Posted in Book Stuff, Writing Life

Done! And What I’ve Learned About Writing

The revision is back with my intelligent and meticulous editor. She’ll be reading through it and there may still be some tweaking to do, as well as the copy-edit, but the big work is really done. I’m excited…and scared!

This has been such a long project. I began, 8 years ago, with an entirely different novel when I had a baby and a pre-schooler. After a couple of years of floundering on that book, I decided to take a break and write something for fun. Fun became serious about a subject that I felt called to write. Otherwise I’d have given up because the call was demanding.

I wrote 2 complete books. My first concept was genre fiction–and when it was done, the fastest book I’d every written, it was a competent mystery of its sort. I was also in the process of looking for a new agent, and everyone I approached was taken aback by my change of genre. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought I could do a one-off book and then back to whatever I felt like. Uh no. They explained to me that this would be a career change and publishers would expect a commitment to, not just the book, but more of the same. Who knew?

The alternative was to take the book I’d written and re-write it as literary fiction. Simple. I’d already written 2 books of L.F. Do what you do so well, I was advised. Easier said than done.

Looking back now, I can see that in attempting to do that, I was trying to imitate myself, to take elements from previous works and try to apply them to the very different story I was writing. It didn’t work.

My first draft of the literary version, which took a year, was absolutely terrible. My agent tried to put it tactfully, but it’s hard to be tactful when absolutely nothing in a manuscript is working. After the shock (I thought of giving up the book; I thought of giving up writing), I set out again from scratch because of that call to the story that I couldn’t ignore.

Draft by draft, all my imitations of myself were cut, the last vestiges by my editor at Random House. What was left was everything that belongs to this story–to this book.

After every novel I’ve written, I’ve thought about the twisty process of it, and learned something I believed would make the next novel faster and easier, but it never was.

This time? I don’t know. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.

What I can say is that it’s natural for everyone to tell you that you should repeat what you’ve done before that’s been successful, or to copy someone else’s successful work. But they really don’t mean it. They think they do–but editors, agent, readers who love good books know when they see good work and know when they don’t.

So write in the way that is true for you. Will it get published or be widely read? I don’t know. Nobody can say that one way or the other. That’s the point. Every success that follows the conventional formula of its day can be matched by a success that diverges from the formula and breaks every rule.

But writing your own truth in your own way for that particular book is what will, in the end, make it a good one. That’s the only thing in our control.

This is the only book my kids can remember me writing. My first novel came out when my oldest was a baby, the second when my youngest was. For years they’ve been asking, “Mom when will it get published? Will it get published?”

Now I can say yes. There is a summer ahead of us and I’m looking forward to spending time with my husband and my girls, now going into grade 8 and grade 5. There are other things to think about than writing: swim wear and jewelry making, for example. There are books to be read. Pools to swim in. Plays to watch. And that’s just this week!



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

11 thoughts on “Done! And What I’ve Learned About Writing

  1. I cannot tell you how happy I am for you. I understand this — utterly, completely. I have been there. Indeed, I am there (in the mire, the not knowing, what you describe so well — your before now).

    Enjoy your summer, LN!! You have earned it.



  2. I am SO happy that you’ve seen this dream through to fruition, and I can’t wait to read this book 🙂

    Your fortitude and persistence amazes and humbles me as I take baby steps in my own writing journey. Thanks for inspiring me to keep trying, and for reminding me that writing is about being true to the story I’m telling 🙂

  3. The competent mystery…you couldn’t publish it under a pseudonym so as to avert those expectations?
    Apart from that…congratulations and have fun this summer.

  4. I completely agree – write what is completely compelling, stick to your own truth and if other people want to read it, well, that’s a bonus. But most of all, congratulations on reaching this momentous part of the process, Lilian! I’m really intrigued to see what this book is all about, and have been fascinated by hearing the ongoing story of the journey you took to write it. That’s genuine inspiration for us all.

  5. Congratulations!! It sounds hard to have to find a new process with each new book, but surely that’s what makes each one new and fresh. I’m so glad you now have a summer to look forward to — enjoy!!

  6. Thank you so much, Beth, Becca, Fannie, Mary, Emily, Litlove, Dorothy. Each of your comments means so much to me and brings a big smile to my face. We all need to walk together, arm in arm, don’t we?

    Mary, using a pseudonym wasn’t a solution because the problem was the expectation that I would commit to a new career as a mystery writer and that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I want to be free to write any sort of novel I envision.

  7. Three cheers for you!!! Enjoy the fine old summer we having and do keep us posted on the book. I (for one) want to order it from my favorite independent book shop before it is actually published.

  8. ‘But writing your own truth in your own way for that particular book is what will, in the end, make it a good one. That’s the only thing in our control.’

    Hear, hear! And BRAVO, Lilian – I know this has at times been torturous and testing, so I am thrilled to pieces to know you’re HERE, approaching the summit of yet another mountain. So excited for and proud of you! xxx

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