Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Having a Love Affair with Your Own Novel

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My mom brought me an article last week and said, "It's by this author, Libbie Bray. Ever heard of her?"
"Um, it's Libba Bray, Mom. And yes, I've heard of her." Duh. Who hasn't heard of Libba Bray? *insert eye roll*
Anyway, it was a super-funny article in which Libba describes the various stages of her love affair with her novels.  It starts with infatuation in the first draft... like how your book is really clever and funny and brings you unexpected metaphors.  As she revises, she begins to think the book is losing its charm, and is maybe even trite or stupid.  Toward the end, she's happy to pass it off to a copy editor who will love it, because she doesn't want the relationship anymore. "It's not working. I'm sorry.  It's not you, it's ... actually, it's you.  You're stupid.  And I sort of hate you." (Libba says it way funnier than I did in just a few summary sentences.  You should read the article here in Delta Sky Magazine, page 144.)

But as I got to thinking harder about the love affair analogy, I realized she was missing an early step that tripped me up pretty badly.  The FEAR OF COMMITMENT and/or FEAR OF RUINING WHAT YOU HAVE and/or FEAR OF GETTING HURT.

As I wrote DESTINED, I worked pretty steadily on that first draft... until the very end.  I had like 90,000 words, knew how it was going to end, and only had two chapters left until the first draft was finished.  Completing those two chapters took me months.  Absolutely, I realized I was suffering from a psychological hang-up... but that didn't help me finish.

I was so in love with the story, and yet I couldn't bring around its resolution for months.  In the whole love affair analogy, it's sort of like holding off on having sex.  To this day, I don't know whether it was a fear of commitment: Yes, you're a wonderful book and I love you, but this is just too big of a step for me right now.  Or whether it was a fear of ruining what I had going on: What if you don't want me anymore once it's over?
Or maybe it was just my own fear of failure.  Everything's been wonderful, but I'm afraid I have to dump you before I get hurt.  I'd been telling everyone who would listen that I was writing this book.  I'd spent countless months learning the trade, attending conferences, slaving away at night.  What if I finished the book, and it sucked?  Could I live with that?

Eventually, I did finish and I fell back in love with my story. By the time I wrote it, the epilogue was basically composed inside my head and it's (I hope) romantic, and tender, and just what I wanted it to be.  So maybe my brain was holding off, making me wait for the perfect moment to take that last step in the relationship.  You know, a waves crashing on the beach, stars twinkling overhead, with the perfect song playing in the background like a movie, kind of moment.  All I can say is, I'm glad that stage of the relationship is behind me.  Here's hoping it doesn't rear its ugly head in book 2!

I hope I'm alone in this book-relationship hang-up, but has anyone else suffered from the affliction?  How did you get past it?


  1. I have had this problem and I stepped away from the story. For like a year. Luckily, I have a little sister who loved it, I think more than I did and she kept hounding me. So now, with a renewed love of my story, I am finally finishing it.

    And you're so right, I've come up with new ideas in that time that really pull everything together. Sometimes I think we just need to give ourselves a break!

    Great article Jessie, thanks for sharing.

  2. I freaking love this post! So, so true.
    Right now, I'm ending completing my novel. Most people worry about the first chapter but I'm intimidated by how I'm going to end this thing.


  3. GREAT analogy and I totally relate!

  4. I am in the "fear of ruining what you have" stage RIGHT NOW. It happens every time I hit the climax of a story. Suddenly, I'm getting more housework done, reading more blogs, and taking more walks-- and writing a lot less. Because this moment could be great...but what if I destroy it?

    It usually takes my husband to remind me that even if I do, I can just rewrite it. :)

  5. Yes. That's a very legitimate fear. At least I hope so because I have it every time I write something. Before I write, "The End" I do a lot of avoidance before commitment. It's all about wanting it to be perfect . . . well, as close to perfect as I can make it.

    Thanks Jessie. Great analogy.

  6. Wow - I don't know whether I'm happy that I'm not alone in this little hang up or whether to be sorry for the rest of you who get stuck there with me. I'll take happy! I like having company. :)

  7. Great analogy, for wherever you are in the process, and on whichever book.

    I'm currently trying to get back together with my ex-boyfriend (my very first book). There are still sparks there, but it's going to take some work to fall back in love again...I've changed so much, and "he" needs to change a lot. Still, I'm hopeful it will work out:)

  8. Ending it, beginning it, in the middle of it...the whole thing is a love/hate relationship for me!


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