July 7, 2021
This last weekend, I finished yet another round of edits on my debut novel, Strange Attractors (coming 2022, Ylva Publishing). In less than a month, I’ll turn over the revised manuscript to my publisher and content editor for their review. At this stage, I’m both excited and nervous. But at every stage of the writing process, I’m excited and nervous; that’s because each project is a beautiful-scary critter that’s constantly morphing.
Beginning a new book starts with a tingle, a centipede tickling my belly, scurrying up to my chest, circling crazily, then wiggling down to my toes. Some ideas dry up like the house centipedes that creep and crawl in the bottom floor of my house. I’ve learned to let those ideas go, and I sweep them away. Besides, another idea will come to tickle my insides.
When I encounter the writing version of an infant house centipede, small, almost translucent, I leave it be. I don’t poke at it, don’t try “capturing” it. Instead, I let it grow—extending from my mind through my fingertips until it inhabits digital space on my laptop. After a month’s time, I have a full-grown draft. Not a pretty one, mind you. No, that first draft surprises me, delights me, terrifies me, and, sometimes, pisses me off—because it didn’t do what I wanted it to do. Simply put, it’s gangly and shoots off in directions I never anticipated.
My idea—once miniscule—continues to grow. Nighttime’s when it visits me in the most disturbing ways. I jar awake, finding it crawling over me (By the way, yes, that happens. An actual house centipede dropped on my face when I was sleeping, and it scared the shit out of me to be awakened so abruptly, so foully). My morphing-book acts the same. I can’t control when and how it shows up; I just know it lurks in the shadows, waiting for my eyelids to droop and my breathing to elongate. Then...it’s on me in the dark.
My favorite stage of a morphing-book’s life is when it’s grown into its own body, but it needs to be chased down, trimmed in places, thickened in others. Once again, some elements—ideas, themes, and even characters—dry up and drop, and I’ll sweep them away. Others thrive, but all of this happens over time, and I love almost every minute of it.
If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re a voracious reader, maybe a writer too. How exciting for you, and thanks (!!) for all the ways you support the beautiful-scary creation of books. Like me, you may have read advice from other authors, published ones, agented ones, bestselling ones. Repeatedly, writers at various stages of their careers call us to embrace, even enjoy, the writing process. It’s not the cover reveal that will bring JOY! It’s not being a NYT Bestseller, so I’ve been told. No, the joy (JOY!) is in the creation.
I better understand this now. I’ve been a published writer for nearly 20 years. All of my publications, however, have been scholarly or creative nonfiction. For years when I tried chasing down a contract with an agent and/or publisher, I told myself that I would be over-the-moon with happiness the moment I signed the contract. And I was when I found Ylva Publishing. Truly, though, I get more joy in the beautiful-scary parts. That tickling-tingling comes from creating an idea, a story, that may or may not survive, let alone thrive.
Hatching something and seeing what it morphs into: that’s startlingly beautiful, and disturbingly scary. And I love every part of it.
In the coming weeks, I will be turning my revised manuscript over to my content editor. Showing someone my growing house centipede is terrifying. What if they scream in horror? What if they stomp on it? Or what if they don’t see the beauty in it that I do?
On the other hand, what if by showing others my house centipede they help it become even more magnificent?
What a beautiful-scary creature our books become when we give over to the morphing process. And I love it.