Writing

What Surprised Me About Writing a Book

May 3, 2016

Writing

I woke up lighter last week, which is a remarkable statement coming from someone in the middle throes of pregnancy.

Last Wednesday I turned my book manuscript in to the publisher. Like, a draft of a book I wrote with my own two hands— the same hands that have wrung themselves out over the last year and half, that have held my face over the kitchen sink sobbing as I whispered to Mike, “I can’t do this. Who gave me a book deal? I mean I know NavPress is full of Christians, but could it be possible they are suffering from delusion?”

These hands have held steaming cups of coffee, one after another, as I studied Scripture, read books, jotted down notes in my journal, stared at a blank screen, pushed a stroller while frantically trying to organize my thoughts.

They have held a smartphone and scrolled, scrolled, scrolled through blog posts of other writers that are more eloquent, more clever, more famous, more wise.

I’ve felt unqualified 100% of the time. Still, I kept working.

Then last Wednesday these hands released that book.

Turning in a book felt like losing thirty pounds, like finding twenty dollars in your pocket, like hitting every green light for a mile.

Hitting ‘send’ to that submission email felt like crossing a finish line and being set free.

//

I haven’t blogged much this spring because I’ve been consumed with wrapping this project up.

In my dreams, I am the sort of woman who wakes up happily at four am to have a devotional time, finish my writing, and prepare my husband’s lunch before the rest of the humans in the house rise. But in reality, I have been a grumpy pregnant woman that longs to sleep as much as possible and feels certain she is just moments away from puking into a public trash can at any given moment.

I’ve struggled to hit writing goals, struggled to remember to start dinner before 5:30pm, struggled to feel zen and lucid and tranquil throughout this process.

If you ask Mike, he would tell you I have been absolute DREAM to live with.

//

Before I signed the book deal, I felt that I had so much to say. I felt almost entitled to an opportunity to share my voice, to share my stories. But when the opportunity came, I was suddenly accountable to my own dream.

And this was horrifying.

Because as I sat down at the computer to transcribe my alleged treasury of wisdom,  my most poignant thought was, “Wait. What was it, exactly, I wanted to say?”

//

The thing that has surprised me about writing is the same thing that surprised me about motherhood. Even when you are living out your largest dream, it doesn’t always feel as sparkly as you imagined it would. It feels meaningful in an abstract sort of way, but mostly it feels tedious and exhausting, working at something you don’t necessarily feel good at yet. It involves a lot of boring repetition, and in my case, a lot of writing while feeling uninspired, a lot of mid-morning snacking on junk food you “bought for your husband.”

For me, the process was riddled with fear of being wrong or looking like a fool or never finishing at all. Friends often cheerily asked, “How’s the book coming?” and I would lie straight to their faces, saying “Fine!” and occasionally backing it up with nervous laughter.

I thought writing a book would be a tidier, more linear. I had a feeble outline and a timeline. I scheduled childcare and planned to write six to twelve hours a week, plus or minus the reliability of Molly’s naps. I expected to knock out chapters one at a time, you know, have about five minutes of introspection followed by fifteen pages of eloquent epiphany.

But that’s not how it went.

My friend Bri just started writing her first book, and she recently wrote about how the process is like going through your brain, pulling out every drawer, and dumping out the contents.

It’s a mess.

Instead of writing 40,000 eloquent words in scheduled progression, I wrote 100,000 terrible ones in manic desperation. It took me a long time to discover what it was I was actually trying to say.

First, I had to write out all the things I wasn’t.

And tangled up in this long creative process was, you know, a lot of REAL LIFE. Friends coming over for dinner at six-thirty and baby sleep regressions and toilets that needed cleaning and freelance work deadlines.

I know the enigmatic work/life balance is a struggle for everyone, but what seemed so haunting about writing a book is that I could never leave it behind or lock it up in an office. It was in my head constantly.

Often during silent car rides, Mike would ask me what I was thinking about and by the end of the process I would mumble “oh, nothing,” simply because I was so tired of saying “The book. The book. ALWAYS THE BOOK.”

I felt behind continuously, like maybe I should I be progressing faster or at least feel proud of the work I had done so far. I felt like if I was a better mom and wife I wouldn’t be so consumed with writing, and if I was a better writer I would allow myself to be consumed by it alone.

Writing, for me, was wrestling.

Then there was the question that friends and strangers often asked, “What is your book about?”

Because I had such a hard time summarizing it, I actually came up with a fake answer. I told several people that I was writing a post-apocalyptic book about cats.

And part of me thought the fake idea might be easier to write than a faith memoir about searching for home in a life on the move (Real premise. Promise).

//

It wasn’t until this spring that I started to gain traction and confidence in the process. After a year of hand wringing and an email sent to my publisher that essentially said, “Prepare to receive the worst manuscript imaginable. How should we both prepare for this scenario?” I sent a draft of the book to my friend and mentor Tammy. She read every word and gave feedback that was at once loving and direct, commenting when I used too many adverbs or confusing metaphors or theology that was blatantly wrong. Tammy pastored me through revision, through reflection, through my own fears and doubts. She prayed with me and for me,  coaching me into what I was trying to say.

The manuscript I turned in last Wednesday was a book I have rewritten three times.

And here’s the most shocking part: I was actually proud of what I turned in.

//

On the night I finished, a few of our friends came over for dinner.  Mike brought out a bottle of champagne that I shook before popping the cork into the backyard. Everyone cheered as Mike toasted my hard work, while I counter-toasted his endurance of a wife that was creatively exasperated and uncomfortably pregnant at the same time.

That night I had a dream that I attended my first book reading as a published author, but when I was handed my book to read aloud, I learned that it had been edited down to a Mercer Mayer “Little Critters” children’s book that was twelve pages long with pictures.

I cannot stop laughing about this dream.

//

Later this summer I will go through editing, followed by marketing/promotion/etc. I willll tell you more about release date when I learn of such things. Oh, and also around this time I will deliver a second baby. Because, you know, good things come at once, usually as a tornado.

There is always the question of what’s next, but for now it feels so very good to be done with something. To be good tired. To let something go that my hands were tired of holding.

And quite frankly, my next project is nearly as daunting and messy as a book:

This week I have started potty training a toddler.

  • I am cheering so loud for you right now, sweet friend! And everything you wrote here. Everything! I am devouring all you just poured out. xoxo

  • Joanna Luehmann

    I really cannot wait for the book to be out!!! So excited for you and the book and the baby and yay.

  • Shauna Letellier

    Thanks for sharing this. I loved reading it. Here’s hoping potty training will be as sparkly as you imagined 😉

  • Thanks for your honesty and for sharing your journey with us!! I found your post through hope*writers and I’m so glad I did! Can’t wait to hear more about your book!

  • Sarah Elizabeth Frazer

    Love this so much! I found your post through hope*writers as well, and can’t wait to read your book! 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing this, your title pulled me in HopeWriters and your writing kept me engaged. Thanks for sharing what it’s like, people don’t realize if they haven’t been there before. I am going to share this with others. Bless you.

  • Niki Hardy

    LOVE, love, love this. Thank you. I am an aspiring writer and this has encouraged me tremendously – debunking the myth I’ve held so closely, that there is some magic in the process that I haven’t quite mastered. I now have to let that go and start the hard work. I guess this book isn’t going to appear in a puff of pixie dust and rose petals after all.

  • Huh. I’m not the only one who starts writing sure she has NO WORDS, proceeds to write 5 billion words and then laments that they are the worst of all the words in the entire world? Good to know! Cannot wait to read your book!

  • “post-apocalyptic book about cats.” I’m dying. You, my dear, are too awesome. I resonate with every word, having turned in the manuscript for my first book two weeks ago. Cheering you on in the finishing, and praying for you as the edits and marketing and fun details lie ahead.

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