A funny thing about writing: It’s both an incredibly private, intimate act and (I suppose, if you’re persistent and lucky) something that gets shared with the world.
Which means, essentially, that the hours and hours (… and hours) that you spend alone or semi-alone or for-all-intents-and-purposes alone with your manuscript may one day translate to a book sitting on a shelf, and you the reader may walk past the shelf and do a double-take, because there’s the physical proof that you the writer really did all that work.
It’s awesome. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. (Erm: It’s the stuff of which dreams are made.) And then, at times, it’s incredibly unnerving.
Case in point: The Drowning Girls.
Or as she’s known around my house, Baby #3.
In the public life cycle of a book, The Drowning Girls is in its nascent state. Advanced reader copies are out there, circling amongst a handpicked group of writers and bloggers and reviewers, and I imagine the books, lovingly packaged in bubble wrap, being transferred from shipping center to shipping center, being loaded and unloaded, and finally being hand-delivered onto a doorstep. Later the package is opened, the book set aside for the time being or the spine immediately cracked open—and that’s where I have to stop imagining, or one of two things will happen: I’ll become a bit queasy, or my head will explode.
In its other, more private life, The Drowning Girls is eighteen months old, this no-longer-tiny thing I’ve nursed from idea through touch-and-go illnesses and minor missteps and finally, to triumphs. Those of you who know me in my private life know that there were times I wasn’t sure TDG was going to make it to its present state. (Add them up: stress, self-doubt, inhibitions, distractions from all angles.) TDG is responsible for a white streak that has formed on the right side of my head, springing from my scalp. (Think Stacy London, but less striking.) I credit TDG both for weight gain and weight loss, for making new friends and losing touch with old, for "above average" alcohol consumption, for sleepless nights, for bad decisions.
In other words, I’ve lost a healthy sense of perspective.
Here’s how it goes:
Someone will love the book and proclaim their public love on Goodreads or Twitter or Amazon or Facebook or a blog, and the writer me feels a rush of love and warmth and gratitude, a sort of cosmic alignment of hopes and fears and dreams. Or someone will give it a three-star ‘meh’ rating and I’ll feel this rush of annoyance, because clearly that reader missed something, or maybe he/she just needs me to sit down and explain the book to them. (This is unfair and not entirely charitable, but it’s a real feeling.)
Then there is two-star star rating and (thankfully rare) the one-star. There's a horrible wish every writer must have to contact the writer of the one-star review. Perhaps the rater made an error, a simple misclick on the keyboard. Perhaps the person can be reasoned with, talked to, cajoled, bribed. But no--none of these things are appropriate, of course. And my husband, thankfully, talks me out of these baser impulses. (Truth: He reads all the reviews, and once things get going, I come to a point where I don't.) There's nothing left to do but privately seethe about the person who clearly didn't even read the book, or merely stumbled across it by accident and felt cheated at its lack of vampires or werewolves (or vampires and werewolves). There's nothing to do but assume that the account is fake, created by the student who I popped for plagiarism last semester.
On the other hand, it may not be personal at all. Perhaps the account is held by a troll or a cyborg or a bot. Maybe by a vampire.
Or a werewolf.
The best thing to do, of course, is not to visit those sites.
When I’m writing, I enable an app that disables my wireless connection, because distractions abound—emails, social media, random google searches I feel compelled to perform at that exact moment. I’m generally good at this sort of discipline—my time is in short supply, and I can’t afford to find myself watching a cat video or building a new Pinterest board for a remodel that may never happen.
But this early in the game, I’m propelled by a relentless curiosity, an obsessive sort of nervousness.
Will they love it, or won’t they?
I do, but then, I’ve got a different perspective.
I sat with her when she was nothing but a rough outline, a two-thousand word sketch, a tangle of words I was too embarrassed to share with anyone other than my beagle.
Early reviews, when I've dared to peek, have been good. They've been better than good, really -- some from writers I admire, bloggers I've chatted with, and a few, wonderfully, from people who don't know me and therefore don't feel any compulsion to say nice things.
They are not all from my mother, hiding behind fake profiles.
In fact, I hand-delivered a copy to her only last week, and out of everyone, I'm most nervous about what she'll think.
At this point, it's all a waiting game.
(Did I mention The Drowning Girls publishes on April 26?)
Paula Treick DeBoard