One of the things I always have my students do after they write an essay is give me something called a "process letter,” in which they talk about all the stuff they’ve gone through in the process of researching and writing. It's a free-form assignment in which they can say whatever they want, however they want. They can be as raw and unfiltered or as polished and controlled as they wish. Spelling, typos, structure -- none of that matters in the letter. I know that at the end of her books, JA Huss does something similar, called the End of Book Shit (EOBS). Film makers do something not unlike this when they process rushes, but in a different way. I figured it might be fun to share something similar with you about Just Like That.
I loved writing Just Like That, but it was also a hard one to write. I struggled with what job Russ should have, and how to ground him in real life. I used Aunt Sharon for that, and his ever-growing desire to find a home where he really belonged. In the end, I do think it was successful. I hope so. I adore him, as I adore all my heroes and heroines. Penny is me in more ways than you can probably imagine, though her close friendship with Maisie is something I long to have with someone nearby.
Even when a manuscript is done and dusted, I have a lot of doubt about my work. Readers see the end product, which is clean and whole, butmy writing process is a tumultuous and tiring one. I write and rewrite dozens of times, particularly the beginning. I'd say I wrote 50k words on the beginning of JLT, same as I did for HM, without using any of it. I think creative work is always tiring, for everybody who does it, and I’m always left feeling a little empty afterwards. Very empty, actually. I have written enough to know that this is just part of my process, and I think it’s a normal reaction to putting all of yourself into anything and then letting it go free.
Something that I don’t know all authors experience, but I always do, is the feeling that I never want to repeat what I just did again. As I sit here, I have no more energy to write or promote. It takes me a long time to write a book, and I was recently criticized for writing such long books, though I don’t feel they are particularly long. There is a lot of criticism from authors who believe they know best, and that's okay. I am grateful for the help. But I also do believe that I am following my own dream here, and that's why I independently publish as Nicola. Unsolicited criticism hits me hard, and I have strategies for dealing with that. I try to surround myself with welcoming, supportive people, but I am also fundamentally introverted and so I find my reserve strength within. It's a tricky balance. Releasing a book is not a private process, and it wears me down. My publicist says I said the very same thing after I released Hail Mary. It's like running a marathon. Everything aches and you don't really want to do it again.
But I think I will. I don't know. I was recently asked to be part of a fairy tale anthology, so I can do something short and fun for that. That's where I'll start getting back on my feet, I think. The hardest part of growing so quickly as an author in this vast genre has been all the attention that it's brought to me, and that has been gloriously disarming. I have never been so praised, or so loved, and yet I still doubt my work. Deep down, I question it. Always have and always will. I figure that's probably okay.
More than anything, I am grateful. I don't practice a religion, but I do practice gratitude. The fact that even one person bought Just Like That astounds me. The fact that it ever got more than a single star delights me. And so even in my exhaustion, I'm happy. And glad. And hopeful that I'll do it again.
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