Sometimes the hardest thing about writing is just finishing the dang book.
I recently read an article where the author argued “If it takes you more than a year to write a book, then you’re doing it wrong.”
My boyfriend said, “You should be wary of any article that tells you if you’re not doing things a certain way, then you’re doing them wrong.” He has a solid point. We have to find the way that works for us. And slow isn’t always a bad thing.
I envy authors who can sit down and bang out a book in a month or two—or even six. But there are plenty of us who struggle with finding the right words, crafting the story the way we envision it will be best, and making sure every piece of it fits together snugly. I’m a perfectionist with certain things, and books are one of them. I want my books to be as close to their perfect as I can get them before I unleash them into the world.
Before I wrote novels, I made artist books. I’m a letterpress printer, and a printmaker. I carve wood blocks to print, and I make books by hand when I’m not writing novels. (You remember Audrey Niffeneger and The Time Traveler’s Wife? She made some killer artist books before she wrote novels, and she completely inspired me to keep doing both, because in my world, you can never have enough creative projects happening. Fun fact: Audrey made handmade paper, too, just like the main character in her novel. I met her at an artist’s retreat once, and she is an amazing lady.)
When I first started making books, I hand-set metal type, one little upside down letter at a time. The process is anything but fast. I printed broadsides for poems (and looked for short ones from visiting poets because DANG hand-setting metal type takes a long time). But as I wrote my own texts to print, setting that type by hand forced me to think hard about my word choice, and say things with precision. (I’m not saying that everything I wrote was elegant, because I was in grad school, for heaven’s sake. But it made me think hard about my word choice, and that made me get serious about killing the darlings as I revised every book after that.)
Fast-forward to now, when I’m trying desperately to finish the next book in the Bayou Sabine series, Trouble Will Follow. I wanted this series of books to all be standalones–you get a fuller picture of these people I write about if you read the series in order, but you don’t have to. Each book stands on its own, too. It was important for me to write them that way. My new book, Trouble Will Follow, has taken me over a year to write. There’s a lot of my own life tangled up in this book, and it was hard to write about some of those pieces—but I felt like I had to. And I had to get it just right.
I had to just slow down, and be patient, and cut myself some slack. And give myself some time.
Life feels like it moves super fast most days, and I feel like I have a ticking clock on every project. But sometimes we need to relax, and let our minds wander a little, and give the creativity a moment to take root and grow. For me, rushing through a project defeats the whole purpose of doing something creative: it strips away that time where we meander, and wander, and discover. It’s just like this time when I went hiking with an acquaintance—we were both at a retreat, and wanted to hike a nearby trail. To my horror, this woman took off like a rocket, speed-walking along this rocky uphill trail in the Appalachians. It was my first time at that retreat, and I was looking to take a leisurely stroll and soak up the wildlife. Instead, I spent the whole hour keeping up with this woman and trying not to break my ankle or be left behind. When we were finished, I couldn’t remember a single detail about that trail—the kinds of trees or flowers we’d seen, the kinds of birds we’d heard. All I remembered was watching the ground so I didn’t trip and fall. (I should have just let her go ahead and taken my time—never again did I go on a hike where I didn’t take the time to enjoy it.)
For me, writing is just like that hike. Speeding through it strips all the joy away. Giving myself permission to slow down gives me space to seek out the wonder.
Image courtesy of pixabay.com.