The Cycles of Writing

Right now, I'm in the “review after the copy edit” phase of my book.

As with everything else, all writers do things differently. I am of the philosophy that writing has different cycles. It's not all word counts and numbers of pages. There are times when I need to focus on those things—for example, in the beginning stage of a book, I need to spend several months writing the first and subsequent drafts of a manuscript until I know that someone else has to chime in. Then I turn it over to beta readers. While they look at my book, I hunker down for a phase of study (writing and marketing), research for the next book, or notes about future projects. Then my readers let me know what they think, and I pick up the draft, going through their suggestions until I'm written out again, and it's time to give it to the developmental editor, who gives me further feedback on whether my book is structurally sound. Once again, I return to my draft, revising and correcting, until it's time to hand it off to the copy editor.

Every time I let go of my book, I'm happy to do it. I have nothing more to give at that point. I need other trusted pairs of eyes to see what I cannot at that moment. I have what Judy Blume calls “a messy mind.” It takes me a while to be able understand and express what I want to say. I wish I had the kind of mind that could completely think out a book and be able to send it directly to a copy editor and then just take care of the line edits. There are writers who can do that. I belong to the subterranean sloppy sect.

However, that said, I keep my early drafts to myself. I can't have people telling me it's a mess before I've cleaned it up as much as I possibly can before they see it. If people make comments during my set writing times, it makes me self-conscious and confused and unhappy. Again, other writers flourish with continual feedback. That's just not me.

Each time the book comes back to me, I have gone through at least several days of existential doldrums, where I wander around the house and tell myself that I'm not a writer. I'm a fraud wearing slippers at 3:00 in the afternoon. I expect it now. I have thought about shortening my deadlines, but I want to give my readers and my editors some space. And I also want to give myself that gift. It reminds me of, when I was a kid in Michigan, waiting for spring. There's this pent-up energy, this anticipation and frustration, and then one day, the warm days return. My book is back, accompanied with many suggestions and ideas.

I always feel so happy to return to the world of word counts, of concrete markers that something is actually happening. But frustration also sits on my shoulder. How could I not have seen that? There's embarrassment. My readers and editors must think I'm an absolute idiot. There's sometimes a sense of hopelessness. Why did I think I could write? But there's also excitement. I now again see things that I want to do. With the help of my friends, it is clear. Then it's just a matter of diving in again, trying to make the best book I can.