You Can’t Know (Or: a Telegram Not Sent)

You can’t know how you’ll handle things.

You can guess. You can even make an educated guess, based on what you know of yourself from all other experiences that came before, like the fact that you published a book once before, you were read and reviewed and rated before. You survived.

I’d been through this once before. Dani Noir was published in September of 2009, and I was writing Imaginary Girls then, and I seem to remember that the writing went really well that fall. My biggest struggle was balancing my day job with the writing of the book due early that winter (and I ended up having to leave the day job), but other than that I felt good. I felt creative. I felt confident. I brushed off disappointments and looked ahead.

Most important: the words came.

I made my deadline.

So when I embarked on this year, 2011, the year Imaginary Girls would come out, I expected it would be like last time. I’d write a new book while waiting for Imaginary Girls to enter the world. It would get read and reviewed and rated. I’d do whatever promotion things I needed to do. I’d survive. Hey, I’d do better than survive—if my life followed my plan for 2011, I would have finished two new novel drafts by now. (Or at least one novel draft plus a proposal for another.) I’d celebrate. I’d feel AWESOME.

What I absolutely did not in any way expect was how difficult these past months have been.

I never expected to be unable to write for days at a time. I didn’t expect to get blocked. To feel so insecure. To question everything. To fall behind. To worry so much. To worry more. (Not to mention get sick last month.)

I thought I knew, and I didn’t know. I was caught by surprise. I was wrong. I guess my lesson here is that every book is different? Or my reaction to every book will be different? Or I will get better and learn more each new time?

I’ve gotten over the funk I was in—I have, or else I wouldn’t want to talk about it—and writing this new novel is really going well now (it feels like it is, anyway, and I’ll soar ahead on this feeling for as long as I can).

I wish I could have known, but you can’t know, can you?

In other words, I am not going to send an email like this to my editor tomorrow:

(a telegram Dorothy Parker sent to her editor in 1945)

And good thing, too, because from the way I see this one getting shared all over the internet I can tell a lot of writers have felt this way about their books at one time or another. This is normal, I guess. This is to be expected. Actually… I guess I should have known, huh?

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