It’s Always the First Time for Me

Whenever I want to write a book, I am obliged (by contract) to submit an outline to my publisher first.  My editor reads it, decides if she likes the idea, the premise, and the story I describe in a 40 or 50 page outline, that is supposed to include the characters, plot, and details of the book, broken down by chapter.  The fact that I have to do that always surprises people.  They assume that after all the books I’ve written (107 to date), I can just write whatever I want, send it off, and my publishers are thrilled.  That’s not how it works in real life, or not mine anyway.  (I used to have to submit several sample chapters or even half the book.  Now I just have to submit the outline).  The editor then calls me or writes to me, and makes lots of comments about what they don’t like, want changed, or what doesn’t work.  And if I don’t agree with those changes, I have to defend my point of view.  But on the whole, they call the shots.  They’re buying the book, they write the check, and sometimes they have some good ideas (or sometimes I strongly defend my point of view if it differs from theirs).

After that, with their notes well in hand, and my outline, I write the book.  The book itself stays very close to the outline, although there are always some unexpected twists and turns in it that surprise even me.  But I follow the outline very closely.  If I’m going to make changes, it’s a lot easier to do it on the outline than the book, although I do a lot of re-writes and editing on the finished book too.

And then, after a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, the first draft of the book is finished.  It’s an amazing moment.  When I finish, I look like I’ve been shipwrecked, have worked on it endlessly for 20 hours a day, or even more, and it sits on my desk, a fat stack of paper with the story on it, and it is a major ‘Wow!’, an extraordinary feeling when you finish.  I bask in the warmth of the moment for about 5 minutes.  I feel good about it.  I love it.  And after I catch my breath, and catch up on my desk (I don’t even read messages when I’m writing, and eventually stop reading mail), then I re-read it.  The moment I finish writing it is pure pride and glory, like giving birth.  When I re-read it is another story, and I start to worry. Is it too long or too short, too fast or too slow, did I get the message across, is the story interesting enough, is the writing okay, or do I sound dumb?  Re-reading it is like looking in a huge magnifying mirror where you see every pore, speck and flaw on your face.  And then, finally, I send the book to my editor, and the real worrying begins.

Every time I send a book to my agent and editor, I am always terrified they will hate it.  Always.  I imagine them telling me that it’s my worst one ever, what was I thinking, and telling me I should burn it.  My heart is in either my mouth or my shoes for days while I wait to hear.  I imagine the worst news ever.

And then I finally hear from them.  They love it, or they almost love it.  They always suggest changes and then the long editing process begins (over 2 years), with many re-writes, corrections, changes, to polish it up before it’s published.  But they don’t hate it, fortunately, and I finally heave a sigh of relief.  It’s okay.  The book is good, and it will be published.  People imagine that I just write it, send it in, everyone applauses and it’s all a breeze.  The first time I ever sent a book to an agent and a publisher, I was terrified.  And I still am.  I never assume it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.  I am always terrified they will hate it, as most writers are.  And even after 107 books, every time is still like the first time for me.

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10 Comments so far
  1. Kim January 16, 2009 6:36 pm

    Awesome post and many thanks for the insight.

  2. Rosie January 18, 2009 3:00 am

    Hi there Danielle,
    Thanks for the post. I wonder how you go about typing it on that lovely Olympia? I have 3 Olympias (one of which is electric) and everytime I sit to type a page or two, my fingers ache and I get little spasms on the top of my hands. I really admire your work ethic and I truly wish I could write even 1/2 a chapter but when I get to it, I become so distracted and I start hopping from idea to idea.

    I’m sure there’d be hundreds of writers out there who would LOVE to read more about your writing process … do you think you could enlighten us a little more with tidbits about it?

    xxx Rosie.

  3. Gabriela January 18, 2009 10:18 pm

    After writing so many books, I would never of thought you to be terrified of being “rejected”. It’s like with everything else you do in life, even if it’s part of your daily routine, you still can’t help but be afraid and wonder if your child will get sick at school, will I not meet my quota at work today.
    Thanks for all your wonderful books and stories!

  4. Linda January 24, 2009 2:53 am

    Danielle,

    You have a very trustworthy team committed to you and your work. Each book as a best seller is testimony to that. Those of us just starting out can only hope to find the same dedication in the field.

    Linda

  5. Taima McDonald Pizey January 31, 2009 3:44 pm

    As someone who collects your books with a passion i have found & loved reading your blog this evening.
    I have begun work on a book which although is written from personal experience i am writing as if from the voice of a fictional character.
    I also write poetry with a real passion & am actually hoping one day to be published,…. i would love for someone like you to tell me what you think of my work.

  6. Jyoti February 2, 2009 5:25 am

    Hello Danielle,
    thanks so much for sharing this. I didn’t know that even established writers like you can feel these jitters too.

    I have recently finished my first novel. I love it, but the publisher I tried out didnt. That was six months ago. And I am still trying to gather courage to send it to some other publisher! It’s just as you say…’they’ll hate my book…throw it into the dustbin…there’s nothing new or groundbreaking in my book…I dont know anything! What was I thinking! It is hopeless!… and then, the book again goes into my drawer and I throw myself on my bed feeling utterly hopeless and miserable.
    But your words have given me courage. So thank you very much. And thanks also for the lovely books you give us. I just love them.

  7. Anne Strohl February 5, 2009 10:04 am

    Dear Danielle,
    Really enjoy your books. I am in the midst of finishing a family heritage cookbook but recently started a novel which portrays some of my life experiences from the voice of a fictional character. It is a rags to riches theme with some very interesting twists. I would deeply appreciate any advice you can provide regarding where to start when I finish my novel? Thanks so much. Anne

  8. Melissa February 7, 2009 9:59 pm

    Nice to know that even though you have had over 100 books published that you go through the nervousness like it was the first time. I could not imagine sticking to a outline though. When I write, I could never stay on outline as I write from my heart and my fingers do the typing. I’ve been buying your books since high school at least.

  9. Debra Shiveley Welch February 15, 2009 9:38 am

    I truly admire your commitment to your art. Although I cannot boast your success, and in no way the same number of published projects (I’m now working on number four)I can relate to the hard work and dedication necessary to make each work as perfect as it can be.

    I’ve had some people voice the opinion that writing a novel is an easy job. It’s hard work! I truly am grateful that you continue to give us the books we crave in spite of the intense labor involved.

  10. Mariah January 2, 2017 11:42 am

    Hi.
    I just had a question, what kind of point of view do you prefer to write in?
    And if you had any beginner writer’s advice at all. I would love to write like you one day!