You’ve heard of the five stages of grief, right? As I’ve been writing Book 2 in the Your Life with RA series, I’ve come to realize that there are also five stages of writing a book. To wit:
The first stage of any book is all about the idea. It can sneak up on you, grow quietly, or burst into your mind fully formed. Regardless of how it happens, this is utter delight. You’re instantly swept away by your own cleverness, chortling to yourself with how brilliant this book is going to be. It’s like falling in love at first sight, and equally obsessive. This stage is invigorating, motivating, and compulsive. You want to spend every minute of every day writing to make your idea a reality within weeks.
Not so fast, though. First you have to wrestle with it.
The idea for your book can usually be summarized in what’s called the elevator speech — imagine you have to tell someone what your book is about on an elevator ride, lasting no more than 30 seconds. The second stage of writing a book takes that condensed nugget and starts building a framework for the book. Some people create extremely detailed outlines, other do only a few broad strokes, and everything in between. This stage is very fluid and continuous. Throughout the book, you’ll be thinking and wrestling with ideas, plot lines, structure, and characters. If you like puzzles, you’ll thrive on this part.
And then the writing starts. More specifically, the first draft AKA the Vomit Draft. In this stage, you write and do nothing else. No editing, no going back to check, no polishing a particular sentence for three weeks until it’s absolutely perfect. Just write, write, write. When it works, there’s nothing like it. When it works, it is sheer exhilaration. When you get stuck, there are moments of deep despair. The only way out and back on track is to write, even if you think it’s crap. The third stage is an addictive roller coaster of emotion and when you’re done, you want to hop back on and do it all again.
It’s generally recommended to let your book sit for a bit — three weeks to three months — before you start the next stage. It allows you to go to a different place in your head, to forget about the book so you can see it with fresh eyes. Because that’s going to be needed for the rewrite. This is when you look at your book with a critical eye and it is not for the faint of heart. When you rewrite, you focus on finding everything that doesn’t work and write it all again until it does. It’s common to become convinced your entire book is crap and that you should give up your writing career before people start pointing and laughing at you. Oh, and PS. Once you’re reasonably satisfied with your draft, get someone to read it and give you feedback. Then edit some more.
There comes a point when you have to stop editing or you end up like that guy who has been writing the same book for 20 years. There is a saying in the music industry: “sooner or later, you have to ship.” The same goes for your book. When you have made it as perfect as you possibly can, when you realize that any further edits would be polishing something that’s already shiny, when your cover captures your book, you are ready to ship. This stage is terrifying and exhilarating both, as you prepare to send your baby into the harsh light of the world. The fifth stage is about giving up control, and letting go so your book can fly.
Which stage are you in?