I’m a writer so I’m fairly familiar with my process. But here’s the thing.
I’ve never written a book until now.
I’m not familiar whatsoever with my book writing process. And in particular, not this book’s process. Because, I suspect, they are very different from book to book.
This book I’m writing doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up.
I have to be okay with that even though that means no bookish elevator speech is possible. In such moments, my ego might become tender. That moment when someone asks me what my book is about and I’m supposed to know? This’s where I decide it’s best to protect everyone involved from this line of questioning.
What about this?
This book is a dandelion of a book, wild, weedy, full of rain.The agent won’t like it but just for now, it’s enough.
Here’s the truth. I don’t know this book very well yet. Like any new relationship, it’s better not to rush the process.
It’s important to be polite, try to earn its trust. We meet and it sets the agenda. I have to allow this because it has all the power. If it wants to – if I piss it off – it can just get up and leave.
I can’t ask too many questions too soon because this book contains teachings.
For example, I’m learning that memories are a river. In the midst of every conversation, they flow. Even when I’m not paying any attention, even after the animal of my heart has turned its back.
Of course, not all my lessons are this cute or lyric. Mostly, this book teaches me humility and respect the hard way.
This book is a heart-breaker. It shows me how much of my life I’ve lost in the most literal sense. My memory has simply failed me. I learn this – not in the abstract but through warm, living inquiry. My brain doesn’t produce meaning from component parts as I always thought, but rather, meaning, even when erstwhile, lands somewhere on the other side of the equation. When faced with such weakness, I lie to myself, obviously it wasn’t that important. But of course it was.
Of course it was.
I’ve taken to keeping a little journal full so I don’t forget my day, Joyce Carol Oates-style. But only when the day has something to do with the book.
The lines carry something I’d missed, not because I didn’t “know” it before, but because it hadn’t yet arrived. This is the distinction of patience, of taking things slow.
I’ve started to take a picture each day so I’ll have something, no matter how ugly or mundane, to remember. These don’t have to have anything to do with this book.
This book reminds me that my job as a writer – no matter what I write – my job is very simple.
To see, to listen, to remember.
For sexy online skimmers:
- You don’t have to know exactly what your book is about to start – in fact, it might be better if you don’t.
- You don’t have to know exactly what genre (if any) the book will actually be when it grows up before you start.
- You don’t have to know exactly how you will get from point a to point b before you write (in fact, this is another it’s probably better if you don’t moment).
- It’s OK to know exactly how you will get from point a to point b, too. But in the end such a book will probably not be literature. But it could be. And you don’t have to care whether it is or not.
- You don’t have to have an “answer” or any notion of a “happy ending” either in this book or for this book.
- The book is the expert on you. You’re the expert on the book. Let nothing and no one come between you.