August 23, 2013

Things I've Learned From Writing A Book Under Contract

****I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because I was asked to and I figured, well, why the heck not?

As of this month I have one book out in the world and one book currently going through edits. The first book, Gated, was written before I had an editor or an agent. The second book (Gated's sequel) was written after I had both. Let me tell you, there are HUGE differences between my writing experiences for these books and I just thought, well, why not share? After all, part of what I like to do is frighten people with my words and this post, dear readers will be no different, hee hee. Okay, not really, but I will warn you that it does take the brutally honest approach.

The unvarnished truth is that the book I wrote under contract--the one I began once I had an agent and editor--was the single most terrifying project I've ever tackled.


Even in comparison to childbirth.

Even in comparison to teaching at an inner city school where every kid was far tougher than me.

 It was HARD.

 And scary.

 And almost impossible.

Now I know about now you are shaking your head and wondering how this could be so. After all, the book was under contract. My publishing house had enough faith in me already that they'd offered on it without any part of it being written yet. After years spent fretting about getting an agent or on whether or not I was even good enough to ever get published, you'd think I would've been feeling more confident.


But nope.

Well, that's not true all the way. I felt a little validated, but mostly what I felt like was an imposter. I'd only written one book before Gated. I still felt vastly inexperienced and totally in over my head. I'm not saying that I doubted that I could write well necessarily, just that I doubted that I could write well consistently. Who I was as a writer didn't magically change because I signed a contract with Random House. Validation can make you feel good, but it won't change who you think you are fundamentally. At least it didn't work that way for me.

Here's what it was like:

Month 1: The dust settled after the heady days of agent offers, editor offers and deal announcements. I was asked for a due date for the novel under contract. My editor did have a synopsis for this new novel, but I hadn't written one chapter yet. I sat down now to begin the process of writing it. I delved back into my research and began to outline where I thought the book would go. This part was deceptively easy (it always is for me). The hard part comes when I sit down to that first empty page on legal pad number one and try to start drafting. I start and restart too many times to count.

Month Two: I'm still on the beginning of the book. My head is not in the game the way it should be because now I'm constantly distracted by any news about my debut book--the contract being delivered, edit notes, etc. I refresh my email often and it's almost always quiet. Drafting my new book is like slogging through mud covered in heavy armor. I can't move, think, breathe. Every sentence, every word is torturous, stilted, and WRONG.

Month Three-Five: I AM SO DISTRACTED BY MY DEBUT BOOK. I know I should be writing furiously...and I am...between email refreshes and manic checks on Goodreads to see if the book's been listed there yet, if I have an isbn number, if any bloggers are talking about it at all. I dream of book signings and being on author panels and basically spend a lot of time practicing my signature. I try to make myself work on the book, and I do get writing done--about 1k a day--and almost always I rewrite it completely when I go to type it into my computer or throw it away because I know that it's nowhere near right. I am incapable of doing a sloppy copy. My debut book is polished and getting prettier all the time as it goes though the edit process and this new book just feels like the biggest, ugliest pig I have ever seen all dressed up in some of my worst prose ever. My mind races through a million doubts. What if I am only capable of writing one publishable book? What if I have no idea how to write for real and just got lucky the first time? What if my editor reads this second book and realizes how wrong she was about me? What if my agent (who is also a friend) regrets every signing me on? I pace my house at night incessantly, chewing my nails to the quick.

Month Five-Ten: I write and rewrite and rewrite. I ask to change my deadline from before Christmas to after. Thankfully, my editor thinks this is a great idea and isn't bothered that I need more time. The book is still very, very ugly. The plot meanders; the chapters are loose and don't end or begin well. The characters feel flat. I feel flat. I ask myself a dozen times a day? Why did I ever think I could write a sequel to Gated? These moments of abject horror are intermixed with huge highs--like when Gated's cover is revealed, but the highs never last long. I am now absolutely certain that everyone who reads this second book will be disappointed in me and I don't blame them. I'm disappointed in me, and yet, some stubborn bit of me--deep inside--refuses to quit. I will get this book written and find a way to fix it even if it kills me because I want to be published more than this once. I want a career as an author and I know that if I don't put on my big girl panties and barrel headlong through this draft and turn it in, I won't make it in this business. In short, I need to toughen up. I send the book off to my crit partners without the ending to see if I'm at least on the right track sort of. They have feedback--great feedback and lots of it---but they never, not once, say it sucks. In fact they say it's off to a good start and don't seem concerned that I won't be able to fix it. I start to have a brief glimmer of hope.

Deadline Weekend: I stay up all night that last night. I might've been able to delay my due date, but I knew by this point that all I would be doing is giving myself more time to wallow in my insecurity. I just needed to finish the dang thing. It takes me right up until the last day to figure out the last several chapters and I'm not completely satisfied with them when I'm done, but the draft is done, thank the little baby Jesus. I cry and then email it off to my editor along with an email full of apologies and disclaimers. I am scared, but also resigned to the fact that at this point the draft is as good as it's going to get until I get some distance from it for a while. I take comfort in knowing that my editor won't probably read it for a few months yet and then pass out.

Fast Forward to This Summer: I get my edit letter and there are big fixes to be made to the draft, but my editor and agent both are happy with the direction I took. I reread it and low and behold, while cringe worthy in parts, it's not all that bad. In fact, I'm pleasantly surprised that there are whole chunks that I like now. Sure, I have to do a major overhaul and end up revising it down from 103k to around 83k, but the fixes feel doable and that is an amazing feeling.

Looking back here's what I learned:

1. Writing to deadline and with the knowledge that professional type people will be reading and weighing in on this book whether you feel good about it or not creates a new kind of pressure that can be debilitating at times.

 2. Getting a publishing contract does not magically give you confidence in your ability. This only comes with time and with plowing through your fear over and over again.

3. Sometimes success can create an expectation (from yourself) that is almost impossible to meet. You have to block it out and just concentrate on what's in front of you so you don't freeze up.

4. I used to think that once I got a publishing contract I would feel like a real writer. Now I know that I will probably never feel like a real writer, I will just be one because I refuse to stop writing.


  1. Your agent and editor were obviously happy with GATED, and therefore, they wanted to see more! I can see why writing a book, with or without a contract, can be stressful. And I'm glad that you can look at your work from a more comfortable perspective now. =)

  2. I know, you're right, the battle was always with my own insecurities as a writer. I try to tell myself this exact thing when the "I'm not good enough" moments creep up on me! :-)