Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In which I preach patience and mix metaphors

(crawls up out of hole, squinting into spring sun)

On our last episode of Jacqui's Room, Jacqui disappeared into her office with a book idea. It's been a month, and the real life peanut gallery is curious: "Is the book is done yet?"

I would love to tell you the book is done. But then again, I wouldn't. Any book that I could write that quickly, even a picture book, is probably not very good.

Recently, someone told me about her book series. "We'll be releasing one a month..." she said. And all I could think was "One a month?! That's literary fast food."

The question is: do you want your food fast, or do you want it carefully crafted and delicious? If you want to write it right, you have to be patient with yourself. Sometimes you have to let it simmer, you have to beat on high for the full two minutes and then taste it. You have to go slowly.

The worst part is this: sometimes, you have to wait and see how it comes out. You can't tell from the outline or the recipe if it's going to make a good dessert. You have to write as much as you can, stop blogging for a whole month, become totally obsessed, and just get it onto the darn page. And then, once it's out, sometimes you read it and, well, crap. It doesn't work. It's fallen soufflé.

Sometimes we get so attached to what we've written, because it's really good or because we've already spent so much time on it, or because someone, somewhere once said they thought it had potential. Plus, we've heard all these stories about writers who did eleven drafts or got rejected 126 times and THEN the book was great. So we spend hours and weeks and maybe even years banging our heads against the wall, trying to add sugar or prop up the collapsed side, ruining the poor thing even further with our tinkerings, when what we need to do is scrap the soufflé, no matter how hilarious and brilliant it is (and trust me, it is hilarious) and write another book. If writing a book is a love affair, sometimes you have to break up. There are other fish in the sea.

Now, the good news is that sometimes, once the words of that ex-boyfriend book are done screaming in your head and bothering everyone around you,* when you can hear more clearly, another, quieter voice pipes up and calls you. If you don't let the first book go, you can never follow the next one. And who knows how great that next one is going to be?

* and trust me, they were bothering EVERYONE around me: I got a call from my agent and she said, "I was up thinking about your book last night."

10 comments:

Michele Thornton said...

Great advice, Jacqui! Breaking up is hard to do...

Corey Schwartz said...

Love food analogies. Yes, I am in a similar boat these days. Nice to know, I am not alone.

cath c said...

so sad. such heartache.

but just maybe you can go back to it once you 'finish' the next one?

I took a break from my big one true love first middle reader novel to try a hand at nanowrimo-ing a companion book, and then i realized how poorly written that one was, so went back to tinker with the first. it's an extremely slow tinkering. but once i'm done with that, i try my hand back with numero deux. that is, if i don't die trying to gain mastery over numero une.

Jacqui said...

Thanks, Michele. And Corey, sorry to hear it (but nice to know).

Cath, I think the "can always go back" is a valuable tool. Much like breaking up by "taking a break." :)

Susanne Drazic said...

Hi Jacqui, nice to see you back. Good words of advice. Thanks so much for sharing.

C.R. Evers said...

Good to see you back in blogland.

Great advice. Sometimes it's good to pour your heart out and other times it's good to take a step back.

debbie said...

I think that while some books may ultimately be throw-aways, some are just ten-year-books. I like to think that if I put something aside for long enough, some day the solution will hit me. Of course, maybe it won't. But in the mean time, I just work on other things!

Ann Finkelstein said...

Knowing when to ditch the novel and when to reconstruct it is probably the key. Good luck to both of us.

Mike Jung said...

Good advice! That whole thing where "sometimes you have to write something to know if it's any good" is a KILLER, but I'm afraid you're right. Sometimes you can't know until you've actually tried. Then you hit yourself in the face with a toaster and move on to the next thing...

Heather Kelly said...

This is wonderful advice. It's so hard to actually let go of a book that you've spent a year on, but there is such a learning curve. Thank goodness that what we learn from writing and revising one book never gets unlearned--thank goodness we don't have to reinvent the wheel. I'm coming to the point where I'm going to have to decide whether to move on or not. I'm hoping not. But we'll see!