What is like to ride (I mean write) a book

(I do know there is a typo in the title. I kinda like it. It reminds me what it was like to let this book be finally ‘finished’ – I’m certain there are places where it could be better but if I wait for perfection it will never leave my hands.)

What is it like to write a book?

It’s waking in the middle of the night from a dream that has assembled the disjointed pieces of your project into perfect order and RUNNING to the laptop and hoping that in between the time that it takes to power up and open a word document your dream clarity can hold on.

For a year. No, two years. Maybe three.

It’s staring into the blank canvas over your husband’s shoulder while he is speaking; and driving with one hand while you scribble the download that just flashed into your mind on the way to the grocery store, mall, high school graduation.

It’s sighing with satisfaction as you realize, “I’m finished,” and announcing it to your friends and family members with pride and relief and joy. And they are so happy for you and they buy you a glass of wine and send you congratulatory emails and post sweet messages on your Facebook wall.

And then, you wake in the middle of the night, dash to the laptop and take the entire book apart. What were you thinking? This book isn’t done.

for a year, two, three…

The book deepens. The book changes. The book is in  charge now. The book knows what it is and what it wants.

Writing a book is a Nantucket Sleigh ride, a huge whale meeting a whaling boat (yours) with a slick upper deck where a tiny human (you), who has somehow managed to sink a sharp harpoon into the blubbery skin of a behemoth tries to hold on and is dragged for the ride of her life.

That’s a terrible metaphor. This is not what I mean… well, actually, it is… kinda.

Writing a book (at least for me) has been like standing naked (and wet) in screaming wind while trying, at the same time, to capture the experience on paper. Wet paper.

It is also:

  • intriguing. What will the book teach me today? What turns will it take? What surprises will it reveal?
  • enchanting, like being led – often blindfolded – through an enchanted wood by a band of fairies.
  • exasperating, those fairies are fond of mirrors and mischief, practical jokes and word play. (Here’s an example: On Friday, I am scheduled to have my very first professional photo shoot – for the book jacket and blogosphere. My photographer’s name is Dyana. On the same day, my sister has scheduled (as a gift to our mom) a photo shoot that will archive and chronicle our mother’s lifetime of art work. The photographer’s name? Diana. The mischief: I must be present at both. Don’t ask.)
  • humbling, “How can you write a book when you have not yet worked out the difference between the terms: God, The Universe, Angels, The Sea of Miracles, All That Is… “

When the book is about angels, it only adds to the carnival atmosphere because really, truly, seriously they are in charge and I, the humble ‘author’ stand on the deck of the slick and slippery surface of the ship of this book and hold on.

While I am writing the book, the book has been rewriting me.

  • reassembling my bones
  • draining and then refilling my body with new blood
  • standing me in front of mirrors and pulling off my masks (and little pieces of skin)

What I mean is, while I was writing this book:

  • I dreamt that I climbed a mountain with a young man who handed a sword and asked me to pierce three deer hearts that were hanging over a fire. I couldn’t do it and turned away. That’s okay, he said. You can come back.

What I mean is:

  • My father began to fall, eventually, we took his keys away and he wound up in a wheelchair in a nursing home
  • While visiting him there, my mother fell, clutching her chest, which led to open heart surgery and (so far) 18 months of recovery, decline, recovery…
  • I began to experience bi-monthly 48-hour migraines.
  • Oh, and while I was being distracted (Hey, look over here!)  both of my kids grew up and went to college.

I am not (re)telling you this to show you how hard it’s been. I’m telling you this to illustrate something… something which broke my heart and broke it open.

A gentle hand took my heart, well, actually, it was torn out of my chest. But it was given back to me – and it was all rewired and embroidered with cryptic symbols, some sort of writing or ancient runes.

And all the while, I was (insisting on) writing this book…

(If you haven’t noticed, this was a workshop in “How to keep on going no matter what circumstances arise.” It was a three year training in magic, a dance through my own Hogwart’s Castle of shadow and light. Writing a book about angels is like being pulled through an oceanic personal mystery school by a great white whale who is absolutely certain about who is holding the rope.)

(It was a workshop that taught me: the distractions and circumstances (and symptoms) that come up are not roadblocks. They can only stop you if you stop. )

(It also taught me: the roadblocks are an out-picturing of the illusions that you hold within. In other words, what you believe will stop you appears to stop you. The key, all of this ALSO taught me, is this: the roadblocks are there to teach you to navigate your own inner landscape of fear. Every lizard you must step over, every crisis you must deal with, every headache that slams you to the sofa can teach you something.

What I mean is, making the commitment to complete a book opened me to meet the things that would try to stop me. Meeting those things taught me who I really am – and what I really care about.)

But this was not a post about shadow (until it was.)

Last night, I sent this email to my (dear and patient) graphic designer.

So… no pressure But it looks like, I’m guessing, the book won’t be ready for release tomorrow???? No pressure. I want it to be right. Just let me know.

This morning, she replied:

Isn’t tomorrow the 2nd? I thought you were releasing it on the 3rd. I’m still working toward that.
To which I replied:
Oh, I am so happy I could cry. Tomorrow IS the second. Collapsing in giggles in the middle of the cafe. Hahahahahaha.
I love you for knowing what day it is.
Recent Posts
Showing 12 comments
  • Trisha

    While driving from Reno to Yosemite with my mother, I began to panic. She wanted to listen to Dr. Laurie and it was like nails on a blackboard. I felt I was going to have a horrible asthma attack with no help at hand. Then, a cloud opened and a hand came forth and opened my chest, even as I continued to drive. It opened my heart and placed a sachet of Love inside my heart, patted my heart shut and then closed my chest and the hand disappeared back into the cloud. I stopped the car and asked my mother if she saw it. She looked at me bewildered. I am certain I looked as bewildered. I don’t remember if I attempted to explain. I can still see it, twenty years later.

  • Reply

    This post helps me realize that I’m not even to the scary part of my book process yet. Gives me courage to take the next step. 🙂

  • Janet Goldstein

    Lovely. I’m sending this to a few writers who need to read this now. Love your point about your commitment to book and opening yourself to the journey and going where it took you. It’s the change, the shift, the learning that so often make a book seem alive and meaningful.

    • Amy

      Thanks, Janet – for the honor of sharing my post, and your visit and comment here.

  • Joe Dixon

    Amy, thanks for writing this post. I went through a similar process when I was hacking my way through NaNoWriMo. The manuscript sits on my desk, behind my laptop. Largely forgotten.

    An MPhil dissertation is taking up all of my time at present, and I miss writing fiction. Perhaps soon I’ll break it back out and try and get past page 20 of the rewrite.

    Best of luck with your book.


    • Amy

      I’ve got a couple of manuscripts hidden around the house myself. I think of them as my practice labs – the work that I did on the way to finding something to finish. 🙂 Good luck with your dissertation.

  • Do Mi Stauber

    Amy, this is absolutely wonderful. I’ve been through it with a book–and with paintings.

    We always come through, transformed.

    • Amy

      Art does transform us, doesn’t it? We think we are making a painting or a poem but really, it is making us. 🙂

  • Erika Napoletano

    Amy, as someone who’s walking the same path, CONGRATS! Who knew that blood, sweat and tears turned into words on the printed page… 🙂

    • Amy

      Thanks, Erika. Truly humbling to go through it – exhilarating to come out the other side where it (begins to) make sense. And so lovely to find kindred spirits along the path. Glad you’re here.

  • Andrea Maurer

    “…the distractions and circumstances (and symptoms) that come up are not roadblocks. They can only stop you if you stop. ” I’m printing this and taping it to the wall above my desk. And maybe this one too… “the roadblocks are there to teach you to navigate your own inner landscape of fear.”

    Thanks. And congrats. I can’t wait to read what the whale dragged in!

    • Amy

      I have it tattooed on the inside of my forehead. 🙂 Thanks, Andrea.

Leave a Comment