Archive for January 15, 2019


The Life Cycle of a Book

I seem to have finally hit the “hey, this is actually pretty good” state on this book. Writing a book is a love/hate relationship. When you first get the idea, it’s the most brilliant thing ever and you’re madly in love with it. Then you start writing, and it loses its luster once it becomes reality. It’s not quite the book that was in your head, but you can’t seem to make it be the book that was in your head.

Then you hit the middle, when you’ve gone past all the initial ideas you’ve had but you’re not yet at the thing you had in mind for the ending, and you really start to hate it. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea. What made you think you could write this thing? You don’t like the characters. You want to just scrap it and start over. This is when a lot of people give up, especially on first books. You realize writing isn’t fun all the time. It’s hard, and you’ve run out of enthusiasm. You start to doubt yourself. This is also when the Shiny New Ideas tend to hit, and you’re tempted to give up on the thing you’re working on that obviously isn’t going well to work on that Shiny New Idea that’s even better.

But you power through, and you get an energy surge that gets you to the end. Though, if you’re like me, you get impatient to get to the end and kind of skim through the conclusion, so that’s the first thing you have to go back and rewrite. Now you’re feeling pretty good. You have a whole book, and you think it might be pretty good.

Then you go back to rewrite/revise/edit, and that’s when you notice the plot holes, the repetitions (how many times did I use that word?), the little inconsistencies, the scenes that aren’t working. What were you thinking? Was that line supposed to be a joke? You wrote it, but you don’t get it. Hack, slash, change. It’s a mess. Who would want to read this? Maybe you should just start over.

And then, finally, you do one last read-through. I read it out loud so that I’m forced to really read every word. That does make me spot some things like repeated words or phrases, but on the whole, I find that I really like the story. I remember what I liked about the idea, and while it’s still not quite the perfect book that lived in my head before I started writing, it’s a good book. I love the characters and feel a little sad to leave them behind.

That’s where I am now. I’m starting to remember that I liked this idea, and I’m enjoying reading the book.

I’ve wondered if authors are ever tempted to go back to an old idea and try writing it again — the execution the first time was okay, but it wasn’t quite the book they really envisioned, and now that they’ve grown as a writer they could try again to get to what they initially thought that book would be, and it might come closer to that perfect vision this time. There have been authors who had similar books at different times in their career, but they came out very different. For instance, David Copperfield and Great Expectations have a very similar pattern and a lot of things in common, but are very different books at different points in Dickens’ career. Was that a case of him going back to an idea he’d already written and executing it differently? I think today people might accuse an author of being a hack with just one good idea, but it would be an interesting experiment.