The Writing Life

Why the Writing Process is a Waterpark

stepping stones
Photo by Laurie Farnsworth

When I was a kid, there was this pool we used to visit on hot summer days. It was more of a waterpark really, with things to climb on and fountains and giant floaty foam hippos.  And there was this one pool apart from the main pool: on one side was a waterslide down into the pool, and on the other side were The Lily Pads. 

I was lying awake last night thinking about writing and publishing and the image of this waterpark came into my head as a really good metaphor for what it’s like.  So! I present to you Writing and Publishing: The Waterpark, a metaphor in 5 parts.

1: The Pool Itself

Nobody goes to a pool if they hate water.  Similarly, nobody becomes a writer if they hate writing.  I like swimming, but I love writing.  I do the writing thing the way Ian Thorpe does the swimming thing.  Except I’m pretty sure he makes more money at it than I do.  The point is that I like writing.  I like words.  I like stories.  I wallow in these things, I float in them, I immerse myself in them.

2: Waiting

But if you spend all your time wallowing around in story ideas and character development and words, you’ll never see your book on the shelves.  So sometimes you have to haul your soggy ass out of the writing pool and make your way towards the lily pads.

But there’s a line.  Or, in the case of writing, you wait for your beta readers/agent/editor/mom to get back to you after reading what you wrote.

It’s a long wait.

3: The Lily Pads

In real life, the Lily Pads were these giant green foam floats tethered to the bottom of the pool. They were usually wet and slippery, and tended to tip to one side or the other if you stepped on them. There was a net suspended over them. The goal was to hold on to the net over your head and sort of swing/walk from one lily pad to the next, all the way across the pool, without falling in. I am, and always was, very short, so holding on to the net was an exercise in arm strength that I simply did not possess, which led to an awkward scamper/crawl that usually ended with me back in the water where I started.

That is what editing feels like to me.  It’s also what it feels like to face the dreaded beast, Networking, and his henchman, The Terrible Query Letter.  You’re scrabbling from one thing to another, holding on to something you can’t quite reach, and screaming internally the whole way.

Everyone feels this way, by the by. It doesn’t seem to matter if this is your first book or your fortieth, this part of the process is always awkward and undignified.

4: More Waiting

After you’ve gone a few rounds on the lily pad, you decide to head for the slide.  It is many feet high, and the line for it wraps nearly around the pool. BUT MAN IT’S GOING TO BE SO COOL WHEN YOU’RE ON IT.  So you tough it out. You stand in the sun and sweat and listen to the quiet hiss of your own skin burning. You wait. And you wait.  And you wait.

On a related note, did you know that even once you sign with a publisher, it’s usually a solid year before you get to see your book on shelves?

Do you detect a theme?

5: The Slide

The draft is done, you’ve got a contract/your self-published book is out in the world/you posted the newest chapter online/whatever it is. It is DONE. Sheer exhilaration, joy, an easy screaming downhill race of adrenaline and happyfuntimes. Or a bumpy ride of scorching reviews and bad sales, but even so, YOUR BOOK IS OUT THERE, HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN SAY THAT???

And then — plooosh.  You’re right back where you started, and the whole process begins again.


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