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  • [SWP: Behind the Book] How to Write a Book Despite Yourself
[SWP: Behind the Book] How to Write a Book Despite Yourself
Written by
kellen kaiser
June 2016
Written by
kellen kaiser
June 2016

Sometimes when I read articles aimed at writers I think, wow, this is pretty upbeat stuff for a demographic traditionally filled with morose alcoholics… Where are the fluff pieces aimed at those of us who are plagued by anxiety, insecurity and depression? I’m here for you, friends.

I am here to tell you that if I, Kellen Kaiser, managed to get my book, Queerspawn in Love, out into the world- well, that means you can too! Not the ideal candidate for publication- no MFA, no impressive bylines-I sent my book out to a plethora of agents, none of whom went for it. I approached a bunch of small presses, all of whom declined. It was a humbling experience to say the least; one that I feel vaguely traumatized from enduring to this day. Book publishing and dropping acid it turns out have a lot in common. During both there’s a point where you can’t help but ask yourself- why the hell have I done this? How much longer is it going to be like this and will I ever get back to my old self again?  So here’s some advice on how I got through it all...

  • Write about things that drive you crazy. My mom says that since there’s no guarantee of success in the literary world, it’s important to enjoy the process. I think you can hate the process and write the book anyway. My book is about what happened when I, as the daughter of four lesbian mothers, fell in love with a guy serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. It chronicles the most significant and heartbreaking relationship I’ve had, basically the most painful part of my life. Writing this book was largely torture for me. My desire to avoid writing it led to impressive procrastination techniques. My apartment has never been cleaner. But somehow despite how awful it felt, I couldn’t totally stop myself from coming back to the story. It was like a splinter working its’ way out of my skin. Pick a topic that makes you a little nauseous. If you are like me, this should leave plenty of options.
  • Assure yourself that no one understand what you are going through. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in reminding myself that I am a special snowflake, whose suffering is somehow more central than that of the rest of the world- especially if that suffering involves my book. This narcissistic idea that I am noble, solitary, and under acute duress, combined with a very solid system of actual support from friends and family got me through some dark publishing times.
  • Invest in negative thinking (or the magic of low expectations). It turns out that you don’t have to believe in yourself, your talents or the potential success of your work to get it done. Faith in your own abilities is super helpful but it isn’t necessary. Because my book got rejected so much and the only people who’d deigned to read it pre-publication were close family, I had no way of knowing whether it was any good. I kept waiting for the hallowed “gate-keepers” of the industry to sign off on my work and pronounce it worthy. I’m still waiting actually. I may die waiting. Hoping to make it onto Oprah’s book club is not likely to do you any real good, unless you are a sincere devotee of “the Secret.”Coming to terms with the relative insignificance of you and your book, however, will make it more possible for you to enjoy any glimmer of success that present itself. There is also a solid body of research showing the value of negative thinking in terms of mental health and accomplishing tasks.
  • Quit as often as you like. Sometimes it helps just to throw up your hands in the air and give up for a minute. It’s fine to declare yourself free for awhile from the obligation of finishing. Sometimes I’d quit multiple times a day. Somehow I always came back to it eventually.
  • Break all the rules. Almost every writing guide says the answer lies in putting your butt in a chair for hours on end. Discipline and Consistency, not surprisingly, are virtues.  That’s true, but I’m here as living proof that a book can be written without either. Queerspawn in Love was written mostly on envelopes and receipts, occasionally while driving (I don’t recommend that, officially). I feel the most creative in the shower and on the elliptical respectively- whatever works. If your book gets written entirely through dictation from the bathtub- fine. If it takes a decade- no biggie. Nobody’s watching but you.
  • It's okay to be impatient. You can work on a book forever and especially if the big mucky-mucks of the publishing world don’t pay you any attention, it can be hard to decide when you’re done. There were about a million times that I thought I was finished and then someone would assure me that it was still nowhere near publishable and I’d go back to work, cursing the whole way. So being naturally a little impulsive/impatient can help motivate you to keep pro-active and not keep polishing the same three sentences.
  • Feel free to be disappointed. At some point in my process, I’ve felt greatly betrayed by pretty much everyone who’s laid hands on my book- my writing workshop partners, my publisher, publicist, cover artist, editor, my website designer and most often myself. Although it’d be nice if the world lived up to my impossible standards, I have learned that books are created through compromise. Throwing tantrums over it all will likely neither improve the situation, as appealing as they may be to have, nor totally derail things; it just makes it awkward later when you run into those folks who you berated in public. Proceed with hissy fits at your own risk. Having feelings does not have to equal expressing them.
  • Don’t give up on your grandiose crazy dreams. This might be the clincher. Despite my constant dread that nothing I wrote would mean anything to anyone, I also harbored a secret belief that my book would be a smash success, a NY Times bestseller that would make me a million dollars, win me tons of critical acclaim and the attention of many eligible bachelors. Don’t let anyone pry your outsized, unrealistic expectations of what’s possible for you and your life out of your ink-stained gnarled hands. 

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  • Thank you for your wonderful reflection.  Especially love the last line!

  • Caryl

    God, I love this. Irreverent humor is my thang. Also, saying, "thang" which most people find annoying. YOU, on the other hand, are not annoying. You are brilliant. 

  • Julie Quiring

    This was insightful, entertaining and encouraging. It made my morning. Thank you!

  • Karen Wilton

    Thank you! Kellen I take heart from your article; I will quit if I feel like it, I will be disappointed, it's okay to be impatient and break the rules. But above all else I won't give up those crazy dreams...ah, one day.

  • Irene Allison

    I really enjoyed this, Kellen, thank you! And you're right about all of it - funny, sad, and true! Wishing you good luck with your memoir.


  • Great advice. I, unlike Kellen, like to know I'm not alone in the struggle of the journey that is writing a book. And I found parts of myself all through her article. Thanks so much.

  • Megan Rudolph

    Love this! Thank you for sharing!

  • Patricia Robertson

    Enjoyed this post. It's a nice counter to other posts on writing. The wonderful thing is that all of them are true. There is no one way to write a book and no one way to be a writer. Keep writing! :)

  • Valorie Hallinan

    What a very, very helpful post. I see a lot of myself here. I find it quite liberating, especially since what you say is the opposite of a lot of what has already been said. I don't mean that other perspectives don't have essential truths, but that your truth as expressed here speaks to me in an authentic way. Thank you for writing this.