What I Learned from Writing a Book in Four Months

Yesterday, I “finished” Jacob Wrestling, (the quotes are my nod to the fact that I’m sure more revisions are looming, much as I don’t want to think of them right now) and after reading through my book, my proposal, and my cover letter about 30 times each, I hit the “send” button on the email that will whisk it off to an agent’s inbox, where things are–mercifully–out of my hands for the moment.

I’m tired–emotionally, physically, mentally, artistically…you name the adverb. And while I’d really like to retreat into a headspace that allows me to be a bit of a slacker/zombie for a while (I sat slack-jawed in front of a soap opera yesterday afternoon. I’m not even sure which one it was. It may have been in Spanish–I don’t remember–but it was remarkably relaxing) I realize I should take a moment to reflect on this entire experience, since I’ll probably end up working on  another book soon enough. So, here’s what I’ve learned thus far:


*read a lot while working. Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigg was a fascinating study on voice, creepiness and smart use of image. I started many writing mornings crouched under my desk (hey, it’s a small office–where else does one go for a change of scenery in a 4’x6′ room?) reading from Notebooks. It never failed to get my mind in gear.

*drink a lot of green tea.

*write some really bad first drafts. No one has to see them. But if you have the poor judgement to show them to someone, be prepared to hear that they are, in fact, really bad.

*turn off the internet while working. ‘Nuf said.

*accept the fact that writers essentially talk to imaginary friends. I’ve had a number of incidents in which I could swear I see the icky villain from Jacob Wrestling crouching in my dark hallway. Okay, so this is probably because I started wearing contacts and have fuzz in my eye. But at the times I think I see my protagonist walking down the street, I remember that living inside one’s head is likely to have funny manifestations out in the world.

*write a book in four months. It’s slightly insane, but an excellent workout for the craft. It helps to be a little compulsive, like me.


*worry so much. I read John Kennedy Toole’s first novel, The Neon Bible, just before starting my book, and I couldn’t help but continually curse and fling the paperback at the floor because it was so good. And he wrote it when he was a teenager, for crying in the night. At this point, it’s time to accept that there’s no way I’m going to be that good, or to bend the time-space continuum to go back and be a prodigy. And however great a writer he was, Kennedy Toole–he dead. And in a gruesome suicide. Yes, he was a prodigy. But I will, presumably, make it to 32 years of age, and will, I hope, end up having two books out in the world, too.

*exercise and then try to write. The endorphin rush is bad for getting down to serious work.

*eat so much string cheese. It’s a disgusting habit.

As always, I welcome your comments, and I’d especially like to hear your pieces of writing wisdom, too.

3 Replies to “What I Learned from Writing a Book in Four Months”

  1. Well done, my friend. You’ve created a beautiful book AND managed to learn many new things about yourself and your creative process. Up next: world domination!

  2. Great notes Kelly-as lame as it may sound I will take them to heart and make use of them as a starting point. All good wishes for what’s next!

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