I’ve been a writer for a long time. I published my first article back in 2001, so it’s been 13 years as a professional. But it stretches back much longer than that. Because anyone who writes is a writer. And I’ve been doing this since I was 8 years old.
I once had a diary that I poured my heart into, including my frustrations with my cousin who lived with me and my parents at the time. My cousin discovered my less-than-complimentary remarks about her in the diary and was, understandably, furious. I went back and scratched out the pages where I was mad and spent the rest of the diary saying nice things about her, even though I was still a little frustrated. Basically, the rest of that diary became a lie, or at the very least, a series of omitted truths. The diary soon lost its appeal and I stopped writing in it.
A couple years later, deep into my obsession with the New Kids on the Block, I wrote an entire book—200-something pages—all about my adventures with the band. I discovered it later as a teenager, deep into my obsession with Nirvana, and was so embarrassed that I erased it all, page for page.
Around the same time, I started a secret novel about a girl named Jordan Byer who had a crush on a boy who didn’t see her as anything more than just a friend. I actually don’t remember much about the plot of this book—I’m not even sure there was one except for the end goal of getting Jordan and the boy together. One day, my mom turned to me and wondered what was going to happen next with Jordan and I was appalled. SHE WAS READING MY NOTEBOOKS?! THAT WAS PRIVATE! I promptly threw them out.
And that’s the last time I attempted to write anything resembling a real book. I’ve written 12 books and published them, oh yes. But they were children’s nonfiction books on dance, and the company that hired me to write them gave me very clear guidelines. It was hard work, of course, but it was work that was cut out for me.
Now I’m trying to write a book again and I’ll be the first to admit: I have no freaking idea what I’m doing. I’m fighting every impulse to scratch it out, erase it, throw it away, like I did my old ones. I go back and read what I’ve started and all I can think is NOPE. This is shit.
Which is why I need to keep going. And it’s also why I’m throwing this question out into the universe: Does ANYONE know how to write a book? If you do, can you tell me how?
My guess is that, basically, it comes down to seeing it through. Just keep swimming. Just keep writing. Don’t second-guess. Think hard about what you want to write, but don’t shut yourself down. All ideas are terrible, awful ideas at the start. All first drafts are terrible, awful pieces of crap. At least, that’s what I’m going to tell myself in order to keep going. And I will keep going. I will not omit truths. I will reach down deep into the painful places and I’ll get it all out. I won’t erase. And if nothing else comes of it, I will have the satisfaction of having seen it through. It’s been a long time coming.