My writing process is a mess, and I recount it now in the case that there are other writers out there who might look at it and think: “Well. If she can publish a book, surely I can, too.”
Indeed writer. Indeed you can. Know that I believe it.
The idea for Dear Rachel Maddow started in 2008. The summer Olympics had just ended, and I had a tiny, angry infant who would scream were she not held and bounced on a yoga ball. The college where I lived at the time (I am a Hall Director . . . it’s a lifestyle) had fabulous cable. However, right after the Olympics, the cable changed and took away anything I enjoyed watching in the middle of the night. I was devastated. I’d flip aimlessly while bouncing on that stupid ball. One day mid-September, I stumbled upon this cheerful, smart woman telling me about the news. That night, I tell you, I thought, “Oh, someone should write a Dear Mr. Henshaw to this woman. A YA reboot!”
Years passed like this. I still don’t think I’ve quite recovered from the sleep deprivation. But one day in 2012 I got the fiery inspiration to write a book.
Not Dear Rachel Maddow, mind you. That seemed too daunting. I wrote another one. And then another one. And then another one. The process for each one usually looked like this:
- Start book. Write about 15-40 pages.
- Stop for 4-5 months. Freaking toddlers. And day jobs one, two, and three. Who has the energy for this crap?
- Write 20 more pages.
- Stop for 4-5 months. Why God, can’t I enjoy something useful like accounting?
- Beastmode. Dorm apartment slides into filth, children eat cereal and Lunchables for every meal, muscles atrophy, day job programs suffer from lack of creative care. Life balance is a lie. You know what’s leaning in? My ass.
- Ignore draft for six months. Loathe self.
I am not saying this is a good method, but it is a method. And it is mine. Oh that I could, perhaps, do it differently, I would. My kids are older now, so I can outsource more of the parenting to Kids YouTube. I use that time to surf the Internet on topics unrelated to my work in progress. I feel you can’t really achieve quality self-hatred and defeat if you are doing something remotely related to your work in progress.
I started Dear Rachel Maddow, book four, in 2014, because it dawned on me that no one was writing that damn book that I desperately wanted. My friend J. Albert Mann, who is very wise, said two things that changed my life when I told her about this idea.
- Don’t fictionalize Rachel. Write what inspires me most. (I figured I might as well. No one was going to read it anyway, if historical precedent had taught me anything.)
- We should go get an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts because frankly we needed it. (Neither one of us meant it. But then we applied and got accepted and put down a deposit and ended up going for two years and now we have MFAs. Both of us still don’t quite understand how that actually happened.)
All people everywhere should listen to J. Albert Mann. She gives very sound advice that has never steered me wrong.
At the MFA, I was unable to pursue my usual writing schedule of 4-5 months downtime, because I had to turn stuff in. Since I had to produce new stuff anyway, I wrote Dear Rachel Maddow. The brilliant An Na liked it. And because I am trained to please people, particularly teachers, I finished it for her. This sort of thing triggered Beastmode for me. A.M. Jenkins then made me revise the thing, perhaps calling into question my family honor for never technically having revised anything before. You might note in my writing process I had no “revision” phase. I still don’t have a revision Beastmode.
That is how Dear Rachel Maddow came to be. Years of thinking about it. More years of putting it off. Then years of writing it and revising it and now it’ll be out in the world of free world and opinions and internet commentators. I’m sure to continue my super healthy relationship with the Internet because of that.
The point here is this: Take heart, fellow writers. Anyone really can write a book, even without VCFA and possibly without J. Albert Mann. (Though, that did help me.) Your process can be a disaster and still work to produce a book or seven. Persistence is what it takes to be published, not a neat and tiny road to finishing a book.
Take it from me.