Rachel Aaron is the author of eight novels, starting with The Legend of Eli Monpress, an adventure fantasy series available from Orbit Books, now on sale for $2.99! She’s also the author of the fast writing book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. Learn more about Rachel’s books and read her writing blog at www.rachelaaron.net.
Loving Your Book
Humans are story telling creatures. Everything we turn our interest to–sports, politics, news, love–we create a narrative around, even if one didn’t actually exist before we made it. Story is how we understand the world, and being such a fundamental part of who and what we are, it’s no wonder we get so damn attached to the tales we tell.
If you’ve written a novel, or even tried to, chances are you’ve experienced the awful feeling of staring at a book and realizing everything’s wrong. That the story is broken, and there’s no way to fix it. When this happens, it’s not just a depressing blow to your pride or the frustration of wasted work. It hurts. You might not be driven to melodramatically wander the moors moaning about your lost muse, but even the most cynical and hardened author knows that it hurts when a book breaks.
When things go wrong like this, the conventional wisdom is to get over the hurt and keep writing. Butt in chair, never give up, soldier on, etc. Don’t get me wrong, this is good advice. Tenacity and a dogged refusal to ever stop writing is one of the fundamental pillars of being a successful author. That said, though, there’s a difference between being tenacious and beating yourself and your book bloody trying to force your story into submission.
After years of bitter struggle, I’ve found I get much better results if I stop thinking of my writing as a battlefield and my book as an enemy and started treating my novels the same way I’d treat anything else so near and dear to my heart: with communication and understanding. Whenever a book breaks these days, rather than raging or crying or grabbing for control, I stop and remember that I loved this book once. I love all my novels, otherwise why would I write them? So when a book is falling apart, I put that love square in the center of my mind and look back to figure out where things went wrong. What happened? Why is this failing? How can I fix it? How we go back to being happy?
If this sounds sappy, that’s because it is a little. But like all great love affairs, writing is an emotional and deeply personal business. Just as learning to communicate and work as a team with your spouse is the secret to a long and happy marriage, learning to listen to and work with your characters and story is the key to a successful book. This doesn’t mean your books will stop breaking. They never stop breaking, because writing is also an endless exercising in learning to fail better. But while you can’t banish broken plots or dead ends, you can learn to deal with them faster, better, and with far less pain.
Of all the writing tricks I’ve picked up over the years, learning to stop fighting and love my books and the process of writing on its own terms was probably the hardest, and the most rewarding. Because love isn’t a battlefield. It’s a long, drawn out compromise, which is far more difficult. Just like you can’t win a relationship, you can’t win a book, but you can learn to work with it to make something magical, and that is far, far better.
Happy Valentine’s Day!