THE Book

by limebirdkate

How do we know we’re writing the book we’re meant to write? I went to a writer’s conference this past weekend, and I happened to mention to someone I have been working on a particular story for almost 10 years. Luckily, their eyeballs were securely attached otherwise they’d have bounced right into my coffee.

It’s not that I haven’t written anything else, mind you. But it’s that I haven’t given up on this one. Has anyone heard of the term ‘under the bed book’? It’s that story that you struggle writing and can’t seem to finish or untangle and it finally gets shelved, or shot, or drowned in the neighbor’s pool.

When I first heard that term, I stoutly told myself, ‘This will NOT be an under-the-bed-book!” And since that day, I have stuck to my decision. I wonder why, though. What about this book has kept me loyal for nearly 10 years? Is it because the characters keep visiting me during my daily chores or while I’m in the shower? (ahem, I won’t go further with that one…moving on…)

Or is it because the story needs to be told by me? It’s a wild, out-of-control story. It stares at me, taunts me, challenges me, tracks me day after day. It’s sink or swim, baby. Either I bury it alive and hope to hell that it doesn’t rise in the dead of night and stalk me ‘til I’m insane. Or I take it on, despite the risk of it being a losing battle.

I took it on, losing battle and all.

So, then of course I debate my choice. Am I being my stubborn, foolish self, refusing to go down without a fight? Or is it because this book is The One?

Even as this book rests in the hands of other people, I don’t sit in the garden twiddling my thumbs, wondering what to do next. I write something else. I take a course. I attend workshops, lectures, conferences. I seek advice. I learn and share what I learn. I play around with words, and emotions, and action, and new characters and problems until I come up with another story idea.

Know what?  That wild, outta control book motivates me to do all of that stuff above. I want to learn, and write, and grow so I can nail that one book that started this maddening, inconvenient, but passionate life called Writing.

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44 Responses to “THE Book”

  1. If that book is what gets you to do what you need to do, it isn’t an “under the bed book.” An “under the bed book” is that one that pops into your mind after several years. “I forgot about that one.” If you can’t forget about it, it might just be what motivates you.

    Once that book is written, do you stop writing? I hope not. Hopefully its sequel will haunt and motivate you.

    • Hey Masquerade,
      Right, I can’t forget about it. It is the one that keeps me going, through all the other stuff that isn’t so much fun. And no, definitely not, I wouldn’t stop writing. Not only is there a sequel waiting in the wings, but it encourages me to write other things, too.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. I am actually sort of like that with my NaNo 2010 work in progress. I quite honestly hadn’t written much since I was a teenager (other than stuff for school that I was forced to work on) Then once I wrote that I began to love the characters so much I think about them all the time … the structure and the story is a bit of a big mess but I’m still working all that out. Anyway, after writing that something lit a fire to actually start working on my screenwriting more – began looking into fellowships and entering contests and things like that, all while keeping this other “novel” in the works as well.

    • Hey Laura,

      Yes, NaNo projects are notorious for stalking writers, from my own experience as well as what I have heard around. I think you’re smart for knowing that you can still work out the kinks with the structure. I know what you mean by “lit a fire”. Stories like that have a way of showing us that we can do this after all.

  3. I have one of those books. It’s been almost 10 years and it does inspire to to other things as well and even if I never finish it I will be grateful to it as it made me a better writer,.

    • Hey subtle,

      Exactly! Working on that one story is like practicing, isn’t it? I know that I have certainly improved my writing over the years using that one story as my mold, if you will. Plus it has given me the courage to try my hand at other projects, including poetry.

      So 10 years on one book doesn’t really break down to just 10 years on one book.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Wow 10 years, that’s amazing. Maybe I’ve given up on mine too soon :) I actually read a book recommendation in a magazine and it said the author spent 10 years on it so don’t give up!

    • Hey Victoria,

      That’s encouraging to know that I’m not the only one out there, and that one of “those” books got published. It can be a very frustrating, long road but I always feel like I am a better writer at each turn I make.

      As far as your book, it is never too late to attempt it again if you want to. Sometimes, taking a break from it is all you need to get a fresh perspective.

      Thanks for commenting.

  5. I do understand what you’re saying. The book I “had” to write is my second book, driven by a story that I knew would be at its centre. I begun thinking about it and planning the plot and characters before I had even thought of the premise of the first book.
    Yet somehow i didn’t feel ready to write it. The more I thought about it the less it seemed to work. So I put it to one side and wrote “Avon Street.” This book again hinged on a central story, but from day one, I had a clearer picture of the basic plot line and it developed and grew from there.
    I rarely thought about the other book consciously, yet I when I had finished “Avon Street” and looked back at the outline and ideas I found that lots of the missing pieces seemed somehow to fall into place.
    I wish you luck with your book.
    If you have to write it – you will.

    • Hi unpub,

      Haha, I know that feeling. One of my NaNo’s started off like that, all character and central conflict, but plot hadn’t really been laid out yet.

      See, I think what you needed to do (without realizing you did it) was to take a break from it and focus on something else. That’s why, when you went back to it, it all came together for you. I’m glad that worked out so well for you!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  6. We never forget our first love

    • Hi Madelieine,

      Ah yes, that is very true. And I like that thought, it somehow appeases the sense of necessity or frustration.

      Thanks for your comment.

  7. It sounds to me much more as if you’re clinging to something that *isn’t* meant to be, and using it as an excuse to be doing things other than writing something else. How much could you have written in the time you’ve been attending “workshops, lectures, conferences.” amd asking advice? There is no such thing as THE book, as comforting as that idea may be.

    • Hi Catana,

      For me, it never has been about “how much” I can get written, but “how well” I can write.

      Thanks for commenting.

      • I didn’t mean to imply that the amount of writing you do is important. The quality is the most important thing. But even if you only write one or two more stories, the point is not to let one hang over your head to the point where it interferes with getting anything else done.

      • Hey Catana,

        Oh, I absolutely agree with you. And I haven’t let it interfere with other projects. I have two NaNos that I did (one of which is in its second draft), and I completed four short stories (one of which was published in 2011). I also found that I really enjoy teaching creative writing to kids, so I do that as part of an after-school enrichment program. I also enter contests/competitions (in fact, I won two this year).

        Part of what has made it difficult to really get a grip on this novel (or writing in general), is that I am a stay-at-home mother who also has an 80-ish year old mother who is slowly but surely losing her independence. I hold down 4 different freelance jobs so that I can be home with the kids. In other words, I can’t write full-time or nearly as often as I want to. I work on this book, but must grudgingly put it aside so that I can deal with “life” as well as explore other areas of writing.

        My original point was that because of my passion for this one novel I keep writing, I keep trying, and that I often wonder if I didn’t love this one story so much would I try as hard in this field at all.

        I appreciate your comments, thank you.

  8. Wow, well said Madeleine. I agree with the others, we shouldn’t give up on our babies. :)

  9. The gal who wrote ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel’ spent 10 years writing it…don’t give up. This I say as I struggle with my two year project that is driving me buggy. Now I have wasted 6 weeks of writing time moping about it, but when I try to return to it….I’m just not getting anywhere (or where I want to be). Personally I don’t think you are being stubborn or foolish, it is up to you to decide when enough is enough–not someone else.

    • Hi elise,

      Wow, I didn’t know that about that author, that’s neat to know.

      I have had moments like that, where I want to throw it out the window. That’s usually when I take a break from it, walk away, play around with another project, just get it out of my hair for a little bit. And during that time I don’t let myself think about it (which is difficult to do, granted). But I find that if I think about it, I start over-thinking, and that really is the same as writing it.

      Okay, good, thanks for saying I’m not stubborn or foolish! :)

  10. I fell into the book I am writing. It seriously happened by accident and it grew out of my NaNoWriMo 2011 novel. I feel very protective of it. If it isn’t “the” novel – I don’t care. It’s something I am supposed to be writing and I am doing it for a reason. :)

    • Hi spring,

      Good for you! I love accidental books. I kind of have one like that, too. But it isn’t my genre, so we’re staring at each other, wondering who’s going to bite first, haha.

      I love your attitude. You’re so right. It is something you’re supposed to be doing, “the” book or not. Keep it going!

  11. I’ve known for most of my life that I have a book “in me” longing to get out. I hope it’s the one I’m writing now–my memoir. As I write, I have ideas for other books–other stories to tell. But first things first, right?

    • Hi Lorna,

      Yes, the book in you must be written. I fully believe that. I also sometimes think it could be the gateway for more writing, so answer the call and if you still feel that pull, then you know you were meant to write more.

      Thanks for a lovely comment.

  12. The one of mine you are currently reading was my first serious idea for a novel. But I couldn’t get it out. And then, when I was partway through another one, Maddie said, “Hey, remember me?” And so we got started. And then she introduced me to Jack, and they changed their minds about how to do things. All the while, I worked on the other one. And learned the hard way that it wasn’t done when I thought it was!

    And so finally I got through Maddie and Jack’s story. But it hasn’t been easy! And I still wonder what they might throw at me down the line…. But I’ll be listening. :)

    • Hi JM,

      Well, I for one, am extraordinarily pleased you reunited with Maddie. Sometimes they need time to worm their way through your system. Isn’t it funny, but I feel that first book is the hardest, and once you get through it you are 100% more prepared to take on another book idea, or even, further revisions to that first book (as I’m experiencing).

      A lot of writers give up without even finishing their first draft. I always keep that in mind when I’m faced with a tough call in my story. It isn’t supposed to be easy. That’s why most of us subsist on caffeine, alcohol, and lack of sleep :)

      Thanks for commenting!

  13. Kate, I have a book I’ve worked on–on and off for 6 years. I put it aside several times. I’ve written another book and started a third book. All unrelated. But I believe in the story so much, I know it’s just about my writing getting up to snuff to do the story justice. I don’t believe in giving up on a book as long as you believe in it.

    • Thank you, Kourtney,

      Hearing how many other writers keep going back to one story over and over again is heartening. I fully believe that it means that story needs to be told. And maybe it is the sheer value of it that makes it so difficult to, as you say, “do the story justice.”

      As long as we keep working on those stories, they will be told.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  14. I have two pieces:

    The first was a dream, something where I said “that would make a great story”, a dream that I had maybe 27-28 years ago! I finally got around to writing the short story/novella and it will be in my collection coming out later in the year!

    The second was a screenplay. I started on it around 2000/01! I finally got it finished after going back and forth with it about 18 months ago. By then I’d decided that it should not be a screenplay! I now go back to it every now and then (between other projects) and it is on my list to finish and publish as a YA novella early next year.

    So, yes, things can take a long time to gestate; but hang on in there!

    • Hi Dennis,

      I love the sound of that! A story built from a dream. And congrats on finishing it and publishing it! And it sounds like your other project is coming long nicely.

      Haha, yes, all of these posts are reassuring me that I am a writer, through and through. Thanks for commenting.

  15. Your last sentences tell you why. It’s wild. Its you. And it brings out other parts of you. Maybe even ones you never knew you had.

    Never give up. You can do it

    • Thanks, Ottie. No, I have no inclination to give up. I will broaden my horizons certainly, take on other projects, learn more about the craft. But I won’t give up on it. Thanks for commenting!

  16. I believe such books are inside of you and sometimes it takes time to realise them. Judging by the comments this is usual for writers so just got to keep on keeping on in the words of Bob Dylan :-) Don’t give up on it!

    • Hey GJ,

      Yes, I think you’re right and that’s a nice way of putting it, too. That they’re inside, but they take some time. I also think that marks the difference between a book written from the heart and a book written because it’s trendy.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • You’re welcome. Funnily enough I have a post in draft just now about writing the book you should be writing rather than the one you may feel an agent would like. I may get that out next week. Please call me Garry :-)

      • Okay Garry! :) I’ll be interested to read your post actually. I just went to a conference last week and that topic came up about writing topics while they’re hot…

  17. I’ve discovered that – for me, at least – writing a piece is not a linear process. There are lots of sidebars, intersections, and alternate routes along the way. That book isn’t under the bed – it is taking the necessary detours to make it what it will be.

    Thank you for writing this. Intellectually, I know that writing is a long process but it does help to hear that others share this feeling and face the same thing!

    • Hi Eloise,

      What a wonderfully astute, perceptive way of looking at it. I never really thought of it like that. But I think you’re right, that writing a piece isn’t a linear process. Certainly not for me, either, and I always wondered about that (I even took workshops on structure to help me figure out why it is so unmanageable).

      Well, I’m glad you found this post helpful. I also was grateful to read all of these comments where the majority of writers also have a book that is taking much longer to write than imaginable.

      Thanks for commenting!

  18. When I started blogging I was almost embarrassed to admit that I had been working on my novel since 2005, but I’ve come across so many people working on a story for years. It’s good to step away and do other things, but have that comfy stpry to come back to. Keep at it :)

    • Hi Pete,

      I like that…”comfy story”. I think that really sums it up, because for me at least, is something I am willing to bend over backwards to make the best I can. It means that much to me, and I enjoy the process too.

      Good to know I’m in such grand company :)

      Thanks for commenting!

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