A Thing I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing Books

On the risk of plot death.

You can kill your book when you treat yourself badly as you are writing it.

Causes of plot death: defensiveness (an impulse against vulnerability), shame (toxic, dysfunctional guilt), fear (of what other people will say/think), and internalized hatred (I’m not good enough/smart enough/ normal enough to write this.)

Killed That Plot Dead:

Mary rose up on her toes and taped the birthday banner over the entryway. Joe will be so excited, she thought. Then she went into the kitchen, and sorted out the cake. She put a lot of candles on the cake this year. She felt a little sad when she pushed the last candle into the frosting.

Kept That Plot Alive:

Mary rises up on her toes and tapes the birthday banner over the entryway. Joe will be so excited, she thinks. A pang of harrowing sorrow stabs through her chest as she presses the corner down.

He was never there for me, he was selfish. Mary’s eyes go blurry; she blinks, and scrubs her fingers into her hair. Be happy today, be happy today; the refrain beats against her temple like a drum in a carnival.

Mary goes into the kitchen. Her feet make a sound like pebbles rolling down a steep hill. He won’t like that I made the cake, he likes his mother’s cake. Mary feels a sudden, violent desire to smash her fist into the center of the double-chocolate fudge frosted triple-layer cake.

She picks up the package of candles, and presses them, like tiny, upright soldiers, marching through the frosting. A lick of dark brown gets on her finger and thumb; she presses the chocolate into her mouth, and goes to the sink. End it, end it, don’t be sad today, she thinks, as she washes her hands under the tap. He doesn’t like my saliva. He would call it spit.

Mary turns off the water, and stares out at the sun that falls against the tenement opposite. A twining growth of morning glory clings against the old red bricks, and the yellowed leaves waver in the breeze.

The parts that you are ashamed to write are the parts other people want to read.

The purpose here is not to bludgeon the reader, but to present an authentic human soul.

Don’t kill your book.