5 Things I Should Have Known Before Becoming a Writer
Claire LaZebnik | The Children’s Book Review | March 29, 2017
What I knew: I wanted to be a writer.
I’ve always loved to read books. I spent most of my childhood years curled up next to a warm radiator (our house was always freezing cold), lost in some novel or another–mostly old-fashioned British romances. Bronte, Dickens, Austen, D’Orczy . . . I couldn’t get enough. Pretty early on, I knew I wanted to emulate the authors who had brought me so much pleasure. I, too, wanted to write novels that would give other people the same kind of escaping-from-the-real-world joy I’d known.
What I SHOULD have known: Getting a book published is easier said than done.
Many other people ALSO read a lot as kids and now they’re all trying to get books published, too. No one is waiting eagerly for you to show up at their publishing house, holding the front door open and saying, “Finally! You’re here!”
It’s a long, difficult process to write a book, and it’s even harder to find an agent willing to take it on, and then it’s even harder to find an editor who’ll pay you for it–and you know what’s even harder than that? Getting people to notice your book among the hundreds of thousands surrounding it in the bookstore. You need to hustle and sell and that challenge makes the act of writing a novel seem simple by comparison.
What I knew: I wanted to be a successful author, and I also wanted to be a mom.
Writers can write anywhere, so I could stay home with my kids and be their primary caregiver. Win-win. What could possibly go wrong?
What I SHOULD have known: Kids are a lot of work. Before I actually had any, I pictured my future life in lovely jewel tones—an elegant little room with an old-fashioned desk, and small children sitting quietly next to me, reading and painting, (maybe even writing poetry?) while I wrote the Great American Novel.
But I learned pretty quickly that wasn’t how this story was going to go. Kids want your attention every second and if you try to withhold it (because maybe you want to get something DONE), they’ll resort to whatever it takes to get it another way (including yelling, spilling, picking fights, and barfing). Watching Mommy write on a laptop does not count as a fun activity. Making Mommy get on the floor and play with you DOES.
Also? Kids get sick a lot. And they’re hungry all the time except when you actually put food in front of them.
Fortunately, parenting is not all drudgery. Your own kids are actually entrancing and wonderful and fascinating and a blank page can’t possibly compare to spending time with them. Ultimately, I didn’t ignore my work because I had to: I did it because I wanted to and had the luxury of putting it on hold. And now my kids are basically grown up and I can write all day if I want to and I’d give anything to have those earlier days back. Maybe not permanently. But I wouldn’t mind a visit in my time machine to the messy crazy days of parenting toddlers.
Oh, and I shouldn’t forget about pets, either. I thought having dogs and cats would make writing so much more enjoyable, that they’d sit on my feet and on my lap and purr and cuddle and make my work space feel homey. Instead, the dogs bark at everyone going by and the cat sits right on my laptop keyboard. They do not make the house more peaceful. They make it more exhausting. But again—my choice and I wouldn’t do it differently.
What I knew: I have never and will never smoke cigarettes.
What I SHOULD have known: When you’re always sitting in front of your laptop, you’re desperate to do something with your hands and mouth, and if you’ve ruled out smoking, that pretty much means you’re going to be eating nonstop.
My laptop is disgusting: it’s covered with crumbs and little bumps of stickiness, the majority of which are peanut butter, jelly, and God-only-knows. Every time I get a brand-new computer (which is never as often as I’d like it to be, but probably more often than our bank account likes it to be), I think, “THIS time I’m going to keep it clean. THIS time, I’m not going to bring food near this computer. THIS time, I will eat only at meals or when I’m genuinely hungry.” Five minutes later, I’m tearing into a thick wedge of coffee cake and the new touchpad is already tacky from the moist crumbs on my fingers.
When I write, I want coffee, and when I want coffee, I want coffee cake, and when I want coffee cake, I give a mouse a cookie.
But it could be worse: my husband once spilled a cup of tea over a laptop he had bought THAT WEEK. The entire thing shorted out and died. I haven’t done that. Yet.
What I knew: All of my novels would contain a love story, because I love a good romance with a happy ending.
What I SHOULD have known: The fact that I love a good romance (both as a reader and a writer) doesn’t necessarily mean I should make falling in love the most important thing in every book I write. Real life needs balance, and so does fiction. Did I really want my female protagonists to spend their time pining over some guy? Absolutely not. I wanted them to lead active, independent, interesting lives with or without a guy at their side.
But . . . romance . . . It’s so much fun. The flirting, the misunderstandings, the stolen glances, the jealous feelings . . . I couldn’t eliminate it either.
So I still have romances but I try to pay careful attention to how it plays out and make sure the female characters have as much agency over their choices and their futures as the male ones. There’s always room for love, so long as it’s not at the cost of self-sufficiency.
What I knew: Writers are supposed to “Kill their darlings” (i.e. cut some of their favorite lines).
What I SHOULD have known: “Killing your darlings” is both harder and more necessary than I ever imagined. There’s a reason they’re called “darlings.”
It goes like this: it’s editing time and you’re reading through your manuscript, tweaking things, cutting the fat and making sure everything works in sync. And there it is: one of the best sentences you’ve ever written—funny, pithy, insightful . . . Only it no longer really works. Every time you read through, it bumps you. You’re going too far away from the point of the scene to include it. It just doesn’t belong. But you love it. It’s such a well-crafted sentence and so brilliant. You may never write such a great sentence again.
You cut it. You have to. Goodbye, my darling.
And you go eat another slice of coffee cake.
Written by Claire LaZebnik
Publisher’s Synopsis: An unforgettable story about autism, sisterhood, and first love that’s perfect for fans of Jenny Han, Sophie Kinsella, and Sarah Dessen. New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things Julie Buxbaum raved: “I couldn’t put it down.”
Meet Chloe Mitchell, a popular Los Angeles girl who’s decided that her older sister, Ivy, who’s on the autism spectrum, could use a boyfriend. Chloe already has someone in mind: Ethan Fields, a sweet, movie-obsessed boy from Ivy’s special needs class.
Chloe would like to ignore Ethan’s brother, David, but she can’t—Ivy and Ethan aren’t comfortable going out on their own so Chloe and David have to tag along. Soon Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan form a quirky and wholly lovable circle. And as the group bonds over frozen yogurt dates and movie nights, Chloe is forced to confront her own romantic choices—and the realization that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.
Ages 12+ | Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers | March 28, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0544829695
About Claire LaZebnik
Claire LaZebnik has written five novels for adults including Same As It Never Was (which was made into the ABC Family movie, Hello Sister, Goodbye Life), Knitting Under the Influence, and Families and Other Non-Returnable Gifts. Her young adult novels include Epic Fail, The Trouble with Flirting, The Last Best Kiss, and Wrong About the Guy (Harper Teen). She has also co-authored two books on autism; Overcoming Autism and Growing Up on the Spectrum. She has contributed to GQ, Self Magazine, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications, and to the anthology play Motherhood Out Loud. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives with her TV writer husband and four children, one of whom has autism.
For more information, visit: www.clairelazebnik.com
The article 5 Things I Should Have Known Before Becoming a Writer was written by Claire LaZebnik, author of Things I Should Have Known. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Autism, Claire LaZebnik, Romance, Sisters, Writing Tips, and Young Adult Fiction.