So my friend Zelda is writing a book – she’s decided that after years of consulting it was time to impart her wisdom to the world at large.
So, all fresh-faced and bushy-tailed Zelda dove in figuring it would take a few weeks, like maybe six or so to write the book, do a website, set up an ad campaign and she’d be off to the races. Well I’m not sure but I think that was about three months ago.
Now, every time I talk to her she is on the verge of being done – and every other time I talk to her she has found a ‘bug’ that she had to work out so that some chapter in the book would line up with some other thing and the reader could actually use the information she is giving them.
So for the most part, aside from being glued to her computer 24/7 for a time period as yet unknown, Zelda is missing in action.
In fact, I swung by a couple of weeks ago to say hi (I also brought lunch) and I thought she was going to slug me. (Word of advice: Never interrupt anyone on the ‘verge’ of completing a book.)
But all of this got me thinking about books and how they are kind of like babies. Let me explain – a lot of people want babies, right? They have dreams of tow-headed (or red-headed, or purple-headed) tykes filling a house with giggles and love. It’s a beautiful picture right? So women get pregnant cuz they gotta have that, right? Then they go through nine months of being pregnant, they have morning sickness, weird cravings, swollen feet, have to go to the bathroom every ten minutes and end up with that waddle that pregnant women are famous for. Still, they put up with it because they have that ideal vision of the baby, the giggles, the love.
Then they go into labor and I’ve heard tell that some women threaten to do terrible things to the people who got them in that situation…but I digress. Still the vision lives on.
Then there are midnight feedings, no sleep, losing the pregnancy weight and somehow the vision… Still. Lives. On.
Well a book is kind of the same thing. You have this idea of how great it’s all gonna be when you’re at book signings and selling millions of copies and chatting it up with Ellen or Oprah or Katie on national TV. And how cool it’s going to be when you get to haggle for the film and foreign rights and the awards, money, and fame. Whatever it is that inspires you to want to write the book in the first place. And the idea is so purely and deeply coming from your soul or your brain that you know, absolutely know that you can dash that puppy off in mere weeks if not a weekend and then…
You hit. The 20 stages of writing a book:
- Stage one – you’ve sharpened your pencils, fired up your computer and gathered your notes.
- Stage two – you’ve exhausted your notes, references, images and everything else you had and realize you need to do more research.
- Stage three – you find a great source of research and figure you’re back on track and have only added maybe a week to your time table.
- Stage four – your research source has dried up and you can’t find a mountain of information you need to continue without actually leaving your home, visiting the library, interviewing somebody or learning a new skill.
- Stage five – you’ve gathered enough research to get through chapter seven but then realize that you have to back to chapter six because there is a whole sequence you forgot to include because you didn’t have the research for chapter seven when you wrote chapter six.
- Stage six – your life starts demanding things of you like working your day job, feeding your kids or pets, fixing that strange rumble in coming from your water heater or paying your cell phone bill.
- Stage seven – you have finally figured out how to do enough work to get paid doing as little as possible, so you can use most of your time writing the book which is currently going swimmingly.
- Stage eight – you ignore the voice mails, emails and knocks on the door from concerned friends who haven’t heard from you for so long they are convinced you have been abducted by aliens or are trapped under a mountain of boxes in the basement.
- Stage nine – you are hopelessly past your deadline and not even halfway through the project and you’re really starting to get tired of writing down your thoughts, ideas and words.
- Stage ten – at three a.m. you discover that though you are very hungry you have absolutely nothing in your house to eat except ketchup and some weird cheese you got for Christmas last year. You are delighted when you discover half a protein bar in the trunk of your car and savor that as you write chapter twenty.
- Stage eleven – you have been wearing the same clothes for the last five days and don’t care. Since you fell asleep at your desk last night the pages of the last chapter stuck to your face and your sweat has smeared them. Now you have to reprint.
- Stage twelve – you hit a wall – you have absolutely nothing left to give to the book. Not one single thought in your head, except “I’m hungry.”
- Stage thirteen – you curse yourself for ever wanting to write a book and start looking through want ads for a second job, so you can afford to buy some food.
- Stage fourteen – you catch your second wind and the book is flying through your fingertips onto the keyboard. You are in the zone and it’s all happening.
- Stage fifteen – your computer didn’t do its back up and your main file corrupted, so now you have to reconstruct the book from memory and crappy notes.
- Stage sixteen – you are now just writing the book out of spite because damn it, you aren’t going to let some damn book get the best of you.
- Stage seventeen – you no longer distinguish day from night, you are in a permanent mental deprivation chamber and feel a sudden empathy for prisoners of war.
- Stage eighteen – you are about to write the final chapter and then realize you have no idea how to end it. You had ideas when you started out but then it doesn’t seem quite right now. Out of frustration you yell at your cat.
- Stage nineteen– you are forcing yourself through the final chapter and each word, comma and semi-colon is like a stab to your eyes. You call friends to read them excerpts of the text just to make sure anything at all in the book makes sense. And damn it, you need feed back.
- Stage twenty – you finish the book and allow yourself to sleep in your actual bed. You wake up refreshed and alert, grab a cup of coffee and sit down at your desk. Then you cry because you realize the only thing you finished was the first draft.
Those are my stages – how many stages do you go through when writing a book?