08 December 2007

This is, without a doubt, the most accurate quote ever about the "fun" of writing a book:

Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public. (Source: Winston Churchill)

Keep that in mind, all you who are considering authoring as a career or career supplement.

Were I to offer my own, it would be like so:

Writing a book is like having a child.

Trying is the best part, in some ways. You have this idea, this burning sensation in your heart, that just has to get out into the world. But you need a partner, a publisher who will help you bring your vision to life. You write proposals, you write tables of contents, you imagine the book cover in your mind. Then, YES! You get a publisher to agree. You sign the contract, fax it in, and you are on the way! We are authoring!

At first, it is wonderful and exciting and full of potential. You run into a few hangups, a few periods of nausea as you realize the magnitude of what you're really doing. You resolve to press on. As you continue, you begin to feel like you're in control again, but you start to get this sense like it's an albatross, a weight around your neck. Before long, you're dragging your feet, you can't seem to muster the energy to do anything, just get this thing done. The deadline approaches, the sheer horror of what's left to be done paralyzes you. You look your editor in the eye (literally or figuratively) and say, "I can't do this." The editor says, "Push". You whimper, "Don't make me do this, just cancel the contract." The editor says, "Push". You scream at them, "This is YOUR fault, you MADE me do this!" The editor says, "Push". Then, all of a sudden, it's done, it's out, it's on the shelf, and you take photos and show it off to all the friends, neighbors and family, who look at you a little sympathetically, and don't mention how awful you really look in that photo.

As the book is out in the world, you feel a sense of pride an joy at it. You imagine it profoundly changing the way people look at the world. You imagine it reaching bestseller lists. You're already practicing the speech for the Nobel. You're sitting in your study, you reach out and grab one of the free copies still sitting on your desk, and you open to a random page. Uh, oh. There's a typo, or a mistake, or something that clearly got past you and the technical reviewers and the copyeditors. Damn. Oh, well, one mistake can't make that much difference.

Then the reviews come in on Amazon. People like it. People post good reviews. One of them is not positive. You get angry: this is your baby they are attacking. How DARE they. You make plans to find large men with Italian names and track down that reviewer. You suddenly realize your overprotectiveness. You laugh at yourself weakly. You try to convince yourself that there's no pleasing some people.

Then someone comes up to you at a conference or interview or other gathering, and says, "Wow, you wrote that? I have that book on my shelf!" and suddenly it's all OK. It may not be perfect, but it's yours, and you love it all the same, warts and all.

Nearly a dozen books later, it's always the same.

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Last modified 08 December 2007