Thursday, October 22, 2009

This Roller Coaster's Going To Kill Me

photo by Jo Jakeman

Yesterday I made a comment in Davin's post about a wake-up call I got the night before. And like I said in the comment, this wake-up call is something I'll remember for a lifetime.

It was bad. My breath stopped. Tears came. I was horrified. I thought about deleting my blog, all my manuscripts, all my writing, and just crawl in a corner and hide for a solid week.

So I'm obviously overly dramatic. I drive my husband crazy most days. Still, this was a big deal for me. I had opened the document for a novel I haven't touched in a year. Somewhere along the line I'd built up this book as something magical, wonderful, a masterpiece that didn't need much work. I've let a lot of people read it. I always talk about it like it's going to be my debut novel. You know, it's something special.

Wow, was I wrong. I knew it needed cleaned up, but the further I got in the worse it got. It was so bad. Like purple-prose-clunky-flashback-gimmick bad. And all I could do was stare at the screen and remember how many people had read the book a year ago - and how good I thought it was. This book. My baby. All wrong. Talk about embarrassing.

Needless to say, I've had several friends talk me off the ledge. Thanks, you guys. I think we all go through this as writers. My experience is nothing unique, but this particular one opened my eyes.

Writing is such a roller coaster. We're blisfully happy with our work one second, and we're shredding ourselves to pieces over it the next. I think we reach a threshold, though- a place where we can see our work clearly, a place where we can make sure the writing doesn't interfere with the story. I think that's the point we can stop the roller coaster and look out across the possibility of a magnificent landscape (or maybe it's magnificent already). I must be getting to that point if I've been able to see all these problems in the manuscript.

As circumstances have it, though, I'll be putting this book aside once again. Although I've already cut it down from 92k to 68k, I don't think it's ready for more intensive surgery quite yet. Who knows, six months from now I'll probably see even more things wrong with it. How on earth are we ever happy with what we write? How do you deal with that?

~MDA (aka Glam)


  1. I've experienced the exact same thing before.

    But...when it's ready, you know. When it gets to the point that you cannot think of any single thing to do to improve, that you truly believe you've done your level best, that it's not just "good enough" but "good"--that's when it's ready to submit.

    And if it comes back with rejections, then shut it, come back, and try again.

    This is why I'm such a strong believer in practice novels. We (or at least *I*) get too close to one story--starting a whole new story gives me a whole new perspective and a whole new definition set of what's good and what's not.

  2. Great article Glam.

    This happens to me a lot. I've never actually written an entire novel yet, but even going back to my early short stories, I remember thinking how good they were then. "How brilliant am I?" was a pretty reoccuring thought while I wrote them. Now, I come back onto them and I have absolutely no idea what I was thinking... but then I get over the shock of my lack of style, pacing, or even GRAMMAR and I can start to remember what I was getting at. Like, the idea that I had was a good one, it just didn't achieve the emotional "oomph" that I thought it did at the time.

    I equate reading your own writing years later to hearing your voice recorded. It doesn't sound anything like you thought it does. It has weird mannerisms and tonal changes that you've never heard before. It's the closest we can get to examinging ourselves from a detached perspective, and I think it helps keep me grounded to a certain extent. It also makes me excited because I can see how my writing has evolved.


  3. So of course I throw up like five grammatical mistakes in my comment. Embarrassing.

  4. Yeah, I've hit that "oh my god what the hell was I thinking" point several times. It takes a few days of letting it sit and then I'm able to come back and perform the needed surgery.

    Tandem with that, I'm almost never happy with what I write. I always think I could do more. Include another scene. Evoke better emotion. Do something to improve it.

    It usually takes other people going "wait, this is really good. why are you altering it?" for me to stop. Either that or I realize I'm changing things back to the original form.

    Good work on slicing that many words from the text, by the way. In a lot of points I end up adding words to improve the story rather than delete. Function of the way I write, I guess.

  5. Great stuff. The narcissism of writing... I've thought of it often. It can swing one way or another in a moment. But I always loved the swings. They were my favorite thing on the playground. Up and down. Touch the sky, look at the ground. But always stay in the air. And then, when the bell rings... JUMP!

  6. Sometimes I think creating a novel is like having a new baby or falling in love--you're so smitten with something about it that it's intoxicating, and you see everything about it as perfect and magical.

    Then when you are able to stand back and look at it more objectively--maybe enough time has passed--its errors and imperfections stand out all the more because you have invested so much emotional energy and hope in it.

    Have you ever made a drawing that you thought was really good, then held it up to a mirror? Your eye gets accustomed to the flaws and sort of edits them out as you work on a piece, focusing only on the beautiful aspects. Then when you hold a drawing up to a mirror and see it in reverse, the flaws stand out twice as much as they would to a person seeing the piece for the first time. Ouch! Heartbreak!

    This has happened to me before, with writing and with visual art. But I find that usually after that second shock of horror passes, you can usually get a clearer idea of what, exactly, is the element of the piece that made you fall head over heels in the first place--because it's still there--and now you're in a better position to do it justice with refined craft.

    I know what you mean, though. It's rough and embarassing to realize you've show people something before it was ready. But that doesn't mean it can't still be a masterpiece, after doing the work you now realize has to be done.

  7. Glad you stepped back from the ledge Michelle. I'm always finding things that I want to go back and fix on pictures I've taken in the past. Sometimes it can be fun, but most times it's an "Ugh! What was I doing?" moment. Glad you're setting it aside for a little while to look at it with fresh eyes again. Maybe try just a little at a time instead of an all consuming edit?

  8. When your changes cease to be improvements and are instead relegated to merely being different that what was there before, accept what you have written.

    When I realized that I had to re-write FATE'S GUARDIAN from scratch, it helped me because I quickly saw how much better I could make it. Focus on the future. Don't kick yourself over the mistakes...learn from them.

  9. The roller coaster is such a great analogy I've been up and down with this book so much. At the moment I'm on an up but I'm planning to put it away while I do NaNoWriMo and then come back. So who knows where I'll be in December - hopefully pulling up at the end ready to get off but more likely in freefall down a big drop :)

    Good luck with yours

  10. You just described my reaction to my first THREE novels, thank you very much.

    You will endure, m'dear.

  11. I like to think of my previous novels as I do my hair back in the eighties--a little embarrassing but only because I didn't know any better.

    We're constantly growing, and if we're writing, that's growing too. It's okay to not have the perfect book!

    Love your new profile pic! Gorgeous!

  12. I've gone through this before. It's usually always been support groups like my blogging friends who helped me get over that road block. You just have to embrace the attitude that what's done is done, and you can only move forward and upward from here. It's a daily struggle for me, but I find it makes life a bit less stressful.

  13. Beth: I'm glad I'm not alone! I agree with what you say about "knowing," except that I've thought I've known before, and really didn't. That's why I stepped away from this book for a full 12 months. I needed to gain a bit more perspective, so I wrote Monarch in the meantime. :)

    Ken: No worries about typos. It's early, and it's the comments section, so no biggie. I like your voice analogy. That works on more layers than you might realize!

    Looking over this manuscript, I saw things about myself that have changed, too, not just my writing. I think that's why it was such a moving experience.

    Matt: My friend Natalie calls this point Lookout Point. It's an interesting thing to happen, that's for sure. I'm always wanting to do more with my writing, as well, but I've reached points with some of my stories where I know there's nothing more I can do - at the moment, at least. I will end up adding more words to this book, I'm sure, despite all the cutting I've done for now.

    Suzy: You're so cute, hehe. I love swings, too. It's the up and the down that makes it fun, not just the up. Can't have the up without the down. I keep telling myself these things...

    Recessionista: Wow, what great thoughts! Thank you. Yeah, I get the mirror thing, totally. I knew, for sure, that I had to step away from this book for a full year before I could see all the flaws.

    Meghan: I think about this in terms of photography all the time. I go back to pictures I did before and groan. But I usually leave them alone. I would leave Breakaway alone except that I love it too much. I'll come back to it when I've done what I need to on my current WIP.

    Rick: Ah, I know exactly what you're talking about! Fortunately, my changes for this manuscript won't make it different, just better. For Monarch, though, I had to rewrite it all because the changes were too dramatic. For this one, though, it's more cleaning up than anything else.

    Alexa: I will help you when you need, you know that. We're in the same boat in many respects. :)

    Aimee: Wow. THREE novels. Yikes. I keep hoping that with each novel my writing is improving enough to not get in the way of the story so much.

    Jill: LOL! I love the hair analogy. That's awesome. I had the highest bangs ever. I know it's not necessary to have a perfect novel, but this one is so fixable that I must try to make it the best it can be for now. When I get back to it, anyway.

    Stephanie: I like how you say to embrace the attitude of what's done is done. That's so necessary, but difficult. There really is only one place to go... up! Hopefully the next dip down won't be so dramatic a drop.

  14. That's why these blogs are such great forums. We get to see that everyone goes through the same feelings. It sounds like you've grown and can now look at the novel with unbiased eyes, which is a good place to be.

  15. Lady Glamis - my great masterpiece, a stunning sequel to a well known (not to be mentioned here) series . . . is . . . well, my first attempt at writing. I thought the book was a most wonderful thing. I thought I was the most gifted writer . . . EVER.

    Ahhhh, the quick plummet from great heights.

    Do you have any clue how many times I used 'most' in that great piece of work?? Tons!! Tons!! Tons!

    Still, there is promise in that early work, that first bit of writing I devoted myself to many years ago.

    Yeah, it pretty much stinks overall.

    But . . .

    "I think we reach a threshold, though- a place where we can see our work clearly, a place where we can make sure the writing doesn't interfere with the story" - truer words, at least at this point in my life, haven't been writter. These words are gold.

    We all reach this point at, well, some point!

    I've read your blogs, some of your short stories . . . and you can write, and quite well at that. So, write away, but keep the stuff that's not so good as a reminder of how far you've come as a writer.

    I still have that walloping 1,000 page manuscript I wrote in a box in my office closet. The characters are patiently waiting for me, at some point, to lift them out of those pages and place them in some other work of brilliance.


  16. I love hearing that even the seasoned writer, is sensitive to growth. I never want to be too impartial to my work that I neglect to make it the best it can be.

    I will do what I always do when I'm uncertain.. Listen for the still, small voice of God that says, "Now."

    Happy writing friends...

  17. Rollercoaster is exactly the way to describe life as a writer! One minute up, the next down. But I think this experience was an up moment for you - it proved how far you've grown as a writer. To me, recognising the work your baby needed is a sign that you've instinctively raised the bar on your own standards.

    And I've accepted that I'll never be happy with what I write. I console myself by saying that I don't have to be happy with it...I just have to find an agent and a publisher who will love it! :)

  18. This reminds me of something I read on your own blog several months ago. When we write, even if we think it's the most amazing thing we've ever done, it is a reflection of who we are at the time. So, months later, when we are even better than we were when we finished, we'll see issues there that we couldn't even have seen before.

    The book isn't worse than you though. You're just better than you were.

  19. I'm going to second the comments of Tamika and Ann Victor: you can see the problems only because you've grown so much as a writer, so this is a good moment for you if you choose to see it that way. Increased awareness equals increased skills!

    I know the embarrassment of looking back at earlier work, which is why I try not to look. Though sometimes it's good to look back, just to see how far we've come with our craft.

  20. You use the term work in this post to describe your writing and that is EXACTLY what writing is WORK! Therefore, it is understood that good writing is HARD work.

    Now, I have read some of your writing (both earlier and later compositions) and I will attest that you are WORKING at becoming a GREAT WRITER.

  21. I confess I'm not dealing with it so well at the moment. I'm flagellating myself with doubts and insecurity. That's not going to make me a better writer--it just hurts. Being able to talk these things out with other writers is helpful, though. So I appreciate your honest posts and totally relate to the roller coaster.
    The thing is when you get off the coaster, a survivor of fear, you feel pretty awesome. So here's to awesome survivalness. It's a badge you've earned.

  22. We are all works in progress. One of the characters in my books paints, and she says no canvas is ever finished. I think that's true for us writers too.

  23. Lady Glamis,
    I have to agree with those who mentioned that because you can recognize the 'problems' in your older manuscript you've grown as a writer and you obviously have mastered new skills. Yea, you! Be proud of that.

  24. Nothing is ever finished, and nothing is ever perfect. It's impossible for me to be completely happy with what I write, but, in the end, I think that will make me work harder.

  25. I've been accused of being one of those people who will never be happy with what I write. "You're going to die miserable" has been said to me more than once by more than one person. But, personally, I feel balanced. Sometimes I'm happy and sometimes I'm not. I've had enough of both feelings to keep me working on my writing. I imagine if I felt too much either way, I would have stopped. (Not sure, though.)

    I'm glad you've backed away from the ledge, Michelle! And, I know it's more than just friends who have been able to talk you down. ;P

  26. Patti: It really is a good place to be. I always get scared when I first step onto a rollercoaster, and yes, it's scary throughout, but if I let myself have fun, I do. Amazing how that works!

    Scott: Thank you for your comment. I have an entire folder of old work that shows me how far I've come. The great thing is that I can still see rises and plummets in the future, but for some reason they don't seem as scary now. We get used to things as we grow.

    Tamika: I like what you say about being impartial to your work. I never want to reach that point, either.

    Ann: You're right that it was an up moment for me. It was just difficult to see it at the time. Very traumatic, haha. I think I'm happy with what I write much of the time, but not 100% of the time, or every 100% completely satisfied. It's healthy, I think.

    Dominique: Funny how I forget things I write...I think I remember writing that, lol. But you're right, what we write now is a reflection of who we are now, and hating it in the future isn't a great way to look at ourselves.

    Scott B.: I've chosen to see this as a good moment. Things can be bittersweet and I'm just fine with that. I think as a few more days pass It'll get sweeter and sweeter.

    Marty: Ah, yes, I knew you'd have a great insight! You always make me smile brighter. Good writing IS hard work, and I love it that way. Work implies moments of difficulty. Inevitable. :)

    Tricia: I agree that talking about these things make them so much easier to bear and get over. I'm always here if you need!

    Karen: Your comment makes me think of a post either Davin or Scott did where they talked about us being WIPs ourselves. No canvas is ever finished, no matter point we get to.

    Crimey: Exactly. That's the thing that makes the moment sweeter than I first saw. I am proud of it, thanks!

    Mariah: Very true! I'll only work harder because of this, and that's a great thing.

  27. Davin: I love your honest comment! As I've gotten to know you and your writing more and more, I've noticed your swinging back and forth between being elated with your work and loathing it. Most of the time, though, you seem to have a healthy vision of where you're at, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's a great place to be, right in the middle where you can see both sides and keep moving forward from there.

    Yes, recent news helped a lot. Funny how that works.

  28. It's a strange telescopic vision. It takes time before you can adjust to the lens and there's really nothing for it but time and growth. You don't know what you don't know. Sometimes you can't see what you can't see and the remedy is time and space.
    After a while (time and space) then you can look at it again. It takes even more time and space before you can do something about it. This writing game is a game of patience and it's hard. Very, very hard. Sometimes, I don't know that I'll survive.

  29. My sentiments Glam! My laptop was stolen when I was flowing in writing my first novel. Of course, I hadn't saved some of the work. I had to rewrite more than half of what I had already written. It didn't feel right, not like my first work; I was annoyed that I couldn't remember what I had written. I set it aside for months and still to this day, I'm trying to get it right! How did I deal with it? I cried for an hour at least. I got angry at the thief and myself, buried my head in the sand, and then decided to start from the beginning.

    Don't worry, when the time is write, you'll get it right!

  30. Not only are my earlier manuscripts laughably bad, but my first drafts still are.

    Can you imagine how tough that must have been on the quill and ink writers of yore? :O

    But, like they used to say in the 1970's, Keep On Truckin! (Of course I didn't hear anyone say that in the 70's myself, no, no. I just heard about it. Really.)

    And my earlier attempts at query letters -- Geez Louise. Let's not even go there.

    So, all in all, it appears that writer-phobia or writer-paranoia or whatever you want to call it, is as common as bears pooping in the woods. Just a lot less stinky...

    ..or not! :D

  31. OK, Here's the thing.
    You're learning. What you're writing right now will suck in retrospect in a couple years. Each attempt will be better than the last.
    It took me two months of hedging before I finally put Dawn's Rise down as unfixable without complete reconstructive surgery.
    I'm hoping I taking all the lessons I've learned about POV and story structure and style and apply it to this story, so that it only requires minor surgery.
    Heck, I just picked up a book and the writing is atrocious. Ponderous backstory, telling, lack of somehow makes me feel better that I might be able to write better than someone who's published. This is TOR books BTW.
    So don't be discouraged, there are plenty of opportunities for good writers out there.
    And definitely keep up the blogging...I do it to learn about the stuff I blog about. And your posts are pretty helpful.

  32. L.T.: Wow, don't know what you don't know. I can't beat myself up over something I gave me best shot at. You're right. You'll survive, just like I will.

    Ellie: You know what? I'll bet that work you rewrote is better than what you first wrote. Guaranteed.

    Anon: Stinky...oh yes, it's all stinky at times. It clears away though, thank goodness!

    Andrew: Your words and help have a meant a lot to me lately, and have got me thinking in a lot of great directions, so thank you! Yes, we learn with each new draft, each new sentence, even. We learn, learn, learn. It's part of the journey, and I'm grateful for it. At least I can see how I've grown. That's the reward.

  33. A great post, Glam, and I hear you oh SO much.

    I've been having a really hard time with isuckitis lately (compounded by various RL things), plus I never quite believe (at least in novels) something is ever good.

    Except I kinda still feel the last novel I finished, despite needing a lot of work in the end, is good (I don't know if I've had that sensation before, maybe one other time... ages ago, and that was more about the general concept/plot/characters than the draft itself). Now I'm afraid to look at it in a few months and realize I'm wrong and go through the cycle all over. :S


    I guess we just keep writing and revising and trying again... and at least in my case, I hope eventually I'll learn how to make something "good"... which equates "satisfied and believing it is as good as I can make it" for me. ;)

    It is a roller coaster ride, this writing gig....


  34. I am kind of the opposite. Usually, I remember the piece as lame, and am pleasantly surprised when it is not as bad as I thought.

    Some things were never meant to be good, though. I know some of my stories existed just for the purpose of teaching me something about writing, not to be great in themselves. Oh, I'd hoped they might be readable...but alas....

  35. I've written four (or is it five) middle-grade novels and this has happened every single time. "Wow, this is the best piece of writing I've ever done. It's fabulous, fantastic. My other novels were c*#p, but this . . . this is the ONE." No. Not true. It's very depressing. I understand why you crawl in a corner and hide. I wish I could tell you when you know it's ready but it hasn't happened to me yet.

  36. Don't worry, it will get better. I hate the rollercoaster of writing too. We are all cheering for you!

  37. Merc: Isuckitis just SUCKS. I don't think I ever really get rid of it, but I like the periods where it wans and I can forget about it. Heh.

    Shelley: Well I'd switch with you! Maybe I should lower my expectations at first, lol!

    MG: It'll happen to both of us one day, and we'll write really happy blog posts about it.

    Carolyn: Thank you for cheering! It is needed so much. Yay for all the wonderful comments here today!

  38. Time & perspective help.

    Other times, I'm perfectly happy with the first version of what I write, but that is rare.

  39. Just remember - time washes away all dreams.

    I've read things I've written on a whim, and thought "Oh Lord, what the hell was that?"

    Then I re-read the work and decided it was a "Work In Progress", a very raw first draft; no matter what anybody else who honestly loved me said.

    Then, I revised. Revision will save your soul - or at least your confidence in your writing ability.

    Thoug I don't always comment on the blogs I frequent, I learn from the posts. Lately I've been following Nathan Bransford and his series on writer doubt, though he doesn't call it that. Creative sensitivity, what qualities make a writer, when to quit, thing of that nature.

    I'm of the personal opinion that ALMOST anyone can put words on a paper, and even string them together into coherency. The trick to being a "writer" is being able to recognize the concept needs work. And, of course, the temerity to look at our own work subjectively and know it could be improved.

    Whatever that project was, whatever the feedback from family and friends, if you recognize a need to carry on the extensive revision to make the premise shine, then you have the incentive to continue as a writer.

    Today may not be the day to work on that particular concept, but you never know when you might have real inspiration from future writings. After all, Stephen King took approximately 23 years from the first words written on THE DARK TOWER series to completion.

    If you liked it back then, Lady Glam, its most likely salvagable now.

    But of course, take that as words of wisdom from an unpublished author.


  40. Ah Lady, now is the time to put the most work into it. These are the words of a good writer. Only lousy writers are ever really satisfied. Good writers see their work in print and still want to make revisions.

    I've been where you are––though happily with shorter pieces that take less time to revise. I would suggest going back to it again in about a week or two. Your mind may change again to something more middle-of-the-road, i.e. it has problems but it's not pure trash.

    Many times things we receive praise on then put aside become built up in our memory. For me this doesn't just happen with my work but other people's work too. I'll watch a movie I loved but haven't seen for years and wonder what I saw in it, while the person I've forced to watch it with me for the first time loves it. As an editor I'd sometimes accept pieces I thought were wonderful. Then after the six-eight weeks between acceptance and getting around to the editing process I'd look at it and wonder, omg, what was I thinking? The second time around we look beyond the surface at the details and see the flaws, but it doesn't mean our original gut reaction, overall, wasn't correct.

  41. Terresa: I've been happy with first versions of short stories before, but like you say, that's very rare.

    Donna: The trick to being a "writer" is being able to recognize the concept needs work. And, of course, the temerity to look at our own work subjectively and know it could be improved.

    Thank you for these words! I think this is why I didn't go crawl under the rock. I realized deep down that if I was seeing these problems and wanting to fix them so badly - that had to mean something good!

    Yes, this book means a lot to me still, and I plan on getting it to a point where my desire to change it gets less and less.

    Nannette: Thanks for stopping by! Your words ring so true to me. You are correct that now is the time to put my hardest work into the piece. The only reason I put it aside is because I've got another project that needs my immediate attention for a very good reason. Still, I think the book I'm talking about in the post will be in the back of my mind, patiently waiting for me to return.

  42. Great post and great comments, Glam.

    They get to the heart of what it is to be a creative person--and all the self delusion/self-doubt that goes with it. Sometimes it's somebody else that helps you see the work through new--maybe not so affectionate--eyes.

    I got a rejection from an agent last week saying my ms. needed a bunch of changes. I was sad for a minute, then read the suggestions and was hit with a great "AH-HA". So I wrote back and asked if she'd read it if I did the changes. She said yes, so I'm doing myself some carpal-tunnel injury with a mad, but exciting, rewrite.

    I just took a minute to post one of my articles on the subject of agent-suggested rewrites. Anybody interested--it's at my blog at

  43. Anne: Thank you for your comment! That's wonderful news about the agent who's interested in your work. I think if we prove to ourselves how much we can improve and grow we have that much more potential to make it in the publishing business. We constantly keep at it, forever. It sounds exhausting, but I think it's what makes writing such a fascinating and rewarding career. I'll check out your blog post. Thanks for sharing!

  44. Lady G--Thanks for visiting my blog. I've responded to your comment--saying you're not daydreaming at all. We shouldn't follow the "rules" and do rewrites unless the suggestions give us an "ah-ha moment."

    I learned something here. The post is an article from '08 I updated, but it's 750 words long. WAY too long for a blogpost. Readers are not reading to the end. I attempted to say: "here are the rules, and this is how to break them," but only the rules part is getting attention.

    Blogging is a whole new art form. I have a lot to learn from great bloggers like you.

  45. Anne: I thought your post was well-written. It was long, but I'll read long posts if they keep my interest. Blogging is a whole new art form, I agree. I learned a lot about design, layout, and getting the most impact in a small amount of space in college. I was a design editor on the lit mag for awhile and glad I did it!

    If you're interested, I did a three part post series on my personal blog called Create A Shiny World - about creating an appealing blog. Thanks for stopping by again!

  46. Oh I hate that moment. I had this moment after my full was already in an agent's hands for two months. I looked through it and even just a few months later I could see so many flaws. Ugh.

  47. Roni: I like your picture! Yes, I hate this moment, too, but sure has moved me forward.


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