Kill the book before it kills you. A post on surviving my latest project.

I said on Twitter a little while back that I thought the trick to writing was to kill the book before it killed you.

Never have I been so inclined to believe it.

I just turned in the draft of the sequel to THE ARCHIVED, and let me tell you, that book nearly won.

There’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with writing a book under contract as opposed to writing a book and THEN getting a deal (a good problem to have, I know), and there’s also a certain amount of pressure that comes with writing a sequel, and when those forces combine it’s like one of those transformer toys where two beasts suddenly become an even bigger, stronger one.

Let’s examine the two beasts on their own.

When you write a book under contract, people are watching you. They have put money into you, and expect results. And they expect them on a schedule. When you write a whole book and THEN sell it, you don’t always have the security of knowing it will become a BOOK, but you have the freedom of privacy and discovery and time. Under contract, you’re exposed.

When you’re writing a sequel to a book that’s already sold, there is a strange and intense amount of AWARENESS. You are continuing a story people are going to read. Characters they are going to develop feelings for. You want to do the story justice. You want to keep the readers happy. You want to go bigger. You would think that re-entering a world you’ve already created would be freeing, make the creative process easier, but a quick poll of the interwebs–I basically went around authors and dropped the word SEQUEL and watched them shudder–suggests otherwise.

Now, for a good number of authors, their first book written under contract and their first sequel are one and the same. Maybe they get ALL THE ANGST out in one book.

But for me, these two feelings came first in separate packages, and then together.

To be honest, I’m lucky that the sequel wasn’t my first book under contract. That award goes to the FIRST book in The Archived series, and let me tell you, writing that under contract (and overseas) was DAUNTING. I was in no way braced for the sensation of other people watching me work, and waiting for a product. But at least I had the luxury of it being the first book in what I hoped would become a series.

Which brings us to…THE ARCHIVED SEQUEL.

The Archived sequel was both written under contract, and was, you know, a sequel. Needless to say, it came with ALL THE FEELS. I expect angst to creep into my process around the halfway point of a draft, but I have to say, fear/panic/hope/worry/angst were with me from page one. I very, very, very much wanted to write this book. When I got the call that Disney*Hyperion was buying Book 2, and that my beloved book would become a series–it still gives me chills–I was over the moon.

And then I sat down to work, to revisit the characters I loved so, so much.

And froze.

Not because I didn’t know the story. On the contrary, of all the projects I’ve worked on, The Archived sequel is the one I knew best. I knew as much as I could possibly know about it before putting pen to paper. This wasn’t writer’s block. It was fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to do the story justice. Fear that it wouldn’t be better than Book 1. Fear that I wasn’t a good enough writer to get the strange, warped, complicated, tangled, psychological story from my head and onto the page. All kinds of fear.

Writers are known for maintaining a fairly high baseline of self-doubt anyway, and coming off the high of finishing Book 1 edits, of finally being SO in love with the first installment, I found myself paralyzed by the IDEA of the second one.

And when I added to that fear the awareness that I had a deadline, that each moment of paralysis was chipping away at the time I had to WRITE, I got frustrated with myself.

And then I added to that the fact that this book SCARED THE SH*T OUT OF ME.

Not just because it was under contract. Not just because it was a sequel. Because it was going to be HARD. Because I wanted to push myself–really, seriously push myself–as a writer, and speaking as someone who doesn’t let herself develop a creative comfort zone to begin with, someone who spends more of their process a bit CONCERNED–I never know if a book will work until it’s book-shaped–this project was terrifying.

I cannot count the number of texts I sent to friends about HOW terrifying it was, and unfortunately it will be a long while before I’m able to expound on that here, because it would give away plot. But suffice it to say, the physical and psychological elements in this book had my already frazzled self in a state of perpetual dishevelment.

And yet.

I made it. Not easily. Not smoothly. Not gently. And certainly not without the daily love and support and nags and bribes and threats from my friends.

But I made it.

And in true first-draft-hindsight-is-a-lying-sh*t fashion, the pain of the book is already beginning to recede.

I remember spending two and a half months on the first 100 pages alone, wanting them to be perfect. I remember hitting the middle–oh, hello again fire swamp–and hurtling myself through. And then getting stuck. Retreating. Dragging myself out of the lightning sand after getting stuck–plot stuck, emotional arc stuck, all kinds of stuck. I remember colliding with the end. I remember all these things, and I remember them WRONG. They have the distance that can only come with typing THE END (interesting fact, I don’t actually ever type those words).

This time around, though, I have four months of text messages and emails and other material evidence of my angst to remind me what it was like, so my mind can’t try to trick me into doing it again. At least, it can’t trick me into believing it will be easy.

Of course, no matter how my mind spins it, no matter how much evidence I amass, I always WILL choose to do it again. I am broken the way most writers are, stories leaking through the cracks.

But this book…I wish I could remember right , impress upon myself, how hard it was. Then again, maybe it’s better that the memory is already warping.

My friends tease me because apparently I struggle with EVERY book. Apparently I go through these motions, say these oaths, am dragged through the stages kicking and screaming and swearing that I will never do it again. I have to take their word for it because I can’t remember.

But the more I think about it, the more I think maybe that’s how it should be. Maybe every book should feel like this, for me anyway. Maybe that’s a sign I’m doing this right. You see, my only two rules when it comes to writing books are…

1. Do not do the same thing twice
2. Get better.

So maybe the fact I say this about every book means that every book is pushing me more than the one that came before it. They don’t all push in the same ways, of course. They don’t all demand the same pieces of me in tribute. But each one seems to be getting harder. And while some of that is me acclimating to the fact that this is my “job” and that jobs come with things like deadlines and expectations, I like to think that more of the pain comes from the fact I’m growing, or at least trying to grow.

So, anyway. I said I’d write a post on surviving that book. And there you go.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to go take some notes on this new book I’m working on.*

*just kidding.
*Kind of.

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24 thoughts on “Kill the book before it kills you. A post on surviving my latest project.

  1. Leigh Caroline says:

    I don’t know what this says about me, as a reader, but I’m now ANXIOUS to read the sequel, before I’ve even gotten ahold of the full first book!!
    And even though I’m not published yet, a friend’s agent is interested in my current WIP (Said agent asked, “So what are your crit partners working on”, so she told her), and just KNOWING that paralyzed me for a month on it, because until then, it was just a lark. I can’t imagine the pressure of saying “Ok, go write your novel, here’s money, give us something awesome in 6 months”.
    *wibbles* *hugs* Pushing yourself, though, is great! Keeps you from getting complacent, and making the stories boring. If every novel a person writes is the same? It gets formulaic and boring. *hands you tons of chocolate*

    • veschwab says:

      Hahaha, well, it makes *me* happy. I can’t wait to get to the point where other people can read THE ARCHIVED, let alone the sequel. But it’s sneaking up on us, that day.

      And yes, other people kNOWING is a scary, scary thing. Suddenly it doesn’t live *entirely* in your own head.

  2. sarah says:

    firstly, congratulations! also, thank you for the wonderful stories you have given us. and thank you too for sharing this process so honestly.

    • veschwab says:

      Thank you, on all accounts, Sarah. I try very, very hard to be as transparent as possible about the highs and lows and joys and challenges of this adventure. And it certainly is one.

  3. Sonia says:

    I feel like you’ve poured your heart and soul out with this post and it was definitely a wonderful insight into your life as a writer so thank you very much for that! <3

    Also. I think you deserve ALL THE COOKIES for the tremendous work you've put in and, obviously, for finishing that draft.

    YAY, VICTORIA!!!

  4. ‘I found myself paralyzed by the IDEA of the second one.’ I totally get this. I know my current WIP inside out, so I don’t have writer’s block per se. But I find every so often (especially after it’s been going well) I seem to freeze on the page. Now I see it’s just fear. Bummer.

    Congratulations on getting all the way through – twice!

    • veschwab says:

      It’s not *just* fear. Just always kinds of delegitimizes a feeling, and this is, imo, a valid one. One that has to be overcome in order to do what we do, but still a valid one. <3

  5. jennifleura says:

    “I am broken the way most writers are, stories leaking through the cracks.” Oh this, this is beautiful. Thank you for being so honest about your writing processes. And, most importantly, congratulations on finishing and surviving! *throws glitter and cupcakes*

    • veschwab says:

      Of course. I’m so happy to have an adventure that I can share, and I will always be as honest as possible about its highs and lows and such :) And thank you!!

  6. Lisa Bergren says:

    You made it! Congrats! And thanks for sharing your thoughts on the process so clearly and transparently. (I, too, adore your lines that jennifleura quoted above.) It doesn’t get easier, but getting through the process once, gives you confidence that you just might be able to do it again…Which is good, because clearly, my friend, this will be a repeat experience. :-)

    • veschwab says:

      Thanks, lovely!! And my pleasure. You know, most days I marvel that I get to do this at all. It seems like the least I can do to share honestly. And yes, exactly, it never gets easier, but as we recognize and understand more of the process, identify what we’re feeling, it gives us the strength to know we have and can overcome.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. :D You are wonderful and awesome…and a little inspirational…no pressure! :D Anyway, I feel for you. I try and do the same thing. Always push the limit, always push the envelope. No comfort zone. ALL THE FEELS. :D

    One of these days, I will read the Archived. :D

  8. Danielle says:

    It’s like labor!! They say you only remember a PORTION of the pain, and if you remembered all of it then no woman would ever have a baby.

    Just as a note: I also lol’d b/c YES to the loving/supporting/nagging/bribing/threatening. Can’t wait to do it again. It was fun :)

    • veschwab says:

      YES. EXACTLY. I mean, not knowing personally, but from what I’ve heard, exactly.

      And thank goodness for those nags/threats/bribes. <3

  9. Love your transparency, Victoria. Fave line: I am broken the way most writers are, stories leaking through the cracks.

    • veschwab says:

      Thanks so much, Shannon. I’m more often than not amazed I get to be having this adventure, so it feels like the least I can do to speak honestly and openly about it.

  10. That is so intense. But, you seem to have handled it with grace, and I really can’t wait to read ARCHIVED and have been waiting (I guess, kinda patiently) since it was announced you were going to write it.

    • veschwab says:

      Hahaha, intense is definitely the right word. And grace is probably…less appropriate than say, rocking-in-a-corner-style-panic. But I’ll take it :) And THE ARCHIVED inches ever closer!!

  11. AmyChristineParker.blogspot.com says:

    I needed this post. I mean really, REALLY needed it. I’m writing under contract for the first time and a sequel and thought I had the whole thing worked out…hardest writing I’ve ever, ever done. Still trying to get it out on paper the way I think it needs to be. SO good to hear I’m not alone:-) That it can be done. *dives back in*

    • veschwab says:

      Amy, whenever I write a post this close to my heart, and someone comments on how much they needed to read it right now, it makes that post totally worth all the emotional scars of dragging the experience back into the light to write about it ;) Hang in there!!

  12. Melodie says:

    LOVE this post. No wonder some writers call their stories their babies…bc the creative process is just as intense.
    BTW, I read the sneak peak of Archived – got sucked in right when it ended. *cue evil laughter of marketing geniuses* Can’t wait to read the rest…

    • veschwab says:

      Hahaha, yeah. Have not made a baby, but have made several books, some harder than others, but all intense, and all with the flawed hindsight I comes with childbirth, too :p And I’m happy you enjoyed the preview!!! Can’t wait for you to be able to read the rest!

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