When an Author Doesn’t Know What to Write

When I have no idea what to write, I fiddle in my chair like a child with ADD avoiding his math homework. I bounce my leg up and down, sit on my legs, try to change the height of my computer chair (forgetting every time that it does not move up and down), I get food, I stare to the right of my computer screen hoping my speaker gives me some inspiration, I get more food, I whine a little, then I finally start typing about my inability to write.

It has been one of the most surreal experiences of my life having a book published. Being with such a small publisher has made this process very much a trickle-out kind of thing. I still have my day job of being a school counselor, so the author stuff sometimes goes on the back burner. Two cases in point:

A co-worker found out about my book from my former workplace (I just switched schools). She asked where she could buy it and I said, “Amazon, Barnes and Noble dot com, Christianbook dot com.” People, I have 100 copies in my back room. Just sitting there waiting to be purchased and read. I didn’t remember that fact until about 8 hours after the conversation with my co-worker!

It gets better. An actual conversation I had at work on Thursday:

Colleague: So, I heard about the book.
Me: What book?
Colleague: Your book!
Me: [pause] What book?
Colleague: [confused] Didn’t you write a book and it was published?
Me: [duh!] Oh! Yeah!

You might ask, “Elisa, how could you forget that you published a book??” And it’s not like I self-published, you know? I’m with a real publishing house. I could say it’s because I got a new assignment at work that is kicking my brain’s butt. I could say it’s because I am easily distracted (see the description of writer’s block). But the truth is two-fold: I didn’t do it for the money and it’s a long process, so it does actually slip my mind that I have written and published a novel.

1. I didn’t do it for the money – I started this book with the dream of it being published. By the final edit, I thought to myself – this is never going to be published. It’s not good enough, and besides, I’m a school counselor now. Well, threw that out the window didn’t I? But I still didn’t do it for the money. I did it because I prayed ad nauseum about it, and felt publishing it was something God was asking me to do. I did it because I watched “Tales From the Script” and Bruce Joel Rubin, the screenwriter of Ghost, told the story of how he came to peace with “My Life” 8 months after its uneventful release. I did it because I didn’t work on something for 8 years just to keep it stored in my computer. My goal for this novel was for one person who doesn’t know me, my friends, or my family to find it, read it, enjoy it, and learn something from it. One person. That’s it. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the pleasure of meeting that person, but I’m going to be hopeful that I’ll meet that goal. Maybe I already have.

2. It’s a long process. Finished the book in June, sent it to the publisher in August, got the response in August, edited it through December. Ebook published in January, pre-order started in February, actual ordering started at the end of February, my events were end of February and will be end of March, end of June, and middle of August. I’m used to grandiose adventures like skydiving or moving to another country or vacations that span thousands of miles. All of those things have an absolute beginning and a definite ending. Publishing a book is like getting married – you have a definite start date, which I would say is the day you sign the contract. But you have no idea what’s coming next or when it’s coming. You don’t always know when the big and small stuff will be happening, and one piece can be dragged on for a loooong time.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a lot of fun. Hearing family and friends tell you how much they enjoyed the 83,000 words you turned into a novel is humbling. Especially when they go into detail, meaning they have thought critically about the work. Hearing about highly educated people enjoying a piddly little story I wrote is mind-blowing. Positive feedback from people I hold in high regard is quite the confidence booster. But what I want to make sure is that I hold onto my purpose for this book. I want to hold on to the fact that I didn’t do it for the money. Even if God asks me to move into being an author full-time, I don’t want money to be the incentive or overarching purpose. I want to continue promoting myself humbly (well, let’s change that to begin promoting myself humbly. I can’t promote myself if I forget that I have something to promote). I want my purpose to be greater than myself, greater than making money, greater than writing something a publisher will like.

So, that’s what you get from a writer on an ADD night, an explanation of her purpose for her craft. (I am not downplaying how serious ADD can be, by the way. But I know the habits of those with the disorder, and my demeanor when I don’t know what to write matches the DSM definition). 🙂

Below is a pictures from my first author appearance, a book club hosted by a colleague:

Feb 2013 book club2

I was showing my second draft of “Making Room”. It is a messy, messy piece of work. But the finished product isn’t so bad:

Making Room

Who knows what the coming months and years will bring. I have started a second novel, but whether or not I will finish it and choose to pursue this process a second time remains to be seen. What I do know is that I want to enjoy my success as a first-time author, continue searching my name on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com because it’s fun, continue visiting book clubs and libraries, and bask in the fact that God gave me the grace to fulfill Life List #s 6 and 7.

Life is good.

3 comments

  1. Elisa, the writing isn’t the hard part, it’s the commitment. when you commit to writing regularly (a small blog post every day, even just a line), the stakes for each thing you write go down. there’s less and less pressure to be great all the time. the amazing truth is that not every thing an artist makes is brilliant. but when enough things are, she leaves her mark. tony

    • Tony, I agree! The commitment is the hard part. Hence, my book taking me 8 years to write! Until I committed to writing every day (or almost every day), I got almost nothing done. But I have found that blogging 3x per week helps me stay in the writing mode, which is something I didn’t expect. I thought the commitment would feel like more work than it does. Thanks for reading!

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