sparking a whole new story. No writing is ever wasted.

I can't be dishonest. Labor isn't easy. Finishing that first book is a tough process. All I can say, as a mother of two kids and the writer of several books is, it's worth it. In the end, when all is said and done, it's worth it.

Happy writing.

Rejoicing in the day