Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Fricassee

A glorious morning! And I just spent part of it writing outside.

I want to talk about The Metamorphosis of a Writer. And when I'm finished, I'd love to know where YOU are.

We start as caterpillars, creeping along. The whole writing thing is new--or it's old but rediscovered. We dabble. We sneak in spare minutes here and there.

But mostly, it's creeping. We're tentative; we're not sure we can actually FINISH a novel. We're jittery if friends ask us what we spent Friday night doing. We sometimes allows weeks or (gasp!) months pass before sneaking back to our "little project."

Then we finish the novel. Wow! And we realize this is something we CAN do. Whether we'll take this further remains to be seen. Because at this point we 1) stop or 2) stall or 3) enter metamorphosis.

The metamorphosis process is where most of us stay for a very long time. For each, the journey is different. As we progress, the changes become more intense, more obvious. Our goal is always those beautiful wings.

Unlike a real chrysalis, our writerly metamorphosis usually takes years.

As we get closer to breaking out of the cocoon, the process often becomes more painful. The "near misses" drive us nuts. The ever-closer, ever-stronger, ever-better, and still-not-quite-making-it can be...well, exhausting.

Getting an agent isn't the final and sudden end to the metamorphosis process, either. It's a hurdle overcome, for sure. Our beady little eyes are peaking from within the widening crack. And selling the book lets our wee heads emerge a bit more. But there's more growing-stretching-changing that occurs as we work, for the first time, with an editor.

Finally taking wing doesn't mean we stop growing, either. Have you ever watched how voraciously a butterfly drinks nectar from a garden of flowers? It's like a constant feeding frenzy. No lazy, look-at-my-gorgeous-wings for these creatures. If they want to continue their flight, they need to work. Hard.

And so it is for the writer.

Saddest of all? When writers shrivel and die inside their cocoons, long before their metamorphosis has a chance to progress to completion.

I actually wrote my Very First Novel in six months. Yes, it sucked, but that's beside the point. I thought I had proven to the world--or at least to myself--that I could Write A Novel In Six Months.

Feisty little caterpillar, indeed.

Then, having realized that Novel #1 was a travesty, I began Novel #2. Lo and behold, I was still a caterpillar.

It took me more than twice as long to finish the thing. Huge chunks of not-writing time slowed down the process and made it look like I really wasn't writing a novel, after all. Creeping, creeping, creeping. And while the story itself was certainly stronger than the first one, my writing still had a long way to go.

A long, long, long way.

Somewhere along that long way, while querying the second novel and writing a third, my metamorphosis began. By the time I'd started my fourth novel, the process was well underway. The fifth, like the fourth, was drafted in three months and now awaits surgery. I'm now writing my sixth and revising my fourth.

(I sounded like Beethoven just then.)

My little beady eyes aren't peeking out yet. But I'm in an INTENSE season of metamorphosis, to the point where writing is a focal point in my life. It's not a "little project" or a "hobby" or "something I work on after everything else is done." Yes, the "everything else" HAS to be done (alas! alas!), but the writing is very high on my priority list.

Dang, I'm working hard. No one's MAKING me do it, and I love it. But if this were a physical cocoon, I'd have broken a major sweat by now.

My perfect dream life? Me, a little cottage by the sea, and my stories. And maybe Mr. A, too.

Your turn. Think about your journey. Are you a caterpillar? In the midst of a long metamorphosis? Finally taking wing and gorging on nectar (a.k.a. hard work) to keep flying?



  1. LOVE this post (and I miss you. Weaning myself from twitter has not been without consequence).

    My thoughts have been along this vein for a while now, and this sort of cemented my hazy impressions on it.

    I have finished writing books, and in doing so, I've peered through the hazy distance of How Much I Have Yet To Learn to see the craggy peaks of Publishing.

    I'm at a stage where I'm learning how to craft my cocoon.

    One of my favorite quotes about this stage was from twitter, and I wish I could remember who'd said it so I can credit them, but they said "Writing was a lot easier before I knew how to write!"

  2. Good post.

    I'm on novel #3. But summer has taken me outside away from the computer. Hope to finish the first draft by January.
    I'll start on the query process for novel #2 this fall.
    All the time growing as a writer, by reading, studying and critiquing. Love my critique group and the other writers who have helped me along the way.

  3. I am definitely in the writing-as-a-focal-point-of-my-life mode.

    But honestly, some days I wish I weren't. Some days I feel flat-out guilty for spending so much thought and effort on my writing when I have two children I'm supposed to be spending all my thought and effort on and a husband who's about as supportive as a (non-writing) husband can be. I feel guilty for obsessing over this one small piece of my life that isn't exactly perfect when everything else about my life is precisely that.

    But that was probably way more information than you wanted.

  4. Great post. I've just completed book #1, and did a few queries, and then realized - in part through reading all of the excellent writing on this site! - that I'm not ready yet. I need to pack book #1 up for awhile, and work on #2, then revisit #1. I wanted so badly to be querying, getting it out there, hoping to get published, but I need to remember that I'm a catepillar too and that things like this take time. It's so easy to be impatient! When I was a kid I opened a daisy by force, and the flower fell off. It's kind of like that.

  5. Can I be a dragonfly? I like how they zig and zag. I feel like that sometimes when I'm writing.

    My first novel, Drew in Blue, has been accepted by Lazy Day publishing and will be digitally released December 1, 2010. It took almost a year, including revisions. A lot of changes occurred while poor Drew waited to emerge from his own cocoon.

    I'm content now because I wrote my story my way, and I have a lovely publisher who understands the way my hero had to be written. I love that I don't have to explain to LD why I chose the POV, or why I wanted to break a rule or two along the way. It really does feel like I'm coming out of the cocoon.

    I'm about half-way through my second novel, and I think there is more confidence in my writing. I feel more certain about following my gut and listening when my characters decide they want to tell a story that I didn't necessarily count on sharing. I trust them more.

    It's a liberating feeling.

  6. I drive my mother mad.

    Yes, I know that's not exactly unusual. But every time I finish a book, and every time she reads it, she asks The Question.

    ' So are you going to try to sell this one?'

    I'm not talking about whether it's good or bad. I'm not talking about whether she's prejudiced because she's my mother. I'm talking about the answer I give her and how it drives her mad :-P. Because I tell her ( sincerely) that in a sense the book is dead to me by this stage. That I write because I have to write, that when I don't the words start dancing in my head and my fingers, and it feels like indigestion.

    I hate indigestion.

    There are some lines in a song ( there always are, I suppose) by Anna Nalick:

    2 AM and I'm still awake, writing a song
    If I get it all down on paper, it's no longer inside of me,
    Threatening the life it belongs to

    That's me. Sort of. Without being so talented as to have written it :-).

    I tend to have one book done, one in beta and two in progress. Likely one or none of the in-progress will be likely be finished. I also have to put bread on the table for my long suffering wife, and like it or not what I do makes mumblty-mumble more than I could make if I wrote full time and even if I actually achieved some success. Which I will. One day. Because I cannot and will not stop writing.

    I drive my mother mad. I drive my beta readers mad. And maybe there's a difference between an author and a writer. And a difference again to 'someone who writes'.

    I don't know if I'm a caterpillar. I don't know if I have a cocoon. I just know I wish it were 2AM. I'd be writing :-).

    The Idiot

  7. Rats. It posted twice. Likely my fault - my regret and apology.

    The Idiot

  8. A question I'm really struggling with now is why I write. Back in my baby days when I was very much a simple caterpillar, I only wrote for me. I didn't think about market trends or competition and my dreams about publication seemed very adult and far away. I definitely had an all in good time attitude.

    Now, I'm a grown up with a husband and two kids. Every day on Publisher's Lunch I see deals announced for books written by teenagers half my age. I feel like I'm in a race against myself. Have to get my current novel out before the market trends in a new direction, have to start a new wip, have to be a published novelist before I turn 30.

    I think it's really easy to get bogged down in the business side of things. Especially when information (agent and editor blogs, social networking, etc) is so READILY available. We forget those early days when everything was shiny and new. When we wrote simply because we couldn't imagine doing anything else.

    Granted, my writing has grown so much that the caterpillar wouldn't recognize the butterfly. I can actually plot a story that spans 80,000 words. I understand motivation and conflict.

    Sorry for the lengthy response but I think my current journey = butterfly who doesn't want to forget what the world looked like from a caterpillar's point of view.

  9. Two days ago I almost deleted everything. I wanted to quit. My family tells me writing is all I ever think or talk about. I'm 49 years-old, raised three girls & I thought it was time I follow my dream, guess I was wrong. They are against it. I couldn't delete it though, I hid my laptop for now while I try to figure things out. Your post has helped me feel better about my writing. Thanks ;-)

  10. Definitely still in the metamorphosis phase. Sometimes it feels like the little being inside the cocoon will wither and die away because it would take a near miracle for it to ever become a butterfly. And then there are days like yesterday where the writing is moving in a positive direction and I feel that an eventual metamorphosis will happen. Good luck with your writing!

  11. I normally don't click through to comment, but I felt the need today. Thanks for this. It's just how I feel.

  12. I'm defintely in the cocoon at the moment. I've completed two novels, but am rewriting the first in hopes of submitting to agents soon. I've survived an intense writing group for the last 12 months and have grown beyond what I ever imagined possible. I'm learning, I'm growing, and I'm writing every day.

  13. I'm in the metamorphosis stage. I've written three novels, and I'll write my fourth during NaNo WriMo. I'm hoping it will be "the one", and I'll probably write another while I'm querying agents for it.

  14. I love, love, love this post! You hit it spot on.

    I'm still a caterpiller, but working very hard to bust my way out- and making sure when I get out I know which way I need to go to find all those lovely flowers ;).

    My perfect dream life- hmmm- no day job (and none needed ;)), a house by the ocean, and plenty of room to write. HMMM- oh and a summer home in Conwy, Wales- but I'd make sure to be writing there too :).

    Thanks for a great post!

  15. I love the metamorphosis/writer comparison! I am currently writing the first novel I'm actually planning on finishing. Last year I'd written 30k words for my novel and I lost the file. So I took a break from writing and earlier this year I started writing and I'm not gonna stop. And I'll remember to make back-ups, this time.

  16. I got my head half way out of the cocoon, but I am longing to spread my wings. As you said, the waiting is the worst part of being a writer, so I will keep on writing until I fly.

  17. What a wonderful and timely post. I love the comparison. I felt at one point I gotten my wings, but realize now that no. I maybe got one and then it fell off in a crazy cocoon shedding accident. LOL

    I'm definitely getting there though. I have some projects underway, clear cut goals, and self imposed deadlines, which will help those goals come to fruition.

    Here's to ALL of us for continuing on the journey!