My first book, OCD LOVE STORY came out of me in a four month rush of ease and bliss and inspiration and creativity. I was buzzing. I was banging it out. I was on fire. No first draft had ever come so clearly and smoothly.
It would be nice to think that the magic of writing made this happen. That some concoction of inspiration and research and love for words and passion for the project swirled together and a book appeared. It would even be nice to think I was just that dedicated, that focused.
But for me, that is not the truth about book writing.
The truth about book writing is that we do it in the context of our lives. I wrote OCD LOVE STORY in a four month binge because I was in grad school and my boyfriend at the time was traveling across the country and I didn’t know what to do with my nervous, anxious, restless energy, so I wrote a nervous, anxious, restless book. The truth of OCD LOVE STORY is that I was working to get off Zoloft after years on the drug and it left me raw and strange. And the lucky part is that I happened to be writing a book that was raw and strange, and so my life and the book worked together. That’s the magic.
That was not the case with LIFE BY COMMITTEE. LBC was inspired in part by a French film I saw at least a decade ago, and in part by bits and pieces of my own, alienated high school experience. When I started the book I was in between my first and second years of grad school and living with a boyfriend and felt nice and distanced from high school and things like changing bodies and cheating and moral quandaries and loving the wrong people and losing friends. I could write a plot-heavy book that was really different from OCD LOVE STORY and I was going to love doing it. It was going to have clarity and assuredness and strength and all kinds of other cool things.
That is not how things went. Instead, my life crashed a little, about four months into the project, and I was caught unexpectedly writing a book about something that felt personal and strange and all mixed up.
Writing when you are overwhelmed by life is horror and bliss all at once. Writing when some of the subject matter is suddenly hitting close to home is uncomfortable and daunting. It does not make for the kind of excellent, European-seeming, romantic writing experiences that we dream of when we are dreaming of being authors.
I have had a jam-packed few years. The life-changing variety, filled with high-highs and low-lows and I can take little mini-mental vacations, but I can’t check out of writing. And I haven’t yet figured out how to write non-emotionally-sticky books. So I have learned to embrace letting books become more complicated and painful and strange, as life keeps throwing things in my direction. I’ve started to let life influence the books, instead of fighting desperately against that. I guess I’m hoping if I’m feeling while I’m writing, you’ll be feeling while you’re reading.
LIFE BY COMMITTEE was not the book I set out to write. In some ways I set out to write a darker and more romantic novel. More like the film that inspired me. But I wasn’t able to sink deep enough into the darkness since I was already there. And I couldn’t access the certainty of romance that I needed for what I had in mind.
So I let the story evolve alongside my life. I worried it wasn’t what real authors would do. I worried I was an amateur for letting writing collide with life. But like anything about process, how you approach writing in the context of your life is personal. It’s whatever works. It changes for every book. It’s doing your best.
I didn’t write the exact book I set out to write, because by the time I got one hundred pages in, I wasn’t that person or that writer anymore. So I wrote a different book, and maybe (hopefully) it’s an even better book. Because writing from an inspired, focused place is wonderful. But in my experience, writing from a chaotic and authentic place works too.
Corey Ann Haydu is a young adult novelist currently living in Brooklyn, NY. Her first novel, OCD LOVE STORY, came out July 2013 from Simon Pulse. Her second novel, LIFE BY COMMITTEE released this week from Katherine Tegan Books at Harper Collins.