This is What Writing a Book Actually Looks Like

“If you can quit, quit. If you can’t, you’re a writer.”
– R.A. Salvatore

By: Elizabeth Carlton

what writing a book looks like elizabeth carlton elli writesWhat’s it like to write a book? Whenever I hear this question, I find myself wearing a weary smile. Many writers—especially those new to the trade—romanticize the process. They envision tapping away in the silence of a cozy office, stuffed with books and inspiring trinkets.

“It’s all about creating the perfect sanctuary,” they say. “One that beckons the muse and puts the right words down on paper.”

I can’t vouch for this methodology. My experiences with writing are far less enticing to the observer. I recently wrapped up the synopsis to my third book and started on the draft. This will be my third book over the span of 4 years, most of which have felt like a wrestling match.

To put it into perspective, here is what experience tells me this process will look like.

The Bipolar and Strenuous Path to Writing a Book

Currently, I am at the beginning of a new book draft. The pages are fresh and the first few chapters are down on paper. It’s a new adventure; a new pursuit; and I feel like a literary genius.

In a month, I’ll feel like a bipolar, sleep deprived mess overthinking everything.

In four months, I’ll be debating with my editor whether to throw the whole thing away or try to salvage it.

In six months, I’ll be listing all the reasons why I hate writing.

Then I’ll have a turning point. It’ll feel like I’ve been given new eyes. I’ll start to see the soul of the story peering through the excess text. The details will coalesce into a clear picture and I’ll find it easier to trim out the imperfections.

In 12 months, I’ll have another book ready or almost ready for publishing. Like the act of childbirth, my mind will deceptively suppress the agony it took to create this piece of literature.

I’ll receive a proof of the book, and it’ll make me believe that all of this insanity is worth it.

This is, of course, assuming that I don’t run into major conflicts that require me to scrap my original draft and start from scratch. If such is the case, I will find myself starting this entire process from the beginning.

The Silver Lining

Let me add a disclaimer and say that I’m not writing this to discourage anyone. I have always given a loud “huzzah” to RA Salvatore’s advice: “If you can quit, quit. If you can’t, you’re a writer.” But it isn’t because I don’t think being a writer is worthwhile.

It’s just honesty. Creating worlds, characters, and adventures from scratch is a masochistic labor of imagination and frustration, and you will both love and hate the entire journey.

If you’re an aspiring writer, know and expect the journey above to become your own. Anticipate it and let it encourage you when you encounter these hurdles (and you will) by knowing it’s just part of the creation process. If you want it bad enough, you will keep writing because a memorable body of work doesn’t come together painlessly or easily. It’s a grueling process.

Those who succeed are the ones who don’t set the pen down when the task gets hard. They obsess over how to make it work, their mind rolling over scenes and solutions both day and night as they translate the story in their mind into a tangible form.

You do it because you can’t help it. The story is there and it begs to be told.

After all… you’re a writer.