Updated: Mar 29, 2020
I’ll tell you a true story.
Once upon a time, there was an author. This author had an idea, and she had been cultivating this idea for so long it felt like part of her, as familiar as a lifelong habit. So the author, being an author, decided to turn the idea into some words.
At first, it seemed to be working. It was hard to start--it was part of her, after all! It was big! It had lots of parts that seemed important enough to be a beginning!--but eventually, she settled on a starting point and began to write.
She wrote day and night, at lunch and after dinner; she wrote outside under cloudy skies, and in libraries that smelled like dust and ancient copies of ‘Florian’s Fables’; she wrote in the middle of the night, when something would strike her and she just had to write it down before the moment of clarity reabsorbed into the amorphous idea that was so indistinguishable from her own self.
But as she wrote, something started happening.
It wasn’t right. This story, this story that was supposed to be a part of her, was all wrong. It wasn’t bad--in fact, objectively, it may even have been pretty alright--but it didn’t match the idea in her head anymore. Somewhere, she had slipped away from her intent, and had started telling some other story. And she didn’t like it. The words stopped coming. Paragraphs dried up, and then sentences, and eventually, grinding out another word was like trying to draw from an empty well.
So even though the author had written at least half of a novel…she threw it away.
‘Enough,’ she said. ‘I’ll try again, and I’ll do it differently this time.’ She did some research--consulted some mages, made a few pilgrimages, summoned a couple helpful demons--and decided that this time, it would be different. She wouldn’t take it so formally, and this way, she hoped that she’d take off some pressure and let the writing flow. She wouldn’t arrange the work into chapters before all the words were in place, she wouldn’t even name the document. And so ‘Untitled Document’ came to be, and began to fill with words.
These were good words. The author liked them. She liked the way they fell and folded over each other. There was a rhythm to these new words, and she thought her idea was finally going to be revealed. Finally, she’d figure out the true shape of this concept, and she was really excited to see what it was.
But once again, something went wrong. Somewhere along the path, something slipped enough to show the author that the foundation of this piece… well, it seemed to her mind to be fundamentally broken, probably the worst thing she’d ever written, probably the worst thing anyone had ever written. She printed it just so she could shred it, then deleted the document.
The idea was still in her head.
The author was getting impatient. ‘I’ve had this idea for as long as I can remember,’ she cursed. ‘I know it as well as I know how to make ramen. Why won’t it come out? Why can’t I define it?’
And she moped for a while and watched Game of Thrones, and when she was done crying over the Red Wedding she felt a little better.
‘Third time’s a charm,’ she told herself.
‘No matter what,’ she decided, ‘no matter how bad I think it is, I won’t delete the document. I’ll just cut away the parts that aren’t right, keep the parts that are, and do that until all the words are down and the idea is in the mess somewhere.’
So that’s what she did.
She’d already written at least a whole novel in total--the proof was in the recycling bin. What was a little more? So she settled down, glared menacingly at the cursor, and started again.
She did just what she said. She wrote a lot, hated it a lot, destroyed a lot and then grew fond of it, then repeated the cycle.
And now she has a book.