After the helpful, kind response I got to my last post about progress on the book, I decided that I’ll post regular book updates for those who are interested (I’ll label them clearly so that those who are not interested can skip these posts). 🙂
Where I am…
I’m on Chapter 8 of what I expect to be a 14-chapter book. I’ve known all along that this would be the hardest chapter to write, and it is. I’ve been working on it since before Thanksgiving.
The main topic of this chapter is the first time I read the Bible. In order to really take the reader back to what that was like, I have to re-live it all for myself…which has required a ton of time spent just re-reading the Bible. Interestingly, at the time I first read it I felt compelled to take detailed notes about the process (maybe Somebody had a plan there?). Without those notes I’d be lost. I spent all my writing time from late November to mid January just reading chapters from the New and Old Testaments, taking notes on my notes, trying to sift out the most relevant observations. I’m now trying to write a coherent chapter out of stacks and stacks of scribbled thoughts. I’m happy with what I have, but it is a very slow process.
On the business side…
I finally told my agent that I’m not going to hit the early March deadline for a first draft. I also explained that, with the new baby, it was really hard to say how much progress I’d make this spring. He was very understanding and reminded me that it’s better to take my time to craft something good than to rush and craft something bad. That’s the benefit of not actually having a deadline with a publisher yet.
Speaking of which, we’re waiting until the entire manuscript is complete to submit it to publishers. With non-fiction you usually don’t have to do that, but for first-time memoirs it’s pretty standard. After I get my first draft done I’ll have my personal editorial board review it (a.k.a. my husband and some friends), the agent will go over it in detail, and only then will we begin to submit it to publishers.
I occasionally have a pang of anxiousness about the fact that I do not have a contract with a publisher so there’s always the chance that this thing will never see the light of day, but, as I’ve said before, I just need to trust that whatever is meant to happen will happen. I’ve never been to Adoration as much as I have been to seek guidance on this matter; sometimes I think that God’s whole plan with this book is just to get me to go to Adoration more often.
What I’ve learned…
After reading writing “how-to” books by authors like Stephen King, Annie Dillard and Bill Roorbach, I had this image that writing a book must involve hours and hours of free time to dedicate to the craft each day, six or seven days a week. Many of these modern authors describe retiring to seaside cabins or silent attic offices with lush forest views to spend 20 – 40 (or more) hours per week just focusing peacefully on their current works.
It was refreshing, then, to come across this section in Heather King’s fantastic spiritual memoir Redeemed where she talks about writers who produced great work in far less than ideal circumstances, displaying an “astounding, warriorlike tenacity” and proving that it is possible to write something great even if you’re not relaxing in comfort at your vacation home:
Kafka had penned two of his finest works…while dying of tuberculosis. Nothing had kept him from working, not the collapsed lungs that made him feel like he was breathing splinters of glass, not the tormented nerves that had plagued him all his life. […]
Dennis Potter, the late brilliant British TV writer, suffered his entire career from psoriatic arthropathy, a disfiguring and excruciatingly painful condition that…fueled a streak of creativity I could only view with the deepest awe and respect. He…turned in scripts splattered with blood and cortisone cream, and when his hand was too crabbed with arthritis to hold a pen, strapped the pen on and continued writing anyway. […]
Swollen with cortisone, her joints crippled, Flannery O’Connor worked fiercely through years of the lupus that would kill her at the age of thirty-nine. When her mother urged her to go to Lourdes, she reluctantly did, writing afterwards to a friend, “I prayed there for the novel I was working on, not for my bones, which I care about less…” Three weeks before dying, she wrote to a friend, “I’m still in bed but I climb out of it into the typewriter about 2 hours every morning”…Nine days before [she died] she learned that her story “Revelation” had won first place in the O. Henry competition.
I’ve often thought of these examples and used them as inspiration to remember that good writing is possible under all sorts of circumstances.
I’ve decided not to set any more deadlines until after the new baby gets here in early March. I’ll just wait to see how it goes and reassess a few weeks after she’s here. The only “hard” deadline I have is that I don’t want the contract with the agent to expire before the thing is finished, but that’s more than a year from now so that should give me plenty of time.
That’s the update! Now back to squeezing in a little writing time before my two youngest wake up from their naps…
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