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.