3.10.2014

In it

Nope, nope, no baby yet. I’m 36 weeks along, though, so that will change very soon. (Mia came at 37.)

I want to talk a bit today about my book. I've been shy about doing so here; I know not everyone’s interested in the nuts and bolts, the nitty-gritties, THE PROCESS. But there’s some stuff I’d like to get down before a baby shows up and eats my brain. I hope you won’t mind. I’m just so in it right now. So deliciously embedded. There’s no way of knowing for sure how I’ll feel a few weeks from now, but I bet I’ll be glad for a reminder of this time.


Writing isn't something that comes easily to me. A lot of the time, I hate it. But in a sick, sick way, what I hate about it is also what I love. As my writing partner Katrina says, the hard parts are the figuring-out parts, the points in the writing where there is something important to learn and you get to do the work of learning it. The hard parts are what allow us to make writing that’s worth writing at all. And, hopefully, worth reading.

Earlier this year, I read a wonderful book called Good Prose by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor, Richard Todd. It’s styled as a book on writing, with sections on point of view, structure, editing, things like that, but it’s also a portrait of Kidder and Todd’s working and personal relationship over the years. It’s moving and smart, and made me laugh out loud at least twice. I’ve been dipping back into it whenever I need a boost. Just yesterday I rediscovered this gem:

What you “know” isn't something you can pull from a shelf and deliver. What you know in prose is often what you discover in the course of writing it, as in the best conversations with a friend – as if you and the reader do the discovering together.

That feeling of discovery while I write is everything to me. It’s how I know the writing is going somewhere and, with enough revision, has a shot at being good. It’s also the only way I know to keep from dozing off and slipping into a boredom-induced coma as I write. Consciousness: very important for book writing.



When I first announced that I was writing a book, I said that it would be out at the end of 2014, as in, eight or nine months from right now. That was the plan. I’d write and test recipes for a year, spend a few months with my editor on revisions, and that would be that.

Things look otherwise now for a couple of reasons, the first and most obvious being this pregnancy, which took me doooown. I was sicker for longer than I was with Mia, and I had to put the project more or less on hold for a few months. But the main reason why the book has taken this long to write is because – wait for it – it has taken this long to write. It feels good to say that out loud because it’s been such a revelation for me (and to be fair, it wasn't even mine, but my agent’s and my editor’s, thankyouthankyouthankyou, you brilliant and generous people). I also want to say it because I know a lot of us here are in the same boat, making things out of words, or paint, or film, or food, and working hard to live up to our own ideas of what it means to do these things responsibly and well. It’s important, I’m convinced, to talk honestly about how we get where we’re going. I’m lucky enough to have artist friends near and far who have shared their own routes through. Thanks to them, I’ve never felt alone.

So let me tell you: That year I thought I’d spend writing? I spent it writing. (After I got the help I needed with Mia to make that happen, I should say, which turned out to be more help than I was able to admit for a while. Credit for this particular revelation – also not my own; why bother when I’m clearly surrounded by such smarties? – goes to Eli and a terrific series by Joanna Goddard on mothers who work from home in creative fields.) Anyway, I spent that year writing. Playing around, trying things one way, then another. I wrote mostly by hand, in no particular order, preferring instead to go in wherever I saw an opening, nail down the parts that felt most important, and let the narrative rise up to meet me.

What came out was a total mess. Some of the writing was terrible. Some of it was good, but had nothing to do with the story – whatever that was; it was getting harder and harder to see. I pieced things together into chunks and sent them off to my editor. I pieced other things together – once to the tune of 20,000 words – and sent them off to the cutting room floor. So it went for a year, I tell you. A YEAR. I like to think that I was a good sport about it for a while, but come last June, I reached a point where I thought, whoops. I made a mistake. I thought there was a story here, but you know what? There’s not. Pack it up, Fechtor. Move along. Nothing to see here. Forget about that book.


And then, slowly, things began to change. The story just opened right up. After so much doubt about what should be in and what should be out, so many starts, and restarts, and re-re-starts, the story was making itself known. One night in October when Eli and I were cleaning up the kitchen, I turned to him and said, without a trace of irony, “It’s like I’m inside the author’s mind now.” I guess in order to figure out what the story was, I first had to figure out what it wasn't.

In any case, my editor’s been with me all the way, and has kindly granted me an extension to get this job done right. I’m finishing up the manuscript now, and aiming to ship it off to her before this babe arrives sometime around April 1. If she stays put until then (the baby, not the editor), I think I’ll make it. If she shows up sooner, I’ll come close. Either way (take note, Jessica Kate Fechtor of the Future, TAAAAAKE NOTE), it will be okay. I will finish this book. It will come out next year, and honestly, that’s a-okay with me. One baby at a time, this way. It feels right.

xo.

27 comments:

Sam said...

What an exciting, exhilarating time. Aside from watching the clock, enjoy it :) And that last photo is beautiful.

Sally said...

Congratulations! On creating and growing both in one year - a baby AND a book - you have been *very* productive! And writing is very, very painful. People mistake productive and lovely writing for easy writing, and they are not the same - I write in an academic field, and writing for me is like pulling teeth (worse, maybe) even though the final product is pretty.

SO - enjoy, and treat yourself to wonderful things as a reward for all of your incredible hard work.

Anonymous said...

An encouraging post. Thank you.

Hannah said...

Well, I for one can't wait to see both your babies. (It sounds like books, like other things born of us, arrive when they are ready and not a moment before. As it should be.) Hugs to you and yours, and as much as you can - enjoy the process.

Pia said...

Thank you, Jess. For baring that process, sharing the nitty-gritties. It's just the post I needed to read as I sit down to write.
All the very best - for both babies. They're going to be beautiful xx

olga said...

Cheering you on here!! So many great things ahead! plus - spring! xx

Anna said...

Thanks for your honesty and inspiration! My son is 9 months old and I'm not writing a book but I am trying to figure out how to continue on my creative path and find some sort of time to do more creative work. I will have to check out that series on A Cup of Jo. Hope things continue to go well for you in the coming weeks and months!

Lisa said...

I truly cannot wait (but of course I will). So grateful for this tender peek into your process.

Arlo came just shy of 39 weeks but Clara stayed put and toasty a full three weeks longer! Perhaps similar will happen for you? Cheering you on on all fronts, however it plays out.

Adrienne said...

What an exhilarating time, indeed! I'm so glad you got the time you needed to figure out the puzzle. Good luck in these next few weeks :)

Nishta said...

yes ma'm - all of this. it's the contradiction of showing up and being present for the writing, but not being able to control it; it's the process as much as the product (cliche, but true, how much we learn!); it's the importance of doing this on your own terms, because otherwise, it's not worth it.

probably the best advice I ever got about writing was from a professor in my MFA program. "form is the structure of the mind at work." your mind is at work, lady, and the structure will take care of itself--as it sounds like it is. such a glorious feeling to sense the book gathering itself and coming together, much like that sweet baby is doing inside of you.

love you, proud of you, excited for you. and am also totally obsessed with the cherry-chocolate-pecan granola bar things you posted a while back. they are my morning cup of coffee happy companion! (Shiv likes them crumbled and eaten with a spoon).

xo

talley said...

The home stretch for both babe and book - very exciting times. I loved reading about your process and your circles as you found and lost and found your voice again. It's all part of the story and I can't wait to read it! I agree with the above comments that you have been very productive this year. You might not have another year like it, unless you're planning on having twins next.

And Anna, I'm right there with you struggling to rediscover my creative self as I raise a delightfully draining 7 month old.

French Toast Tasha said...

Thanks for writing this! I'm one of the other people who make things, and whatever we are making, some of it is always a struggle. I love it when creative types are open and brave enough to share some of how it happens for them. Best wishes with all your exciting developments!

Aria said...

wonderful. thank you for this. we are quite in the same boat. I have an (almost) 2 1/2 year old boy, am 34 weeks along, wrote a book last year and now created a blog writing and cooking. A main difference it seems, based on your preggie pic, is that I am a BIG ass mama and you are not. :)
I have been a long time reader, first time commenting but wanna thank you for your inspirations along the way.
happy birthing!
Aria

http://saltyspicybitterandsweet.com

Jess said...

Hellooo! Thanks so much, all, for your wise and encouraging words. I know I'll be grateful for your voices here when I return to this post in the coming weeks.

Sam - Excellent advice. You know what, I am enjoying it! Very important to remember.

Sally - Yep, it's pure agony sometimes. Much worse than pulling teeth. (And birthing babies, come to think of it.) Thanks for sharing. So glad I'm not alone!

Anonymous - Pleased to hear it. Thanks for your note.

Hannah - Maybe we'll come west once both are out in the world. Wouldn't that be great?? xo.

Pia - Oh good! Thank you for reading. Happy writing to you.

olga - Yes, SPRING!! Dare I say that's the most exciting thing of all?

Anna - Mia was 9 months old when I sent out my book proposal and first met with my publisher. I remember everything about that time feeling like a turning point - and also like a big old question mark. Good luck with your work, figuring out how to get back to it and move forward in a way that feels right. YOU CAN DO IT.

Lisa - You do realize that your Instagram feed will be at least partially responsible for my going into labor this time around? Clara is beautiful. You all are. Sending hugs and huge congratulations your way. xx.

Adrienne - Thanks, and hope you're feeling well. You're not so far behind me...!

Nishta - Thank you, my wise and wonderful friend. "...to sense the book gathering itself and coming together" -- YES. What are you, a writer or something? And oooh, I'm so glad you're digging those granola bars. We go through about a batch a week here. (We have play dates. Uh, lots of play dates. I swear.) SO GOOD.

talley - I love the way you describe it as cycles of feeling lost and found. That's really the heart of it. I'll need to remember that when things feel rough between now and the completion of the manuscript. Thank you!

French Toast Tasha - Hello, fellow maker! It helps me to read and hear about others' creative processes, too. Thanks for reading.

Aria - Oh boy, I'd say the real "main difference" is that you already managed to finish your book! Congratulations. Thanks so much for saying hi.

Luisa said...

Just beautiful and as someone who also birthed a baby and a book in one year, you sound a whoooooole lot more together and on top of things than I was. Yay! Can't wait to see both of your beautiful productions. xo

Ashley said...

I love this post so much. Your words on writing are beautiful, true and inspiring. Cheering you on from afar both with book and baby!

tea_austen said...

You are just so, so GOOD. Utterly right and true.

Do you know of the writer Junot Diaz? He had a breakout short story collection, lots of buzz, got an exciting deal for the novel he would write next--and then it took him TEN YEARS to deliver it (which is about nine more years than they usually give you). Of course, when he did deliver it, he won the Pulitzer Prize.

But there is a great video clip of an interview around somewhere in which he was asked about the ten years. TEN YEARS.

His answer was awesome: I needed to become the person the book wanted me to be; the person capable of writing this book.

That's what I try to tell myself: sometimes it just takes time to become the person capable of telling this particular story. Sounds like you have.

And growing a baby TOO? And raising another one! You are just awesome.

Very glad to hear it sounds like you have good/sane people in your corner. I can't wait to meet BOTH of your new babies, whenever they are ready. xox

sara forte said...

Ah, my sweet friend. I love this. First off, I am both jealous and proud of you. I too had the moment where I could postpone things to allow myself to just be pregnant and work other jobs but in some prideful way I said no, I will do it all. I think I've missed out on a lot of huge things that are happening in this season of our lives because I have felt the weight of all of them at one time, not enjoying a single one. If that makes sense. First baby, book, moving in a house...these were all things I imagined to be exclusive, not piled together. Anyway, I made the call, it's my mess to lie in and respect that you allowed yourself the grace to give your book the time it needed. You are such a genuine soul. I cannot wait to read your words and that story. I know it will be touching and thoughtful and a job incredibly well done. Good luck to you in these final few weeks! xoxo

Sasrah said...

You are so great. I love every word of this. Can't wait for your book. ---S

Gemma said...

Nearly there, nearly there! I have absolutely no doubt that, way beyond okay, it will all be wonderful. You can do it!

Vera said...

So inspiring. Thank you. I often feel like things should take less time than they really need -- it's freeing to give yourself permission to let the work slowly unfold. Also, one of my favorite things about writing a blog is the little notes you get to leave for your future self! Reminds me of Didion's essay "On Keeping a Notebook." Like her, your prose always feels effortless.

Jess said...

Luisa - Hmmm, I don't know about that. But one foot in front of the other, right? xx.

Ashley - Thank you. That means a lot.

Tea - You are so generous and kind! Thanks for your thoughts and your cheers. You know, a friend was just telling me about that Junot Diaz interview. TEN YEARS!! Now that is stamina. And patience. You are the awesome one, by the way. A completed manuscript! What a feat! Congratulations. Hope you're enjoying life on the other side.

sara - You know what? I think you're doing great. Really. You just take good care. Will shoot you an e-mail soon. xo.

Sarah - YOU are so great. (And thanks.)

Gemma - Now that is confidence. THANK YOU.

Vera - Thanks for your very kind words. I love that essay. It was the second piece by Didion I ever read and it's stayed with me, especially the line, "I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not." I try to remember that when I return to something I've written and get that uncomfortable cringe-y feeling...

Molly said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! I couldn't love this more. xx

Laura said...

I totally agree. It takes as long as it takes. Thanks for being so open. I just got my first paper accepted at a conference, but the journey was very much like what you described.What you say applies to many other forms of writing, too, such as academic writing. It feels good to have someone speaking it out loud. Your interview with Jodi Kantor - and the chickpea soup - cheered me up quite a couple of times during my writing process. I will, by the way, not be able to join the conference as I will be at 37 weeks then and not able to fly to the U.S. from Europe. However, this is probably the best reason ever not to go... Wishing you, your family and the book all the very best

valerie Dunn said...

Hi. I just wanted to say I enjoy reading your blog and trying all the wonderful food you've posted. Wishing you many blessings and happiness.

Valerie from Oakland, CA

molly said...

I have no doubt you read Molly's words on Letting the Writing Speak for Itself. Yes to everything here; to the way it dovetails that, there; to the story being pounded and enticed out (because writing is nothing if not carrot and stick, no?).

And as for the rest of us, *forced* to wait for the book? Well, lucky, lucky us. Good things take time. Brilliant things, a smidge more.

Thinking of you,

xoxo,
M

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for sharing! all the best for you and your family! zeynuba from berlin / tunis