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.
7 comments to Guest Post by Rachel Aaron: Loving Your Book
Welcome back Rachel. This was a very timely post. It was also a great reminder that even though it might feel like a struggle and that if I’m going to get anywhere when I sit down to write, I’ve got to sit down with sleeves rolled up, ready to kick ass and take names, it really isn’t the story that I’m struggling with. The story and I are working together and that’s more like play. It only becomes a struggle when I stop working with it and try to force it someplace that it doesn’t want to go.
Great to see you here, Rachel. I love this post, and especially this line: “…because writing is also an endless exercising in learning to fail better.” This. So, so this. The fundamental lesson that all writers learn somewhere along the way is that this is hard to do. Anyone who believes that writing is merely fun, that it is an easy, seamless creative process, that all we do is sit around waiting for the muse to strike, has never written a thing. And yes, part of embracing the struggle, the hard work, the fits and starts that are so much a part of this thing we call “writing” is learning to do what you describe here. I’m 35,000 words into a book that is giving me fits, and your post today has reminded me that the struggle doesn’t have to be a war, and that beating the thing into submission might not be the best approach. Thank you for that.
A perfect post for today! Thanks for sharing, Rachel. (And I’ve been administering some tough love to a manuscript for the past few days. Maybe it’s time to stop being so tough )
“Because love isn’t a battlefield. It’s a long, drawn out compromise, which is far more difficult.”
Beautiful words. I think David says it best about what this post means to me. I’m currently writing a novel and I got to a point where I was just stuck wondering, “okay, where is all this going?” So I stopped writing and started to plot out the next 25% of my book and realize that, “Oh my gosh, I have no idea what I’m doing.” But I made a pact with myself and with God that I would finish this book this year. My goal is to finish before the summer rolls around. I will not let this book just wonder off the bridge like I did last year’s novel.
It’s just really scary to write to a novel and then wonder if it’ll be good enough. (My Inner Critic is a horrible person) So what my words may be rough now; I’m in first draft stage, they’re allowed to be rough. I won’t get mad at my novel. I won’t get mad at me. I’ll push through even when I hate my words, even when my characters go off script.
Thanks for this one.
Hi Rachel, great post! “. . . rather than raging or crying or grabbing for control, I stop and remember that I loved this book once.” While the whole post was perfect for me to hear, this is the line that will stick with me. Tomorrow I’m going to spend some time re-focusing on what I loved about the book, and figuring out how to re-kindle the flame.
“Because love isn’t a battlefield.”
Pat Benatar would disagree.
Good post and good to see ya back for another.
Hi, Rachel! This is an amazingly timely post (you folks at MW are a tricksy lot!). I just finished reading your Eli books, which I bought after I read your 2K to 10K book (and I am determined to give your method a try). Thanks for this post, I needed that!