Writing about writing is a big huge giant meta wormhole, and it might not appeal to absolutely anyone reading this, but should some desperate author one day google something like “how to write a book, no seriously, please help me?” I hope this post helps them to not feel so utterly, utterly alone and stupid.
You see, writing a book gave me a brain tumor.
My doctor hasn’t found it yet, but I swear it’s there. Every time I sit down at my desk to write, I grow so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. I can’t tell you how many times Andy has walked in to find me face down at my desk napping. I have started sitting down at the computer with a 20 oz. Coke, hoping the sugar will keep me awake.
I talked to both my primary care doctor and my therapist about the tumor, and they both insist that I am fine and that the issue is psychological.
But, I explained to them that I needed there to be a tumor, because if there wasn’t, what if it was my brain telling me writing this book was not what I was supposed to do? Every time I touch my keyboard it’s a mental “nope,” and “shhh,” and “snore.” My book was being cockblocked by my pons.
On top of the unexplained exhaustion, there was the very real fact that I had no idea what I was doing. My agent and editor are amazing, and I love them with every part of my being, but I swear to you, writing a book was impossibly hard for me to understand. I googled the process at least 400 times. While I had a general idea about what I wanted to say, laying it out and typing it was just enormously daunting. I went to the store and bought yellow legal pads and gel pens, and began writing broken sentences and notes, hoping that physical act of making words would help. But, nothing I wrote was funny or poignant enough. I read the memoirs of other brilliant authors, expecting their creativity and ease of process to inspire me.
But, they also made me feel like a big huge failure. Their books were hilarious and thought provoking, and hit on the exposed nerve of my biggest fear regarding this book, what if everyone hated it and asked “what’s the point?”
I reached out to some amazing friends who are also, themselves, published authors, and asked them exactly how they wrote their books.
Oh, I just sit down with a goal of 10,000 words a day and crank it out.
I write while the kids were at school and the house is quiet.
I go to Starbucks with my earbuds and just zone out and do it.
Honestly, I can’t get the words out of me fast enough, it is like therapy.
I mean, what the fuck? How could I suck so bad at something I loved so much?
I tried setting a timer with a goal of 1000 words, but an hour later, the bell would ring, and I’d have written 90 words and spent the other 50 minutes googling obscure references and 90’s song lyrics.
I tried to write while the kids were at school, but was easily distracted by chores and a full DVR.
I tried to write in Starbucks and Panera, but the smell of coffee made me pukey.
My May 1st deadline came, and at 11:59pm, I turned in the 70,000 words I’d eked out from the uninhabited corner of my local library.
“You did it!” Andy beamed, waiting at the door of my office with a glass of champagne. I smiled and nodded, but it didn’t feel like I’d imagined it would. I didn’t feel like I’d just written my first book, because in my head, I hadn’t.
“You always do this,” he assured me. “You always think that something is bad, but in reality, it’s brilliant and everyone loves it.”
A few weeks later, my editor returned the book with a glowing review and pounds and pounds of edits, and I dug right back in, hoping to finally produce something I loved. I didn’t. While it was immensely easier the second time around, it was as if I was reading some of it for the very first time. “Who wrote this shit?” I asked myself as I flipped through the pages, embarrassed at what I’d turned in.
I spent a month polishing what I could, breaking up with some chapters that didn’t work, and putting in ones that did. I felt more confident, for sure, but not accomplished and certainly not proud. I could do way better, and I knew it.
Andy and I went out with friends, celebrating another deadline met over margaritas and tacos, laughing and toasting each other as I buried the disappointment in myself under barbacoa and guacamole. The next morning I woke up, stumbled to my computer, and read the 18 chapters I’d handed over the day before. No, I thought. This is not how this is going to go down.
I emailed my editor on a Sunday asking for one week to rewrite the back half of my book, she gave me 6 days. I wrote in the car. I dictated notes to myself using my iPhone at red lights and school pick up lines. I filled pages of my yellow legal pads while standing at the counter making dinner or in bed while Andy passed out beside me. I typed away sitting cross legged on my bed, watching Girls reruns and eating Big Macs and fries. I jumped out of the shower to jot wet notes into the notebook I’d kept on the bathroom counter. There was nothing beautiful or poetic about this process for me, and once I let that go, I was able to dig in, laugh hysterically and tell my story.
I re-submitted my manuscript last Thursday at 5pm, and I walked away from my computer smiling and accomplished and proud for the very, very, first time.
Yesterday I began listening to the audio version of Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, that you should absolutely buy right now because it’s brilliant and we share our editor and in my head, that makes us sisters. Of the thousands of brilliant words, the most profound to me was her description of writing her book.
“It’s been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.”
Thank you, Amy Poehler. Thank you for making what I have felt since October 2013 okay. Thank you for reminding me that these feelings do not diminish my words or my talent. Thank you for admitting that writing a book sometimes sucks balls and that walking around like you have mono or were just hit by a train is normal. Thank you for assuring me that even though this process isn’t pretty, it’s still profound and life-changing and fun.
I didn’t write a book. I struggled through a book. I cried through a book. I ate cheeseburgers through a book. And it will be out May 5th. I can’t wait.