The edits came back last month on my newest book and I was thrilled.
The changes weren’t going to be too difficult and most of the feedback was positive. I figured I could set aside a few mornings, wrap up the book and send it in.
But that’s when I was reminded that writing a book, unlike writing a blog post or a sales email or just about anything else requires direct and focused attention. A book is like a two year old in that way. You just can’t take your eyes off it to do anything else or it’s going to get into trouble.
Sure, I set aside a few mornings but I’d sit there looking at the manuscript unable to get my head back into it. Then, I’d make one edit only to create a domino effect throughout the rest of the book. I did this a few times before I started to believe the book was a total disaster and would probably never be published. Then, I broke the news to Betsy.
Babe, I’ve got to get a cabin. I’ve got to get my head back in this book and I can’t do it running my usual schedule.
Betsy obliged. She had a friend coming to town and was going to be tied up anyway. So I rented the cabin and Lucy and I hit the road.
My first night in the cabin went terribly.
Once again I couldn’t get my head inside the book. It all felt like fits and false starts, as though I couldn’t land a point. The second day felt the same. In fact, I started wondering, once again, if I’d only fooled myself into thinking I had something to work with. I talked with Betsy that night completely defeated. It’s the worst book I’ve ever written, I told her. I don’t think it can be fixed.
That night, though, I slept twelve hours. I woke up starting to feel a little refreshed and half willing to dive back into the book. And because I’d been away from people for 3 days now, and because I’d gotten enough sleep, and because I wasn’t answering my phone, I finally found my way back into the book. I could clearly see it’s flaws and, even better, I knew how to fix them.
Is getting away to work on the book fun? Absolutely not. It’s mind-numblingly lonely work and half the time you’re battling the demons in your own head.
But it’s necessary. You don’t come in and out of a book the way you can any other project. You’ve got to live inside a book, set up camp in the book, sleep inside it, go for walks inside it and you can’t under any circumstances come up for air otherwise you’ll have to go through the reentry process again.
I can’t tell you how many people I meet who want to write a book in their free time.
But here’s the reality — a book will demand your all. That great line won’t come to you on a schedule (though you should keep one anyway) it will come to you when it wants and you have to be sitting there when it arrives or you’ll miss it.
If you’ve got a book brewing, rent a cabin. I know you have kids and a job and can’t afford the luxury and I’m sorry if that’s true because the reality is it probably isn’t true. The cabin I’m staying in is a dump and I’m busier than anybody I know but I’m still convinced it’s the only way to get the work done. There’s nothing luxurious about it.
Betsy and I call my writing sessions the “coal mine” because often that’s what it feels like, going into the coal mine of our souls to find the words, polish them and set them on the page so it looks like they were born there.
Every writer hides the dirt. It gets taken out with the trash, outside a cabin, deep in the woods where the words were.
Best to you in your writing.