Catherine is also celebrating her newest release, Julia Defiant, which is the second book in her Witch's Child series. So be sure to check it out below the post.
The Confidence Trick of Writing a Book, or Failing to Write a Book by Catherine Egan
My fifth book has just come out, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the writing strategies that make me feel safe. I’ve written every book the same way. Here are the well-worn steps I go through, deeply familiar and comforting to me by now:
- Lots of brainstorming and note-taking until I have the shape of the whole book in my head
- Make a very detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline
- Start drafting & update outline whenever I deviate from it
- Get to the end, then make an outline of the finished draft
- Plot revision using finished outline, and keep adjusting the outline as I revise and rewrite
Clearly, I am heavily dependent on my outlines. When I get stuck, I immediately go to my outline to fix the problem. I feel panicky as soon the story starts to move away from the map I’ve made, and then I have to stop and fix the outline before I can keep going forward. I cling to my outline like a life raft. This is the thing I need that will get me to shore.
But sometimes it doesn’t.
I’ve published five books now, and failed to write at least as many as that. I’ve used an outline every time. It doesn’t matter to me that the outline changes dramatically as I go along, and it doesn’t matter that it sometimes fails me. I’m still convinced I need it.
Lately I’ve been wondering what would happen if I didn’t use an outline. If I compare my first outline to the final outline, it’s obvious that I’m actually more than half-pantser, masquerading as a plotter. The outline has been my confidence trick. Can I write a book without it? Just go with an idea and see what happens? Can I ditch my floaties and throw myself off the dock, plunge into the cold, dark water and see if it will hold me up, or maybe see what I find down there at the bottom? Maybe because I’m becoming more confident, or maybe because I want to give myself a bit of a scare, the idea of it has been tugging at me lately. I imagine a graceless, panicky process, and I imagine myself emerging from it, gasping and flailing but triumphant, holding something beautiful.
Or maybe I’d drag myself out shivering and empty-handed and swear never to do that again, but I might be ready to find out. I’m mostly OK with failure. In fact, if there is one part of writing a book that I think I’m particularly good at, it’s failing to do so.
Here is the thing with failing to write a book: it sucks, it really does – it can feel like a heartbreaking waste of time and effort, a shattered dream – but also, it’s OK. Writing a book gets compared to having a child sometimes – people talk about their book babies, and it is true that just as every child is different, so is every book, and each one will require different things from you, challenge you in different ways. However, the analogy breaks down quickly, in a way that should be reassuring for all writers: if you completely mess up your book, it’s really not such a big deal. You can write another one. You can salvage the failed book for parts (also not recommended with children). You can let go and move on.
Writing a book is always a kind of confidence trick. You have to convince yourself that you can do it. You have to convince yourself that your way of doing it is the right way to do it. You have to convince yourself that failing doesn’t make you a failure. You have to convince yourself that you don’t suck, even when sometimes you do. You have to convince yourself that it’s worthwhile – that your story is worthwhile.
You convince yourself of all of this, and you write and write and write, and then sometimes at the end of all that writing (and all the procrastination and self-doubt and caffeine and Real Life interferences) somehow or other, there’s a book – this thing you made.
Then you do it all over again, but differently.
About the Book:
Julia can deal with danger. The thing that truly scares her lies within. Her strange ability to vanish to a place just out of sight has grown: she can now disappear so completely that it’s like stepping into another world. It’s a fiery, hellish world, filled with creatures who seem to recognize her – and count her as one of their own.
So is Julia a girl with a monster lurking inside her? Or a monster wearing the disguise of a girl?
If she can use her monstrous power to save Theo, does it matter?
In this riveting second book in the Witch’s Child trilogy, Catherine Egan goes deep within the heart of a fierce, defiant girl trying to discover not just who but what she truly is.
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About the Author:My books: JULIA DEFIANT, JULIA VANISHES, Shade & Sorceress, The Unmaking, Bone, Fog, Ash & Star
My blog: bycatherineegan.wordpress.com
My superpowers: high-kicking, list-making, simultaneously holding two opposing opinions
My weaknesses: fear of flying, over-thinking and then making bad decisions, excessive list-making
My allies: my made-for-walking-in black boots, Mick, the English Language
My enemies: decaf, low blood sugar, the passage of time
My mission: the coexistence of ambivalence and joy.
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