This first ran in two years ago as I was working on edits for Miraculous. It’s a glimpse into the whole messy process with some wise, wise words from a friend. It feels relevant now (and every writing day)…
Nine and a half weeks, almost 235 hours of work, and first-round edits are done!
During the last few months overhauling my book (I think 60% or so of the story is new), I had fabulous days, I had terrible days, and I had plenty of days with nose-to-the-grindstone satisfaction. It is so good to return to a book world I love. No part of the writing process is better than revision!
I try to be real here about the writing life, and with that in mind, I wanted to share an email I sent to my dear friend, Valerie Geary, after a very hard day.* Val’s response was incredibly encouraging and got me moving again. I read it over and over during my last weeks of revision. It left me believing I could keep on with the hard, steady, wonderful, mysterious work that is turning a vague collection of ideas into a bonafide book. If you ever feel creatively stuck or overwhelmed, I hope it might encourage you, too.
First, here’s my email:
I debated sending this because I’m feeling like a whiner. But I want to put out there where I am. OH, man. Today was hard. And I thought I’d really get in there and have fun! I thought with some tweaks I could knock out two chapters. Nope. I ended up with a really, really shaky placeholder sort of thing for one of them. It’s probably not even taking the story in the right direction. It will probably need to stand for now, too, because when will I have time to fix it? I have a feeling the rest of this time will probably look more like today than earlier days as I push through the fog. I feel shy and vulnerable and all my shame bells are ringing. I’m a fraud with a deadline. AHHH!
I think one of the hardest parts of writing for me is not to get my worth wrapped up in it. Because it gets pretty demoralizing when the stakes increase (deadline) and I flail around and panic and draw a blankity blankity blank.
But I’ll show up tomorrow and try again. I know this isn’t my only shot (thank goodness). I can’t have the same approach as I’ve had today, though. It’s not sustainable. It’s not enjoyable. It doesn’t support creativity! I took breaks. I exercised. I got outside. I even parked in the library parking lot to work for a few hours (a favorite getaway of mine and somewhere I haven’t gone for months). The stress stayed pretty high, though. It’s the deadline! I hear the clock ticking. It’s hard to relax into the work when I feel like time is slipping away and I’m producing stilted stuff that doesn’t quite fit the story and has no heart. It’s kind of terrifying.
I’m trying to see these struggles as curious. But honestly, I’m approaching overwhelmed.
Thanks for listening. Onward. Bird by bird. Fresh fresh fresh start tomorrow.
Here’s Val’s response:
You are not a whiner. And I’m glad you sent it because the last thing you need to feel right now as you work so hard on this book you love is alone. You are a hardworking writer writing on a deadline [during a really challenging year]. That is a lot to handle on its own, yet here you are, coming to the page every day anyway and getting to work. Because this work matters to you.
I hear grit and determination in your words here. I hear strength and courage. Not panic, not failure. A struggle, perhaps, but one you are capable of overcoming. I hear you digging in your heels, ready to do what you need to do to make this book the best you can make it in the time you’ve been given. Because that’s all you can do. You will get through this and it might not be fun and probably you’ll cry more than you want to, but in the end, you will have nothing at all to be ashamed of. You will have a book you can be proud of because you gave it everything you had to give. You are a warrior with a deadline. And your vulnerabilities are what make you the perfect writer for this book (and ALL your books). Fresh start tomorrow. You’ve got this!!
*During edits, I sent almost-daily reports to Val as a way to keep track of my progress (and so I could get some writerly cheerleading).
Mark your calendars! A MIRACULOUS reading Saturday, April 29 at 11:00am, at Albuquerque’s newest bookstore, Books on the Bosque.
Sarah M says
What an encouraging email back . <3
Kathleen Burkinshaw says
Thank you and your friend Val for these real words of where we struggle with writing and reminder of why we go through that same struggle. I needed to read this today. Wishing you and your family a healthy joyful, and peace filled 2021 ❤
I’m glad Val’s words encouraged you!
It is so generous of you to share (and re-share) this, Caroline. As one who is struggling with writing in longer forms, I really appreciate it. So dang hard.
Thank you, Cynthia. I feel you! It is so hard and can feel insurmountable. Keep doing the hard, steady work. xo