I once said, and I still believe, that reading a book is a luxury. I mean this not just in the sense that so many people these days have unprecedented access to so many books, and more people have the money to buy those books, but also in the sense that, as readers, we can sit back and enjoy plots already constructed, characters predestined, and settings already created. Authors have already done the work; we have only to use our imaginations to follow along. The process of writing a book can actually be quite laborious; if you compare it to the construction of a house, with its premise being its foundation, its chapters walls, and so forth, you realize that a lot of details have to line up just right for the house to stand strong and look good. For it to be beautiful, with decorative style and imaginative doorknobs, the author must be architect, electrician, plumber, painter, carpet-layer, and decorator, all in one.
I aspire to be that. I’ve been honing my writing skills since high school, when I wrote angsty teenage poetry and served as the editor of the school literary magazine. I got a degree in journalism (because that’s the practical version of an english degree). I found a college magazine to be the managing editor of. I got a job writing grants for a nearby nonprofit. I wrote grants for various nonprofits for many years. I read writing book after writing book, took class after class for fun. Oh, and I got married, and, after years of infertility, had two kids. You know…real life stuff. But I hadn’t ever actually written a full-length book.
Three years ago, that changed. When my youngest started preschool, I started writing that book. The premise had stewed in my brain for a good three to four years before that. I planned, research, outlined, and wrote it in a year. Then, I had it professionally edited and a few friends read it. I loved it, but mostly just because I’d finally written it. I had always wanted to write a book that explored the fantastical possibilities of chromesthesia (a real phenomenon in which some people experience certain stimuli with two senses [e.g. hearing music and seeing colors with its]), and tied in the emotions of music. I found such joy in the “construction” process, true happiness as I stretched my creative muscles. I pitched it to an acquisitions editor at a writers’ conference (Storymakers), which means I interviewed with someone who could’ve published my book, and queried (i.e., sent my book’s “resume”) to several agents, and some of them expressed some interest. A few of them asked me to send part or all of my manuscript to them to read. All of them, however, ultimately rejected it. But that process was slow; it took me another year to hear back from all of them.
During that time, I continually edited and revised my manuscript, using the feedback I’d received from various sources. I read more books on the craft, Hooked by Les Edgerton and How to Write Science-Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card, to name just two. I joined a couple of writers clubs, attended their meetings religiously, even helped one gain its own nonprofit status. I went to writers conferences. I essentially re-wrote the last two-thirds of my book. And I’m glad I did; those two-thirds needed to be rewritten. I had an author critique it and a couple of family members with professional editing skills edit it. Again, I enjoyed building my creative house: letting my imagination go wild but then framing it into plot elements and nailing it into scenes. It felt good. When I felt like this second version of my book was ready, I queried it to another 20 agents. No one picked it up.
I didn’t start constructing my book for the sole purpose of publishing it; I wrote it more to see if I could do it, to have something to do that had both a process that I could enjoy and an end result (a completed manuscript) that I could be proud of. But still, after that second round of rejections, I started to question whether or not I should keep going with this book. I took several months off, took up snow skiing, got a job, continued to LIVE, and I tried not to think about the story, about the characters I’d gotten to know and love. I even started writing another book.
But ultimately, I had to go back to it. The premise still fascinated me–the idea that a girl who sees colors with music develops the ability to move nature with that color and music, but is then essentially forced into a world of natural disasters and interplanetary politics–and I wanted to make sure that that story was told with as much clarity and beauty and emotion as the characters deserved. And, to be honest, I’d already put about two years of effort and thought into this, and it had become somewhat of an I’ve-put-so-much-effort-and-time-into-this-that-I-don’t-want-that-to-be-all-for-naught thing.
I’ve gone to writers’ conference after writers’ conference, writers’ club meeting after writers’ club meeting. I’ve read, underlined, and applied book after book about writing (Jack Hickman’s Scene and Structure was phenomenal). I’m heavily revising…again…in the five minute of spare time I have here and there between my job as an editor and my responsibilities as a mother of two. Why? When I can see no publishing end in sight? It’s hard, sometimes, really, really hard, to get motivated to keep plugging away at it. Sometimes, when my antagonist (as he is wont to do) gets squirrely and refuses to fit into the constructs I’ve made for him, I want to reach my hand into my laptop screen and squeeze his non-existent but incredibly annoying neck. The process of making this book come together has become a lot messier than I thought it would be.
So why do I do it? Honestly, I’m not sure. Because that’s my kind of crazy? Because I take joy in the process (usually). Regardless of whether or not someone publishes it–buys the house, if you will–I will construct a home that I can be proud of, that I can “walk around in” and know that the ceiling won’t collapse on top of me, that the light will turn on when I throw the switch, and that the characters that inhabit its halls will be comfortable. And also, because I feel like–if you’ll bear with me while I extend the construction metaphor a little more–I’m in the kitchen, peeling onions, making my house smell good–I’m finally getting to the point where I’m starting to cry, and I think it might, just might be getting to the point where it might make others cry too (in a good way).
Will it pay off? I can’t say that I don’t care if it ever gets published, because I do. I know it has a place in today’s crowded publishing market. I have worked hard so that, some day, someone may enjoy the “luxury” of reading my published work. If this particular book (it’s working title is “Forced”) doesn’t get published, I’ll write another and start a different leg of my writing journey. Because isn’t that what life is all about: striving towards a destination, but enjoying the trip?