Thursday, June 9, 2011

Love affair

I am making painfully slow, tortured progress on my novel. I still feel it's good, but my confidence in what other people think of my work is so badly shaken that I vacillate between feeling that I have a decent shot at actually selling this book and total, complete despair -- my other novels didn't sell; why should this one? I realize that kind of thinking will only inhibit progress, but "just think positive" is easier said than done.

I see blog posts and facebook posts and forum posts from friends and acquaintances and clients of my former agent and my current agent, all celebrating their sales, the releases of their books, cool new cover art, good reviews. All these published authors. And I am still not one of them.

A couple of people who have read my work in progress were enthusiastic about it; the rest, who far outnumber the enthusiastic two, never said anything at all about it. As already noted, this bothers me. Enough has already been said about that. I guess I should think positive: the people who I can be sure actually bothered to read the manuscript really, really liked it a lot. Maybe the others aren't giving me radar silence because they thought it was not even worthy of mention, but because they just never could be bothered to read it. Maybe if they had actually read it, they'd have liked it. That's an oddly comforting thought.

Regardless, in the face of this feeling that I am not good enough to be among the published, it's hard to keep working. I can go for days and days without even opening the document; I just have no desire for it. I don't see the point. I feel certain that it's futile to write. Then I will finally force myself to work on the book. I'll force myself, and it will be miserable torture just to type a few words.

I'll write a couple hundred words and then read back over the last thousand words or so. And you know, in spite of the misery of turning writing into a chore, I genuinely like what I've written. I enjoy the prose. I think the plot and characters are interesting enough. I'm really proud of the work. So why can't I keep working on it with real focus?

I used to write 2000 words a day or more. I finished a 110,000-word novel in three months. But I can't seem to make any real progress at all on this book. I mean, I've now been working on Baptism for the Dead since April 2010. True, it's gone through a few total revisions of structure and plot, but still -- I'm at 30,000 words and that's the highest word count I've achieved with any incarnation of the book.

I had an email conversation recently with a friend who is also a writer. We talked about the various motivations for writing, what it must be like to produce entertaining work that is easily sold, easily read, easily consumed. Enjoyable, probably. Fun. Hard work, but fun work, like when I was working as a zoo keeper. I wish it was fun for me to write. I wish I was writing something I could be relatively sure would sell. I wish I was working on something that the industry professionals I know seem to be actually interested in. I have no idea where this book will go, if anywhere. That's not fun. And all that un-fun-ness makes me have to force my own writing at knife-point. I'm shocked that I like what I write so well, considering it's all flogged out of me. None of it is coming easily. None of it is enjoyable to produce.

My friend and I also talked about what we want our respective books to mean to readers, and that conversation is helping me keep things somewhat in perspective.

I'll be honest, no matter how unpalatable it may make me seem to other writers, many of whom I love dearly and consider to be good friends. I am in the midst of a months-long writing crisis here, and I need to be frank with myself and with the world if I'm going to stay focused enough to stab out my meager couple hundred words per week. So here is all my ugly honesty, hanging out all pink and naked, for you to jeer at or despise me for if you want to, O Writing World: I don't want a small contract with an e-publisher. Not for Baptism for the Dead. I think this book deserves something stronger and more substantial. I don't want to be with an independent press, unless it's one that has a reputation for publishing really high-quality work. I don't want to be a flash in the pan. I want my writing to really mean something to the world. I want a big, sturdy contract. I want a well-respected editor. I want a publicity budget that will allow me to have a reliable career, finally, after fifteen years of working at shit jobs to support my writing habit. I want my writing habit to support me. I want to make money. I want to be respected. I want the world to know who I am. I want to be longlisted for awards. I want to be shortlisted. I want to win awards. I want reviews from reviewers with clout.

I want to create something that is really, truly worthy of respect and awards and reviews.

And I don't much care what other writers think of me for wanting these things.

These are my goals. This is the end result that will make me happy. These are not the goals of every writer. Many writers will look down on me or feel I'm looking down on them because I have these particular desires.

But I can't worry about that. If I don't stay focused on my goals, I will be overwhelmed by the sadness of not being the writer who's selling ten books a year, of not being the writer whose book is coming out next spring. I will hate myself for being the client who was passed along to somebody else because she no longer fit the list. I will hate my prose, my own creation, because it's not commercial enough to give me the instant gratification half of my heart wants.

I need to listen to the other half. It's the half that agrees with the aforementioned friend, who summed up our whole conversation so precisely when he said that some literature is like a one-night stand. It's fun, it's good, it should be indulged in. But some literature is like a soul-shattering love affair, and it haunts you and makes you long for it years and years later, when you should be over it, when you should have forgotten it and moved on.

I want to publish the love affair. That's my goal. I'm not going for a one-night stand here. I've had enough of those in my lifetime. I know, because it's happened to me, that real deep, striking love affairs that haunt you forever are entirely dependent on chemistry, and nobody can predict chemistry, or make it by design. I have to keep telling myself that my unique prose just hasn't found its chemical match yet out there in the world of professional publishing. It's been brushing up against a few pros, but they're cold to its signals. No blame there. Chemistry can't be commanded and it can't be begged. I have to keep going, because my book's lover is out there somewhere, and when they meet, my goal will be a foregone conclusion. I will have what I want. But I have to be patient and persistent. I have to remember what my goal is, and not be tempted by other people's goals.

Think I'm an egomaniac all you want. I'm cool with it. Whatever keeps me writing, even a couple hundred words a week, I'm cool with.


  1. There is nothing unpalatable about your goals, Libbie, and nothing egomaniacal in this post, either. Keep at it.

    Make it happen.

  2. I think most of AW would disagree with you (with much wailing and gnashing of teeth), but you're a man who appreciates turkey vultures, so I trust your judgment over theirs. Word up.

  3. Give yourself a shake,Girl! Why did you start to write? Because you must. So write! Give it your heart and soul and LOVE your work! Get the story on paper, then edit.. :D Can't wait to read it!

  4. +1 for Turkey vultures!

    Maybe I'm reading the wrong sections on AW. I don't think I've seen you get into any real big hoohaws with anyone over there, you've always come across as reasonable and civil, in my view.

    Nothing wrong with a healthy ego, unless it pushes over into arrogance, and I haven't seen that out of you, either.

  5. Ha ha, Jeff -- the only reason I don't tangle with anybody on AW (usually -- I have) is because I know when to bite my tongue.

    Grace -- Honestly, I've never been the I-must-write type. I've never really even kept a journal before, and whenever I feel like I have a need to express myself I don't typically do it with fiction. So I've always written because it's the most marketable skill I have. Possibly that's the "wrong" reason for writing, or at least a less socially admirable reason than many other writers have, but I don't see it as any less respectable a reason for doing my work as anybody who goes to a 9-to-5 job to pay the bills. The only real difference is that I'm not being paid to write yet, and I'm not sure I ever will be, which makes me doubt that the only marketable skill I possess is really marketable at all.

    I come from a family of working, professional artists, and I've always considered a career in the arts as not only a real possibility, but a probability for me -- maybe even an obligation. And I've always approached creativity as half-business -- something that can easily be turned into a profitable pursuit if I'm smart about it. I went out to dinner with my mom the other day, though, and told her about the troubles I'm having, feeling like I'll ever sell anything. It is truly hard to see other people achieving their goals while I'm still floundering around accomplishing nothing. In fact, the more I work toward my goal the further backward I seem to be going. Over dinner I lamented the fact that I can't sell my commercial fiction and I can't muster up the interest to write more of it and try again with a different commercial story. All I feel like writing is literary fiction that might not appeal to anybody, and I can hardly work up the energy to write that.

    My mom reminded me that my dad and my grandpa, the most talented and successful artists in our family, made good money painting commissions and selling their work, but they were always unhappy when they painted somebody else's vision. Even if the paintings sold for less, they still felt happier with the work they produced according to their own inspiration. That was nice to hear, and probably something I needed to be reminded of. I think my commercial fiction is just fine, even good -- but even if it sold I'd probably still feel less than totally satisfied with it. Commercial fiction will never get me to my goals. It's good to remember that when I look around at all the writers who are selling their work while I am beating my head against a wall.

    It's hard to give anything my heart and soul right now, due to the ongoing difficulty of my divorce and other stresses in my life. But it's especially hard to feel that my writing has any worth when it's been brushed off by so many people. I suspect that if I didn't feel like it was so pointless to be working on this book, I'd find it easier to work on the book. My entire goal is to get published -- to produce something that other people actually want to read and love to read. That's my motivation -- not just writing to express myself or because I feel compelled to write or because I see merely finishing a novel as a big achievement. The whole POINT of writing for me is to effect other people. If I'm incapable of doing that, I don't know why the hell I'm doing it at all.

    I don't know -- obviously I'm not very good at making myself clear here, either. All my writing, even my blogging, has lost focus and feels foggy. I wish this stupid black cloud would just get the hell away from me and let me enjoy my work again. :(

  6. Sorry; that was a long response. Enjoy this picture of cute smiling bats to make up for it.

  7. Hang in there, lady. I stumbled across your blog from AW, and I have to say that I'm right there with you on these kinds of feelings. All of them.

    In the writing community, it seems that we spend so much time telling ourselves how hard it is to break into publishing that rather than encouraging ourselves to shake off rejections (what we should do), we build this huge, insurmountable wall of them. One that seems impossible to climb, but its not.

    Self doubt is a poison to me: I am my own worst critic. But I'm (somewhat) confident (kinda) that once I finish my WIP, that perfectionism is going to get me where I want to go. I just can't let it kill the dream prematurely, and neither should you! Just try to find a balance--it's there, somewhere, you just have to be willing to let go of a little self-doubt to find it. (Which is scary, but not as scary as losing the dreams you've had for so long.)

  8. I've been there before. Stuck with a great novel and nowhere to go with it. Or so it seems. Ruts are all a part of writing. Obviously you know this, and it's really going to take nothing more than the muse of inspiration to really get into it again. Sure, you can flog your way through it, and you probably should continue to do this. But until that muse pipes up, you're just going to have to do things the hard way.

    But one day it'll come. One day that muse will show up out of nowhere and turn the thing upside down. It's happened to me, and I'd wager it's happened to a ton of other authors out there.

    Keep at it and wait for the lightning to strike.

  9. "I see blog posts and facebook posts and forum posts from friends and acquaintances and clients of my former agent and my current agent, all celebrating their sales, the releases of their books, cool new cover art, good reviews. All these published authors. And I am still not one of them."

    I'm with you on all of your post but especially this part. All I can do is write one word after the other and send stuff out.

    Keep going. That's all there is to it.

  10. Thanks for the support, party people! It means a lot to me, really.

    I just looked back over a few days' worth of journal entries and realized I've actually written about 4000 words in two weeks. That's a LOT more than I thought I'd done, so I guess I'm making more progress than I think. <3

  11. I TOTALLY understand, Libbie. There is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting for the top. Your goals mirror mine in so many ways.

    So hang in there. :)