This is Why I’m Sweating the Start of a New Book
Who said writing a book is easy?
I’ll tell you who. The man who sold me my first computer. I had been writing genre fiction at the time, and when I explained to him what that was, he said, “Ah-ha, this computer will make it easy. A few clicks and you can change names, eye color, and places – and, presto, you have a new book.”
How wrong he was – or ignorant or snarky or simply male. He clearly had not ever read anything that either I or any other dedicated genre writer had written, but that’s a whole other discussion. For now, suffice it to say, IMHO, that the advent of the computer actually makes book writing harder. It opens up possibilities that the conscientious writer simply can’t ignore.
Take editing. Working on a computer, I do it forever and ever and ever. Since the computer makes it so easy, there’s no excuse for sloppy work, so I edit some more. I may decide that the pacing is off; whereas pre-computer, I’d have let it go, now it’s so easy to shift chapters around that I do it, then edit again to make the transition smooth. If a character doesn’t feel exactly right, I go through the entire manuscript modifying his/her personality. I’ve changed locations mid-book, changed plot twists mid-book, even deleted superfluous characters mid-book. Granted, the end result is better than it would have been without computer capability. Still, I put way more time into my books when I work on a computer than I ever did in those pre-historic typewriter days.
Writing a book is demanding.
There are times when I’m between books and forget exactly how much so. But I’m starting a new book now, thirty pages in, and I’m feeling the pain. Consider this. The opening pages introduce the characters, the physical setting, and the plot. In that they set the tone of the book, every single word counts. One ill-chosen adjective can make an impression on the reader that distorts her view of the entire book – if, that is, she chooses to read on.
Opening dialogue is a huge challenge. This new book has a lot of it, especially between Mallory and her teenage daughter. How the two communicate speaks volumes about what kind of mother Mallory is and whether the reader will care what happens to her. And her daughter, Joy? If she comes across as spoiled or bratty? Not good. If she comes across sounding like she’s thirty, not thirteen? Not good either. But here’s the thing. I’m getting to know the characters myself in these opening pages. I’m working out the relationships as I write them. I’ve known for a while what I want them to be, but it isn’t until the words come out of the characters’ mouths that I hear if those words are right.
There are no rules for this. It’s about writing and rewriting and rewriting some more until it all sounds and feels right.
It does get easier. Eventually.
In fairness, things do get easier – at least, I’ve always found that. Once I know my characters and the story is in full swing, I’m emotionally engaged, and once that happens, I feel the pages I’m writing, rather than just typing them out. That’s when I can write two or three pages a day. Right now I can write only one, and at the end of that page, I’m wiped!
One page a day, you may be thinking? Trust me, so am I. One page a day, when I need 400, is totally daunting. I read once, though, that John Grisham writes a page a day, seven days a week, which roughly equates with a book a year. If it works for him, it should work for me. Right?