Monday, 14 March 2011

To Do, or Not To Do...

....that is the question!

Dearie me, I’m having such a struggle with my work-in-progress...

It really is a dirge, a joyless, hard slog, and if it’s this tedious to me, how on earth am I ever going to get anyone to read it? I’ve tried taking a break from it, and that didn‘t work… The million dollar question is this: do I give up, or is this just thinly-disguised procrastination, whereupon the trick is to apply bum to seat and get on with writing it? Hmmm, I keep asking myself this over and over and over.

The problem is, I’m just not having fun. Now, ‘Tales’ is ashamed to admit this, but we’re not talking first novel territory here. Or second…. Or third… Or, okay, I’m not going any further! The problem stems from some very negative feedback I received last year, and boy, was it damning! A sensible person would have given up, but some of us struggle to learn.

It all started after I attended a talk at our local library featuring the novelist Sophie Hannah. I will be super-brave here and confess at that point I’d never read any of Sophie’s work. I went along to hear her speak with the intentions of getting some writing tips, and some advice on what to do with the novel-in-hand, which was only attracting the photocopied ‘dear moron’ notes from literary agencies. (I have read some of her books since, very scary crime fiction for those who don’t have trouble sleeping at night.) Anyway, I hung around after her talk, looking, I must admit, a bit stalkery, and asked her advice. She was very kind, ignored my star-struck stammering, and recommended a literary consultant. I went home exceedingly chuffed, contacted said consultant, sent off my manuscript, and awaited the verdict.

It was brutal. Let me summarise… The book was rubbish.

There, I’ve said it, but ouch, it still hurts. But I dusted myself down, thought ‘I’ll show her’, fired off a radical rewrite, and sat back waiting for the phone to ring, to hear her say ‘gosh this is Booker-prize material, I’ll put you in touch with someone I know in publishing’. But as you can guess, this didn’t happen. Instead I got “didn’t you pay any attention to what I told you last time? This is rubbish too.” Double-ouch. I decided my future must lie elsewhere, and started planning a bonfire.

Except I didn’t. I started again. And this time I studied every detail of what the consultant had told me. I read everything I could find about how to improve characterisation. I spent weeks writing the most in-depth character profiles I could ever imagine. (and no, I can’t remember the details while I’m actually writing) I even wrote out tons of little post-it notes detailing my plot, and pinned them to a board. Has it helped? No! Because I can’t write a single sentence without panicking ‘is this any good? Am I just making the same mistakes? Should I just give up?’ Whereas my earlier novels flowed straight out of my fevered imagination, this one splutters and stutters, word by painful word.

I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should give up. Right now I’d like to give up, but then I think about how much I love writing, how I’m always lost in some daydream or other, and think well why not? But if I ever get to the end of this particular story, it will be a small miracle. And that’s before I get anywhere near trying to conquer anyone’s slush pile. Groan….

Why am I doing this to myself?


  1. Don't give up. One swanky literary consultant's opinion is just that. Have you thought of sending it to someone else?

    In the meantime, maybe what you need now is some distance from this manuscript. Put it away for awhile and come back to it with as fresh an eye as you can when you are not so emotionally tangled up with it. And - just because it's hard to write doesn't make it bad writing.

  2. Ahhh lovie......get thee to anything and everything that Julia Cameron *ever* wrote!
    In particular, The Artist's Way series.
    It will open up a whole new world of higher creativity, I promise!

    And as for reviewers, critics, publishers etc.
    P-shaw! A pox on them.

    My (still) favorite rejection was from a pirate anthology searching for short stories about strong pirate women. So, I sent one.
    My rejection? Great story. Funny, sad, strong...etc...etc.......BUT.................
    (insert Dear Moron here)......."it's *too* piratey."

    I am not making that up.

    And it's funny that I stumble upon this blog now as just this morning I made and taped a character sheet to my office wall in regard to character. I like to return to my roots some time and I read this on Author Enablers.

    The Fundamental Truth of CharacterizationEvery good character must have:
    1. A driving need, desire or goal.
    2. A secret.
    3. A contradiction.
    4. A vulnerability.

    When ever I feel like I'm shite.....I go back to my roots........

    I'm so glad we connected.
    I think you were my sister in another life.


  3. Oh God, Sam love. If I were with you, I'd give you a massive hug (and I am not a huggy person) and then commence proceedings to take out a hit on that so-called consultant. It is just their opinion based on what, exactly? Awareness of the current market?
    People like that are professional dream stealers. They destroy people by their apparent frankness, and because they are supposedly people who know, those victims believe it.
    When I was 14 (which is a few years ago now, *cough*)I asked a teacher at school to read my masterpiece. I have never fully recovered from his opening words; How do you tell a mother her baby is ugly? My response was: With great care. In retrospect he was trying to direct me to another genre but those intial words stung and sting still.
    Burn an effigy, and not your own words. You write well, if your short stories are anything to go by. This was one person's opinion.You must ignore them. I had a boss like that, who aspired to be an editor or similar. She'd have done just this without hesitation. You can also bet your last dollar, the bitch can't write herself.

    Don't give up. Perhaps mothball the current work in progress, because there is something doing the rounds like a writer's virus, that is making writing a very laborious thing at the moment.

  4. I just think you have to stay true to your own artistic imagination and judgement. It didn't let you down in your previous books did it? It motivated you enough to sit down to write day/night after day/night, eschewing calls to go down to the pub or watch a movie, because you were driven to write just one more chapter...

    I am a great believer in the art of the possible. If it isn't happening right now for you, don't fight it. Don't stress over it, an ability to write can't just disappear from your marrow and blood cells. Whether you take a complete break from writing, or simply channel it into no-stakes, free-form exercising of the writing muscle, such as writing poetry or flash-fiction and not with any purpose other than just to write freely, is ultimately your call. But the more your heap the stakes on yourself, the more your energies will be consumed by such an internal debate and you will have too little left to write with.

    I wish you luck and be gentle on yourself in the interim.

    marc nash (writer)

  5. I do feel for you. We can fly on one piece of encouragement, but it's fleeting. We hold the same amount of criticism for such a long time and give it so much more power. Main question is: who are you writing for?...Yourself, a wider audience or one single literary consultant? If you write for just one person's approval/brief - then that may be exactly the number of people your work will appeal to. Consultants merely give advice, but it is subjective - it is advice, not the law. If you truly believe your work is worth putting out there, then you should certainly carry on. I wish you well.

  6. Viv sent me over and I can see why... And oh how I empathise. I wrote my YA novel and my agent was over the moon with incredibly excited; talked big deals. Except...yeah, didn't happen. We got close, not close enough. So my agent commissioned an editorial report and by heck, it hurt like seven shades of hell. At the end of it I sat there and wondered if there was ONE part of the book that was worth keeping.
    Having sat on it for over a month, I re-read and figured that maybe I would give it a try. And here I am, having just finished. Having culled a third of my original text. And petrified - quite quite petrified - of anyone reading it.'s not just you. That is small comfort I know, but I do understand.
    I YOU think the consultant is right? In your gut? Can you try a different way of writing? I was procrastinating SO much that, in the end, I took myself and a Moleskine off to the local cafe and wrote longhand (away from the bloody internet diversion technique). Hmm, another tip I was given was to imagine how you'd feel when you FINISHED the fecker... It sounds like you've put so much into this, don't give up last push.... birth the bastard!! Janexx

  7. First of all, can I just say a huge 'thanks' for your comments. I needed someone to listen to me, and I'm really touched by all the support.

    Heartful, I think putting it away for a while might help, and Marc, I liked what you said:

    "If it isn't happening right now for you, don't fight it. Don't stress over it, an ability to write can't just disappear from your marrow and blood cells....the more your heap the stakes on yourself, the more your energies will be consumed by such an internal debate and you will have too little left to write with."

    You've summed up one of the things that was really bothering me.

    I think the real sticking issue is that I've changed the book to be so far removed from my original draft, what I'm working on at the moment isn't what I set out to write. And I think, as Mama Tiara says, I have lost sight of who I'm writing for. Thank you Viv and Jane for sharing your own stories, it was very heartening to read them. And thank you Mimi...your pirate story rejection made me laugh, and I've written down your guidelines for characterisation, the neatest I've ever read!

    Thank you for stopping by and listening to my wibbling. I'm not working today, but it probably is high time I stopped procrastinating, applied bum to chair, and got on with something. Tomorrow is another day, thank goodness!

  8. Hi Sam, In NYTimes Review of Books, I think from March 6, though I confess to sometimes having several back copies on my Kindle and going through them one after the other, there was an essay that addressed this issue of what to do when you can't seem to slog through another rewrite (or even another page) of what you're writing. Many writers suggested putting it away and starting something else. Some said they came upon a "stored" manuscript years later and suddenly knew how to finish. I went to a lecture once by Sue Monk Kidd (The Hidden Life of Bees). She had received such scathing criticism of that manuscript from early readers that she finally stuck it in a drawer. Later, of course, she found it, sent it off, and it became best seller! What you've already done isn't "lost" - you've still been writing and that's all to the good. (Who knew this was going to turn into a novel to you!)

  9. I'm impressed with & inspired by your courage & determination. I'm more often than not too chicken to share my writing. So good for you that you braved the literary agent again after such harshness, managed to learn & keep going.

    My advice would be to somehow separate the storytelling from the editing. In other words, when writing the first draft don't worry about anything other than getting the story out. It doesn't matter if it is badly written as long as you've told the story. Then, after a good rest, approach the manuscript with an editorial eye. At this point put the literary agents points to work. I believe you've got to lock away your inner critic & editor away in a sound proofed room whilst you write that first draft. Otherwise they may ruin the telling of your wonderful story by stamping on it before its fully grown.

    Wow, two long comments on this & the last post. Sorry its been wordy but hope something from it helps.

    Kat X

  10. Sorry. Just realised I partly misunderstood. I thought you'd put aside the manuscript the lit agent had seen & had started something new. Tired brain alert because I obviously misread. Well, in light of my new understanding & having now read other people's comments I would suggest putting the manuscript away for a while. And then just write something for fun. Explore a new idea/story. Maybe the first advice would be good for this at least. LOL.
    So sorry to clutter your comments with ramblings. Please feel free to delete the first if you wish. I shall read more carefully in future. My only defence is a very tired brain.
    Kat X

  11. Kat, thank you, I don't think you are rambling at all, it's nice of you to stop and tell me what you think. I've pretty much decided to put the manuscript away, and a weight has gone off my shoulders.

    Barb, thank you too, that is a good point about how it's all writing, and not work wasted. Maybe I'll finish it one day, maybe I won't. I'm feeling much better about it today, and that is a relief.


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