So, How’s Your Book?

Ferrari5Today in the car, my 12-year old daughter turned to me and said, “So, how’s your book?”

She phrased the question like she was asking me about a person. The personification felt particularly apt since this book is like her sibling, another being that I have chosen in my extreme hubris to bring into the world, whether the world needs it or not.

Most times when people outside of my circle of writing friends ask me about my book, I try to smile and sound enthusiastic. “How’s the novel going?” they ask. “It’s great!” I say and hope they don’t ask a follow-up because I might just break down over a particularly difficult edit that I agonized over for hours the day before. No one really wants to hear that.

But today in the car I was taken off-guard. My daughter has hit her stride of pre-teen solipsism. She rarely acknowledges that I exist in any way other than to serve her immediate needs. I didn’t expect that question from her, and I was surprisingly touched when she asked it. Perhaps that is why I didn’t just say, “Great!” and move on to the next thing.

Instead, I paused and I thought about it. I have been working on this novel at various levels for quite a while now. I wrote the first feeble pages when my kids were in pre-school, and I was stealing moments during afternoon naps to sketch out the situation of my fictional family. I had put away my creative writing self years before to be a literary scholar, and that early writing felt like waking up from the cryofreeze.

Since I wrote those beginning pages I have done many other things: I finally finished that PhD that originally sidetracked my fiction writing. I ran two Boston marathons and hundreds of training miles. I packed about 2500 lunches for my kids.  I suffered the loss of dear, dear loved ones. I made new friends. I moved. I cooked and vacuumed and walked my dog again and again and again. Through it all, there was this novel with me, needling me, taunting me, waiting for me to bring it to life. And now, here I am in the murky middle of the Grub Street Novel Incubator writing and revising and rethinking everything.

“Well,” I said to my daughter, “It’s really hard. It’s so much harder than I ever thought it would be.”

“Why?” she asked.

And then it hit me. “Because I really want it to be good,” I said.  When I started all those years ago, I just wanted to realize a long-held dream of writing a novel. But all this work has taken me from just trying to write a novel, any novel, to wanting it to be good. The Incubator has pushed me to reevaluate my original ideas and to question the assumptions I brought with me to the process of novel-writing. I have broken my book apart and have stood over it, trying to figure out what pieces to put back together.  My graveyard of dead darlings is vast and deep and includes toddlers, priests, and an $8 pineapple.  So, I guess I have to admit it.  I really want it to be good, and that is so goddamn hard to do.

So, how’s my book? Right now, it’s a mess. But it’s getting better.

5 comments

  1. Rob Wilstein

    Michele, thank you for your touching and insightful post. I share your feelings about going from just wanting to write a novel, to wanting to write a damn good one. As a former Incubee I know where you’re at and know you’ll get there.

  2. Marjan Kamali

    Michele,
    This is such a moving piece. I can really identify with having a book within you for so long and having it hover in the background of all those early motherhood years. I have no doubt that the world needs your book and I look forward to its fruition. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. It matters that it’s good. Looking forward to this book whenever it is ready.
    Marjan

  3. Carol Gray

    Great post, Michelle. Boy, can I relate! I cringe at the question, “How’s the novel coming?” and my fake, “It’s great!” answer. I, too, have felt my novel “needling me, taunting me, waiting for me to bring it to life” for years. And I agree that writing a good book is so much harder than I ever imagined. But the incubator really helps. You’ll get there. I’m sure.

  4. Mark Guerin

    Fortunately, I’ve found my kids get less solipsistic as they grow older. My 27-year old daughter didn’t want to read my first version when I told her what it was about — and you know why, having read it yourself. My 24-year old son did read the first version. Both are now enthusiastic about the changes I’ve told them I’m making and not only ask “How’s the book coming?” but want to know about the changes, are interested in the process, want to read my revision. It’s incredibly inspiring to have your kids behind you like that and makes you all the more want to not just complete the book but write something really “good,” if for no other reason than to please them, even if nobody else reads it.

  5. Lisa Birk

    Michele, I so connected with reading your piece. I share your feeling that my novel is like a sibling to my son–brought forth willy-nilly, like it or not. I’m looking forward to reading yours sans toddlers, priests and an $8 pineapple.

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