The Three Stages

I am going through the three stages of a relationship with my manuscript.

You know how it is. At first, everything is beautiful: your baby idea, this germ of a book, is without a doubt your BEST IDEA EVER!!! Every world is a pearl of perfection, there are turns of phrases that could make you weep, and it's coming so *easily*--were you ever stuck before? Ha! That was when you were a naïve young thing and knew no better. You are simply in love with the characters and the story and the world. You are one with the Muse. You are a writing machine. You, my friend, are a Super Genius! You coo to yourself using the monitor as a mirror. Narcissus never saw such a lovely thing as this. O, to be a writer in love!

This is the Honeymoon Period and it never lasts.

Much like the first time your Significant Other stops blaming the smell on the dog, there is a day when we realize that the object of our love isn't 100% perfect. There are things that aren't exactly as rosy as we thought and those small quirks and idiosyncrasies that we first thought of as precious and cute and getting distracting... In fact, to be perfectly honest, they're downright annoying. Rest assured, we still love the story and the characters but this idea that looked good through the frosted lens of our future vision has zoomed in close to reveal pockmarks, some ear hair, and a bad case of acne. There's this one scene that just isn't working and there's always at least one character who isn't doing what they're supposed to and wants to steal the show. We're now starting to sweat at the keyboard, grumbling and hitting the 'delete' key with more force. Grumbling turns to cursing. We have to buy some new red pens and a pack of colored index cards. We surprise ourselves by admitting to a close friend that we're starting to "hate" the manuscript. How did this happen?! There's a few calls in veiled panic to critique partners or our agent, just to check your sanity. Perhaps you were fooling yourself? Maybe this was actually a bad idea all along? Maybe you're about as talented as the ficus plant in the corner gathering dust on its leaves--c'mon, the thing hasn't produced a good piece of writing in years! This is starting to look bad.

This is the Power Struggle, the Disillusionment Phase, and it always lasts far longer than it should.

But remember: this is NORMAL. It's a stage that everyone goes through and if you're lucky enough to weather through the Catch-22 cycle of being an artist (the Cliff's Notes version here), you can make it out of the darkness into the light. Every good relationship worth its salt is proven here! You wrestle with your personal demons and the media to which you've chained yourself, slaughtered defenseless darlings in fits of pique and, in some cases, started over from scratch; but with the help of long nights and friends (and editors!) who pat your shoulder and try not to roll their eyes, what emerges is a more humbling, real story--the heart of the one you *meant* to tell but had to slog through all the stuff you thought was the story first and now can see it for what it really is: something real and human, with all its flaws and beauty, and scattered bits of brilliance that speak to you and people like you. It's not an airbrushed glossy photo: it's better because it's honest.

This is the Ultimate Joy: Acceptance. May you enjoy this stage as long as you can! Because once the first draft is finally complete, it's a quick hop and a jump back to Stage One--Rapture! I'm done! This is brilliant!--and you're at it again.

Welcome to being a writer! Have some chocolate.


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