Beth Hautala

Children's Author


The Hardest Part

I had coffee with my lovely friend Mary this morning and among other things, we talked in length about the work of creative outpouring. (By the way, the word "work" in that last sentence—make it ALL CAPS in your mind).

Being creative is hard work!

Being creative consistently with little affirmation, hope of a successful end, or any recognition whatsoever, is even harder work.

Being creative for a living is hardest of all, and I know very few who do it full time. Though, maybe that's better, as most creatives tend to need a bit of diversity in their lives. Myself included.

And for me, writing a book is my own particular bit of hard work.

I hardly feel qualified to own that last sentence, much less this post, because I am only recently agented myself, and there are so many others better qualified than I to offer a commentary on this subject. Nevertheless, I am not aiming to give guidance here, but merely encourage, and I am qualified to do that much. As are we all.

I've been writing for awhile. I even went to school for it. I've got a few credentials and a few little things roaming the world in printed form, but nothing to really write home about. But this much I can say with certainty: The hardest part of writing a book, is writing the book.

Profound, right?

Seriously though. It really is. Before you have any hope of publication, before an agent says, "I'd like to see the rest of your manuscript," all you have is the desire to tell a story. And that desire must be so strong that you are willing to force yourself to sit at a desk and actually put words on paper until you accumulate a massive amount of them.

Then they all have to make sense in the order they've been formulated, and they have to evoke emotion, have an arc, and reach a conclusion that leaves the main character and the reader alike, changed in some way shape or form.

Rarely do you have someone standing over your shoulder saying, "You're awesome and I want to read everything you've ever written!" More often than not it's something along the lines of, "What are you doing and why are you wasting your time?" Or in my case, "Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy!" (et. all). It can be a little tough to focus.

For the sake of your story, you must be willing to let things go. Important things, entertaining things, things you said you couldn't live without. Like, yaknow, sleep.

You have to foster discipline and strive toward word counts, you have to find your muse and chain her to your desk until she sings. You have to be willing to ignore your need for approval and listen to the story your characters are trying to tell, regardless of what your mom or grandma or wife/husband, sister, boyfriend/girlfriend, or neighbor thinks. Because unless you are writing their collective biographies, they have no part in your story. You can dedicate the book to them later if you so choose.

While writing, you must also read. You must saturate yourself in words until you literally dream in them. Listen to the voices other authors have chosen to use and then find your own. But unless you read, you will end up dry and brittle like an unwatered house plant. I would forsake all reading while I was writing because I was afraid I would emulate the voices of others. Now I read a book a week while I am writing my own story, and it helps me write better. —I recognize when my plot is beginning to fall apart, or when my characters are fading into one-dimensional versions of themselves, or when my dialogue falls flat. Write! And as you do, read.

If I could do one thing, outside of writing a well-thought and lovely story, it would be to encourage others that they are capable of doing the same. The world is chock full of reasons not to do what you love. Every form of communication on the planet will work to distract you and pull you away from doing your creative work well. Why? Because it's easier not to have to try quite so hard, take the risk, and maybe fail. But as Samuel Beckett said, "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

So, as I close this, that you might get back to work, allow me to be one voice that says something different.

I don't know you, I don't what your story/poem/blog post/essay/song/comic/or book is about. But you do. And you are the only person on the planet qualified to tell it. No one else has your particular set of gifts, particular set of struggles that have lent depth to your work, and no one believes in your work as much as you do. They cannot, because they do not know it as you do. So, would you do the rest of us a favor and give us a gift that only you are capable of creating? It's the hardest part, but you're closer than you think, and I for one will be waiting to read it when it's finished. Write well.