Now, allow me to preface this post with the fact that someone of my acquaintance first used the “ugly baby” metaphor, and at the moment I can’t recall who. If you read this, let me know if it was your idea so I can bestow the Trophy of Wisdom upon you.
That said, allow me to apply the metaphor like the ointment for my soul that it is.
I started working on The Silver Thorn Chronicles in 2005. I finished the first book in 2008 and the second one in 2011, and the third one is about halfway done. I spent about eight months last year trying to polish up the first book and attempting to fix a myriad of structural issues to some avail. If you’d asked me four years ago, I would have said this trilogy would be my opus, the crowning glory of my achievement.
It also happens to be my first completed writing project, so glean from that what you will. (Feel free to pahaha at my expense — I am.)
To me, this project looked something like this:
I was under the impression that great works of writing birthed themselves from hours of labor and descended fully formed into the world. And as I’d birthed that one, I thought it was utterly lovely. I thought it would be a hit. I thought it would poof my career into existence with some crappy smoke effects and a 25 cent sparkler.
Like many budding writers, I missed a Really Big Point.
Writing isn’t like pregnancy. Not really. You might feel like it is, but you have a lot less control over what happens to the fruit of your loins than you do over what comes out on paper. I’ve always been a die-hard pantser, writing and writing without being that great at planning or plotting. Some pantsers succeed marvelously — but most of those only do so after many failed attempts.
I’ve realized in the past year that my beautiful baby looks instead something like this:
Writing well involves study. Even the greatest writers don’t simply poof into existence holding a sparkler and a fog machine. Want to place any bets on how much crumpled paper littered Shakespeare’s floor before he got that balcony scene right? Very seldom will you find a writer who manages to shite out pure gold, and if that happens, it usually is only lauded as such posthumously.
I do not shite gold, and you probably don’t either. More’s the pity.
The good thing about this is that writing is a learned skill. Some of it you can learn by
strapping books to your head while you sleep reading heaps within your genre (and other genres). You can learn more of it by reading books on the craft and yes, by reading crappy books that somehow got published (or someone self-published without so much as a cursory edit).
You can learn a lot by reading, but the rest you have to learn by writing. You have to try it and see what works. Before, the only way you knew if something worked was if it got published. Now with the dawn of self-publishing, you can put it out there yourself and see what it does.
For me, what all of this meant was that when my rosy glasses fell off and got trod upon, I found that my opus more resembled something on the bottom of Mary Shelley‘s shoe, and that I’d given birth to an ugly baby because I thought that’s what writing was. I thought writing meant you were stuck with whatever came soaring out of you, and that’s not at all the case.
(I think most women can agree that the birthing process would be much easier if babies indeed came soaring out of us.)
So what I have now is approximately a quarter million words of an ugly baby. “Daaaaamn, girl,” you might be saying. “That’s one ugly baby.”
You’d be right. However, she isn’t all bad. She’s got pretty eyes and nice skin tone. She might, under the right tutelage and prodding, turn out rather lovely. But I don’t have it in me right now to start from scratch, and I also don’t have it in me to take that metaphor to the next step of cutting off the ugly baby’s nice parts and sewing them up with replacements.
No. I’m going to scrap the baby metaphor entirely now.
I’ve started an entirely new project, into which I got about 5,000 words before MS Word decided to fangoriously devour a third of it, along with the two hours of my life I spent attempting to recover the file. This project is fun. To an extent I’m pantsing, but I’m writing with the mindset of mutability. This project’s DNA is not set in stone from conception. It doesn’t dictate a certain flow or end goal; as the writer, I can orchestrate where it goes and make sure it goes where it should. I have control over its skeleton and musculature, flesh and adornments.
When it’s done, it won’t be a baby at all. It’ll be a sculpture.
Writing is an art form, but it’s also a skill. It’s one learned through effort and error, tears, recrimination, and fictional (I hope) murder of darlings. This book will not take me three years to write. You can hold me to that, gentle viewers.
That said, I will keep you updated on my progress. I might even break the rule of posting fiction and give you a sample chapter to read, if you would be interested. This has been a lesson in humility for me, but it’s also been somewhat liberating. There is a lot of pressure in thinking that something has to come out right or the world will end in a shower of sparklers and fog machines. Once you recognize that you can grow a skill and have the patience to do so, it frees you from the burden of having to create ex nihilo.
There’s a lot coming soon on the Emmie front, and a lot of it feels rather exciting. Stay tuned, gentle viewers. Stay tuned.
What hard lessons have your career taught you? When have you found you had to shift down a new path? When have you had to go outside your comfort zone?
Get every new post delivered to your Inbox
Join other followers