The Book Engine

Last week, I finished the first draft of the new novel I’ve been working on since November. Writing a book tends to be an obsessive process for me. Once the story begins to drive itself, at that wonderful locking-into-gear point somewhere in the first thirty pages or so, I don’t want to do much of anything but stay at my computer every day for as long as the words will flow.

With my earlier books, I’ve finished a first draft in three months, give or take. This time, Nicky True (working title) took over half a year. I’m relieved to reach “The End”…but…

When I’m not working, I tend to get mean (as I call it). On an earlier incarnation of this blog, I talked about challenges I’ve had with anxiety and depression; I might revisit those topics over the next few months, as I know many of us have similar challenges. I’m at my best when I’m writing, because the characters and stories fill my head and help muffle the constant doubts. Between projects, it gets a little too quiet, and the internal critic comes through loud and clear.

This is Alafair. She lets me share “her” chair when I’m writing.

Today I got up thinking about Fourteen Stones and all the wonderful joys and stressors of an upcoming book launch. As I think many many writers do, I started to feel scared. The “what ifs” line up in a parade: What if no one likes it? What if it’s too long? What if it’s not long enough? What if nobody gets it? What if, what if… All those things that we as writers have no control over, as we take this product of our imaginations, which by now is also woven tightly into our hearts, and put it in a canoe and send it out on the river to ride the current.

I think it’s especially tricky for introverts – which again, is a lot of writers, or we wouldn’t be so comfortable hanging out for hours at a time with no company but our characters – and for those of us who never were “cool kids.” As a young teenager, I was the uncool poster child. Thirty years later, I still struggle with the idea that the things that fascinate me might interest anyone else.

For me, writing a book is always about love. I have to love the characters, able to see them as whole humans with strengths and flaws and delights and secrets, and I have to want to spend countless hours in their company, letting them tell me their stories. When I’m working, I feel a surge of excitement in the morning, knowing I’m going to sit at my desk that day and see where the ribbons of story will lead. Sometimes I feel a joy so bright it can, at least for a while, shrink all the ordinary obstacles and annoyances of life down to dust-mote-size. Of course, there’s also plenty of frustration, discouragement, writer’s block, and confusion. But at its core, for me, writing a book is about the love of the process.

My books themselves also tend to be about love, one way or another. Not necessarily “love stories,” but stories in which characters have deep loves of their own, for the work they do, for the place they call home, and yes, for one another. At the end of the day, my stories tend to be about how those loves shape people and their actions. To Love A Stranger was like that; Fourteen Stones is too, though in a different way. As I think about it, love seems like a pretty solid basis for a story.

This is Fergus. He signs off on edits.

When my critic starts filling my head with chaos, it can help me to remember why I got into a project in the first place: where that driving love came from. Even if I’m not sure about the words themselves, or if I’m nervous about how they might strike anyone else, the engine behind the work has a song of its own that can quiet the other noise.

As always, thank you for visiting the blog. If you’d like to stay updated with book news, writerly thoughts, and other meditations, please consider subscribing. See you next time!


3 thoughts on “The Book Engine

  1. Melissa Parker

    Congratulations on the publishing of Fourteen Stones! I look forward to reading it.
    I really enjoyed the blog post, too.

    If you’re ever in Wyoming, please come visit me!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your entry reminds me of Gail Godwin, an author now in her mid-80s who is my contemporary in that both of us grew up in the hills of North Carolina and majored in journalism and English lit at UNC-Chapel Hill, graduating about 4 years apart. If you don’t know of her, it may be helpful to read her online – or read her again if it’s been a while. Both of you are brilliant and sensitive introverts – carrying a writer’s “block” on your backs when not at your keyboards.


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