Filed under: crows, Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom, The Bad Twin, writing

The absolutely gorgeous but also rather evil Anna Louise Lucia said to me today on the phone, “You know, one reason I love being friends with you is that I just get to say ‘I told you so’ so many times.”

If you’ve read my blog at all for the past eighteen months or so, I’ve had a little bit of, er, trouble writing my last two books. In that, I thought they were utterly crap, pretty much until I got 60% of the way through the first draft, and just slightly less crap for the remaining 40% or so. There were usually one or two scenes that I liked, but that was it. Otherwise, I SUCKED, I was AWFUL, I was GOING TO LOSE MY CAREER and BE MOCKED MIGHTILY BY REVIEWERS AND READERS, to say nothing of my agent and editor. I moped and complained and moped some more and was generally not pleasant to be with.

“Don’t worry,” my then-editor said. “If you’re having trouble it’s because you’re stretching yourself as a writer.” I nodded, but did I believe her?

Not a fart’s chance in hell.

Revising the books made me like them more. I could see the whole thing, I could begin to pull them together and shape them into something more like how I wanted them to be. But still, I wasn’t so certain.

Even when my agent and my editor loved Nina Jones and said it was their favourite of all my books so far, there was a bit of my brain that didn’t really believe them. That thought they were just being nice (never mind that they’d never minced words in the past). Humouring the insane author, whilst edging away towards the nearest exit.

You know what, though? I’m reading the proofs for Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom. And after all that agonising, all that self-flagellation, all that moping and complaining, I LIKE IT. I actually like it quite a bit. I actually kind of love it. I’ve stayed up late to read more, even though I know what’s going to happen. I almost sort of feel that it’s nearly the book I wanted it to be from the start.

And then of course there’s my current book, The Bad Twin, which I (thoroughly sick of every word) delivered to my agent last week and which she said she wouldn’t get a chance to read properly until Friday. Thank God, I thought, seven days of reprieve before I have to face up to the massive revisions she’s sure to give me. She was the first and only person to have the entire draft; others have read little bits, but not the whole thing.

She rang me today, two days before Friday mind you, having read all 146,000 words in two sittings, and said she loves it. And then proceeded to give me a detailed and enthusiastic list about all the things she loves about it—things that, actually, now that she mentions it, I love too.

Is it perspective? Is it time? Is it the opinion of professionals whom I trust? Is it just that I’m really stupid?

I really don’t know. But I’m really, really relieved.

And drinking wine.

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  1. Boy, howdy, can I relate to this. With every book, I become convinced that I’m getting worse. That every word is drivel. And after going through revisions and copyedits, I read it again and think, it’s not as bad as I thought it was…

    Writing: the neurotic occupation.

  2. I think it’s time and distance. You wouldn’t let anyone affect your view of a book that WASN’T by you, would you?

    I always think I’m too close to the damn thing to see it properly, and I’m hugely, weightily conscious that I’ve never done the wonderful-dream-of-an-idea justice when I’ve actually come to write it down.

    It’s only later when I don’t want to throw up re-reading it that I think maybe I did get a little bit of what I wanted to say between the pages. and, yes, maybe it isn’t such a stinkingly dreadful book after all.

  3. Writing: the neurotic occupation.

    Hear, hear.

  4. The thing is, Jan, we both know this is totally normal for writers. We know lots of authors and we know that most of them feel exactly this way.

    And yet, we’re always still so surprised when we feel this way too!


  5. Pressed the send button on my 4th book for HMB about an hour ago.
    Now comes the waiting…

    Pass the wine please.
    Aghh indeed.

  6. God, I could have written this post! (Apart from the ‘my agent loved it’ bit – I’m currently waiting for her feedback…urgh!). Like you it was only when I started editing novel 2 that I started to warm up to it. I’d sway from thinking, “this scene’s okay. It’s not a bad novel” to “this scene’s not. It’s terrible.” I definitely grew fonder of the novel the more I edited it (and fell in love with the male character) but full blown novel love it’s not. Am hoping that by proof stage I’ll fall in love with the whole thing.

  7. p.s. This is a hugely reassuring post for all ‘second book’ novelists out there (even if it’s not about second novels). Thanks so much for posting it!

  8. Nina, you will be fine! But the waiting is very hard. Though actually, I found it a relief this time, because for a few days, I knew I didn’t have to do anything. Well, except for the proofs that turned up in the post. And everything I’ve been neglecting since July.

  9. Cally, I’m sure you will love it too. Or maybe not; I know some people who never fall in love with particular novels for one reason or another. Usually it’s the novels that win all the awards and become bestsellers.

    But I think that liking it during edits is a good sign.

    About second books—
    You know, I don’t think second books are actually any harder than any other book following your first book. It’s just that when you’re writing the second book, you’re feeling all this for the first time. Little do you know that it will haunt you for the rest of your freakin’ CAREER…

  10. Actually, I think this is something that gets worse as we go along. By the time you are 50, you’ll look like the chain smoking, coffee drinking Maxine from the greeting cards.

    Seriously, I think your editor was right about stretching. The more we do this the more we try to do it better, smarter, tighter. We expect and demand more of ourselves and feel we are missing the mark. But really, most of the time we’re not.

    I’m editing my current ms and it is nowhere near as disjointed as I thought it was going to be.

  11. It took you 10 months to write 146,000 words.

    It took your editor 2 days to read it.

    What you’re experiencing, I like to call “The Rot”.

    Imagine your book as an apple. Your editor ate a 2 day old apple and loved it. You ate a 10 month old apple and it made you sick. Your apple…had rotted. Hers hadn’t had the chance.

    It goes a little like this…

    Take the word “boy”, for instance. You recognize it. You know its definition. It has a purpose. It’s a good, useful word. Say it a hundred times in quick succession. It’s not a word anymore; now it’s an annoying sound that doesn’t make sense. It has gone rotten, and it’s all your fault, Julie! How could you be so careless? That was a perfectly fine word before you got ahold of it, and now it’s ruined. Obviously, you can’t be trusted with words anymore.

    And if you went to a friend with those thoughts, she’d think you were insane. Because the word boy was fine, see, I just used it in a sentence, and it made sense to you. You know?

    Things go rotten in my head ALL THE TIME. So often, in fact, I’ve learned to deal with it by creating a mental refrigerator. It’s a little place I store things that are starting to go bad, so I can keep them fresh for a little bit longer.

    The next time you find your internal editor/critic spoiling things while you write, take a moment and write (FRIDGE) where you’re struggling, and move on to something new. Then, when you’re done with a first draft, do a search to find all those (FRIDGE) mentions, write them down on a slip of paper, and forget about the book for a week or so. I’ve even gone so far as to put an actual manuscript in my actual freezer, so I have a reference point to conjure up when I start trying to spoil it.

    I’m also going to recommend a book you might find interesting, because it deals with exactly what you’re talking about here. It’s called THE WAR OF ART, by Steven Pressfield, and he agrees with your editor that resistance is the path to growth.

    So, yeah. You’re still a nutjob, but only in a good way, and that’s why we love you. Mwah!

  12. Donna, I think I look like Maxine already these days!!!

    In this instance, it was sort of interesting because I’m reading the proofs of book 12 just after having edited book 13, and I agree with you about being surprised when it’s more whole than you think it will be. In my case, both books have quite different main characters and their voices are different, and it surprises me how that is something that just comes by itself, even though I don’t always think about it. But also both books have similarities in ideas, which are worked out totally differently because of the different conflicts. Not conscious at all, but more whole than I thought they would be.

  13. Ehle—okay, first off, do you have a blog or a website any more? Where can I come for wisdom like this on a regular basis? Hmmmmm???

    I understand The Rot idea. It makes a lot of sense. It’s not unlike my post-it saying WRITE CRAP or my habit of writing XXX in a ms in the places where I’m stuck so I can just go forward, or my determination never to edit while I’m writing a first draft. And these things do work.

    But not down deep inside, you know.

    I will look for that book. Have you read The Courage to Write? I found that helpful too, mostly in a “yes, Virginia, other people ARE as insane as you” sort of way.

  14. Julie – no blog currently, but I’ve been thinking about starting one under my pseudonym since, well, you know, social networking and all that crap. I’ll be participating in a co-authored blog beginning January-ish, but I don’t know how much wisdom will be there.

    I completely understand what it’s like to know in theory how to do something, but be held back by the mental aspect of it. It’s kind of like losing weight. We all know how to lose weight–workout, eat less–but doing it is a different matter. Writing can be overwhelming, the amount of time and work involved, and you can work for hours and see very little progression. It’s easy to get frustrated and give up. The key is to remind yourself that it’s only as hard as you let it be. Even those who don’t think they can write a book can write a page, and a page a day for a year is a book.

    So you’re right. It’s all about perspective.

  15. I tend to worry if I actually like what I’m writing while I’m writing it. It always seems to mean that no one else will.

    The book I’m editing at the moment was an absolute monster. I sent it off to my editor with an actual apology, because I hated it at that point. The plot, the characters, the complete lack of any conflict or motivation. Worse, it was the sequel to a book that did really well, a book I love and worship.

    She merely replied, “You felt that way about the first book, too.”

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