Yesterday, someone asked me how the new book was going, and I replied, with complete honesty, “Great.” She nodded absently, as if she’d asked “How are you,” and I’d said, “Fine.” I wanted her to understand that I was not just giving a standard polite response, so I added, “I’m still in the honeymoon phase.”
Later, while driving home, I thought about what I’d said, and I realized that, at least for me, the analogy stands up.
For me, writing a book is a relationship. It starts in the pre-writing stage. I’ve just met a new protagonist, and I’m getting to know him or her. Each new detail is fascinating. I’m a serious plotter, who does a detailed outline and multi-page synopsis before starting the book, so compare it to a long engagement. (Those writers who jump write in without a plot—aka “pansters”—have more of a get-drunk-and-elope-to-Vegas model.)
Once the courtship, er, make that the planning is done, I ‘m ready to commit. My version of saying “I do” is to sit down and type the words “Chapter One.”
The honeymoon phase (my current status) is blissful. Words flow onto the page. My characters are cooperative, and seem to want to help me with the process of bringing them to life. I recently accepted a “day job” (although mine is second shift) and I resent the time away from my characters. I can’t wait to get back to the keyboard.
Definitely a honeymoon.
I know from experience, alas, that reality will eventually begin to creep in around the edges. I’ll begin to notice traits in my characters that weren’t apparent during the courtship (planning stage). At first, I’ll be able to dismiss these as minor quirks, which only make my heroine more endearing or give my hero depth. The good outweighs the bad. I can deal with a few bumps.
And then my protagonist will do something totally unexpected and contrary to the vows (plot) and threaten to throw the entire marriage (book) off track.
So I’ll throw a tantrum and run home to mother (whine to my critique partners) who will reassure me that it’s all part of the relationship (writing process) and convince me to give it another shot.
This may happen one or two or ten times, but the book will continue to plod along, deadline growing ever closer, until I hit THAT POINT IN THE BOOK THAT 99% OF WRITERS EXPERIENCE.
It’s the “What the HELL was I thinking?” point. The entire relationship (story) was a bad idea. The entire marriage (book) sucks, and it’s all my fault. I was never cut out to do this in the first place. I can’t stand my spouse (protagonist) and have no idea why I decided to marry (write a book about) him in the first place.
I want a divorce. I am MOVING OUT.
I might even have a brief affair (fiddle around with a new, different writing project) but eventually, I try for a reconciliation.
And it works! When I go back to chapter one and re-read what I’ve written from the beginning, I invariably realize that it’s better than I had feared. The things that made me fall in love in the first place are still there. Sure, a little course correction may be needed to get the relationship back on track, but it’s totally worth it.
And so, with a more realistic idea of what it takes to make it all work, I re-commit to the marriage, er, I mean book, and do what I have to do to get it done.
But, for now, it’s nice to be honeymooning.