Honesty in writing, dammit

You want honesty? I'll give you some honesty. I'm tired of pretending that I know what I'm doing with all of this shit.

I don't read enough fiction. There, I said it. With the flood of stories my friends write, the books recommended to me or given to me, articles on the internet and magazines I get, I can barely manage ten hours a week spent reading fiction. The list grows, longer and faster than I can possible keep up with. I've given up a lot to get more time to read and write, and it's still not enough. It would be great if I could spend all my time on this, but I can't.

The "holy crap, this novel SUCKS!!!" phase of my WIP is not a one-and-done, not something that I went through and got over. Friends talked me in from the ledge when I was whining about this during NaNoWriMo, and have periodically offered again to kick me in the ass again if I ever felt like quitting. This feeling does not arise from a sense that this is too HARD to do, that I'm shying away from the sweat and effort of it. It's a recurrent fear that I'm wasting my time on a book that no one will read or get, a book that no one will think is at all engaging or funny. It doesn't help that several of the people I've told about this WIP have responded with a confused headshake. Yes, I KNOW it's not like anything you're familiar with - that's the whole point! It's different! If I wanted to knock out a trope ridden "farmboy finds a magic book, learns to be a magician" thing, I would. I've got 15,000 words of that novel sitting in a drawer, OK?

Yeah, it would be great if I were to return to "Just Enough Power" and write out the rest of the plot. It's all there - Patricia Lonnigan gets beaten up, gets to have lots of slippery, angry sex, she gets to kill lots of people, and she gets revenge on all the people who wronged her, but she has to pay a heavy price for it. You know what? I'm deliberately NOT writing that so I can FINISH MY DAMNED WIP. You think I don't feel the lure of every other half-finished fucking story I have sitting on my hard drive? You think I don't hear those voices that say, "oooh, that one is MUCH better than this one."? I do, believe me. But I've committed myself to this WIP. The Grammarian comes FIRST, Patricia Lonnigan comes NEXT. It has to be that way, or I'll go crazy flitting around from flower to flower.

It's really hard to sustain enthusiasm for a WIP when these doubts and fears set in. Hard, that is, until I actually take a deep breath and open my work again. After re-reading three pages, I KNOW this is a good book, or could be. I can make this thing shine, make it the kind of book I want it to be. I just wish I could be sure that the readers will see the same kind of thing in it that I do. Yes, yes, it's a non-random event - it's not up to the reader to make the book great. They'll see whatever I put in there, and it's up to me to MAKE it happen. It takes an effort of faith, in the story, in the system, and above all, faith in my own abilities as a writer.

I'm not a very trusting person. That has consequences for me as a person, and as a writer. The thing is, though, there's a difference between confidence and faith. Confidence is based on data, and deals with the known. The tables say that a 10"x10" pillar of No.1 grade oak will support 6500 pounds. If I load it with 5000 pounds, I can be confident of its performance. It's when I load it with 6800, or 7000 or 8000 pounds that I need to have faith in its performance.

I'm confident I can write good flash fiction. I need to have faith that I can write a good novel.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Of course you bloody can. Listen, EVERY writer starts second-guessing and doubting themselves when they're working on their work in progress. Every artist will try to flit from project to project because whatever they're not currently working on is bound to be more attractive than what they ARE working on. It's called being human.

    I should know. I've put off doing any edits to my novel for months now, continually moving something else to the front of the queue, but I've finally dived back in and thought "You know, if I feng shui this bitch a bit, it might not be half bad".

    If I can do that, then you certainly can.

    As Bon Jovi said, you just gotta keep the faith.

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  3. *ahem* We'll try that again, shall we, and this time *with* the spellcheck...

    Yes, what Icy said...word for word. It's what's been putting me off starting my WIP...wondering if I'll be able to sustain myself through to the end.

    Icy is also correct that we all doubt ourselves, heaven knows I do, but I think the time has come...are you watching? *uncaps his pen* Here goes..

  4. We all have days when we feel like the biggest hacks in the world. When that happens it is flat out depressing to read what we wrote.

    But when that happens go back to your comfort zone or start something new until you get that confidence back.

    I've seen your writing. Be assured that I know you are good.

  5. Thanks, guys. Not a good day in Tony-ville.

    @ Icy: My problems seem most acute when I forget that I'm actually human.

    @ Sam: I'm watching, Sam - go get 'em!

    @ Michael: Thanks, mate.

  6. Tony, please send your inner editor on a vacation -- far, far away. Tell her to return after the first draft is written -- you'll need her -- you WILL WANT her then. Meanwhile, just write and, uh, have fun. Peace...

  7. Actually, no. You don't need to have faith that you can write a novel because you have proof. Yep. Honest to God grade A proof, and, it comes from you.

    And I quote, "I'm confident I can write good flash fiction."

    So you can write a self contained story in 1,000 words or less, in which you can create unique settings, characters, and plots. And finish the entire thing off with a twist 80% of the time. And, you've done well over 100,000 words of them. Oh, and did I mention that you manage to make the setting realistic? That even the most obscure, SciFi, Fantastical, or otherworldy of your plots don't actually take the reader out of the story?
    But I'm supposed to somehow buy that stringing them together to form a Novel is beyond you? Really?


    There is one more thing that needs saying, but instead of me saying it, I'm going to let Candice, "We. Care. About. Your. CHARACTERS!"

    For example, I'm just finishing In the Woods by Tana French. It won an Edgar, it is a bestseller, and the only reason i am finishing it is because my wife and stepson read and I want to talk to them about it. Otherwise I would've stopped reading it a long time ago because of how she handles the main character. I do most of my reading on the bus, but its taken me longer to read this one than most because I'll hit a section that annoys and suddenly reading Fark on my BlackBerry is just too much of a temptation. This is a popular book and I am wholly disconnected from the main character because French made him male, but his internal monologue sounds like a female. I say this so you can understand something about why we are clamoring for you to finish "Just Enough Power." Because we care about Lonnigan. We are honest to God rooting for her every time, and it pains us that she is still, still!, held captice with that Damn collar on. It was hard enough waiting between harry Potter books, but at least we knew he was home safe, and that the next time we saw him he'd be heading over to hermione's or the Weasely's. Can you imagine if Rowling left him locked up in Azkhaban between books?

    Riots in the street.

    I will be honest. You are a role model to me. You got me started on #FridayFlash, and you got me thinking more seriously about writing than I had ever been. Like me you have to shoe-horn your writing in between work and family and duty, but you make it work. And I look at that, and I think, if he can, I can. So i keep trying. I go a week, sometimes two inbetween posts. You're like clockwork.

    You published a book of #FridayFlash which is something which, frankly, had never occured to me. You taught me to use these stories as a sandbox, but now you're also showing a way for them to stand together on their own right. I was giddy when you released Blood Picnic because I got to re-read so many great stories, and I always have them close by. It is also a promise, than I can do the same. And then I realized, if I can put x number of #FridayFlash together, why not a Novel?

    And, I realized, I can do it. And, if I can do it, and my writing is not nearly as good as yours, then you sure as Hell can too!


  8. @ Linda: My inner critic is a like a tumor. Never goes away, just goes into remission.

    @ Paul: I accept the chastisement, the props and the truth of what you're saying. Every now and then, it all just slips a bit. Thanks, pal. Too true... if I can do it, so can you.

  9. Tony. while I don't know you or your work, I can echo some of the sentiments here. You can do this. You have to push through. I just read this book http://www.amazon.com/Do-the-Work-ebook/dp/B004PGO25O/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1304707046&sr=8-2 and while I won't say "Go read this!" because it would add to your already large reading list, maybe you should. It's encouraging in the sense that it helps me know that every writer encounters just this kind of resistance.

    Maybe just us telling you that will be enough? I don't know. What I do know for me at least is the not knowing (whether or not it would have worked if I had stuck with it) is worse than the knowing, even if the knowing involves people hating it.

  10. Uh, dude? You almost lost me at the 2nd paragraph. "The flood of stories [my] friends write" count as reading fiction, don't they? They should. I was having the same thought myself last week, until I realized that I spend quite a bit of time reading fiction — your (and many others') Friday Flash, several Tuesday Serials, and so forth. If I didn't enjoy reading it, I wouldn't read it & I certainly wouldn't take the time to comment on it.

    As far as pretending you know what you're doing, stop pretending. None of us know what we're doing. You have an anthology up on Smashwords & Kindle, and that's farther than I've gotten (but I'll catch up in the 2nd half of the year!). All you can do is pull up the MS in progress, strap in, and see where it goes.

    And you know what? There's no harm if you get stuck on one story and move over to the other. It's progress, and it might help you get unstuck anyway.

    Olga, my BDSM Muse, puts it this way: "Sit in chair! Write! I haff given you one story, I haff given you two story!" *cracks whip* "You start now!"

  11. @FARfetched - Please tell me you have Olga in a story somewhere that I can read it? That is such a great character!

    @Tony - I am very much looking forward to sipping scotch with you after our panel discussion at the convention. Not sure if it will be a writers convention, SciFi, Fantasy, or otherwise geeky in nature, I'm just looking forward to it. (Especially since they're going to pay us to fly to Hawaii for it!)

  12. take a deep breath. of course you can write a good novel. the fact that you doubt that you can simply means you are a writer. keep at it, especially when the mood strikes and back off when you feel like you're spinning your wheels. read for pleasure - not because you feel obligated or because it's a chore. and mostly just enjoy it all - if it feels too much like work, that is a signal to back off a bit.

  13. Since D. Paul already chewed you out thoroughly, I'll just add the superficial truths. You know you're a competent writer. You know that with distance you'll be able to edit and improve raw material. I'm 80,000 words into a novel right now and have the crisis of self-doubt every day. The ideas are great and I question if I'll do them justice. Whether I do it now or in the fourth revision, removed from the immediacy of creation I get the faith. You know you have that much in you, Tony.

  14. Tony I applaud you for finding 10 hours a week to read fiction. I'm lucky if I manage 2 at the moment.

    I loved this post because of it's honesty. I hope it's one of those posts that you instantly feel better about once you've ranted it all out.

    As others have said, we all go there. I think when a writer starts to think their novels *are* good and don't bother about putting the effort in any more is when the standard slips.

    I'm sure it's normal to have all the WIPs jostling for attention as well. I spent ages switching between three WIPs until I finally told myself to concentrate on one and get it finished first.

    If I were you I'd try and stop worry, and try and stop self-editing at this stage, the first aim is to get your first draft finished. Now, Go!

  15. PS Please excuse rubbish English, only just out of bed and not enough coffee... ie half asleep.

  16. You love the story. That's obvious. So forget about readers and write for yourself. Chances are good that, since you love it so much, you'll find a host of readers who will share your opinion. But, today, right now, the only person you have to write for is yourself. Don't let future readers stand over your shoulder while you write. Write because you love it, finish it because you love, and only then let yourself worry about what others may think.

  17. Tony,just stick to it. Finishing a long difficult work has a lot of value, even if, in the end, you consider the result a failure. You will learn from it.

  18. @ Scott: Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Scott. I'll check out the book. Also, I'm not usually this whacko, so feel free to come back when I'm a bit more myself. 8-)

    @ FARfetched: I know, it's nonsensical. Not rational. The facts in front of me belie the whole premise. Thanks for comments, FAR. I'll keep all of this in mind the next time I'm tempted to wig out. Well... except for the image of Olga. That I'm going to try to forget.

    @ D. Paul: Sold. One way or another.

    @ Michael: The deep breath is something I need to remember to do when I'm in such a mood. Usually, those moods mean I need exactly what you recommend - a break.

    @ John: Since D. Paul already chewed you out thoroughly, I'll just add the superficial truths. Thanks, John. Not only for reminding me of the facts, but for sharing the journey.

    @ Rebecca: I loved this post because of it's honesty. When reading all the blogs and posts and tweets, it's easy (for me, at least) to believe that I'm the only one struggling with a novel. Going publicly off my nut this way was cathartic, but the response is what reminds me that I don't need to be perfect. I just need to keep trying.

    @ K.M. Weiland: Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment - I appreciate it. The inner critic is really just a stand-in, isn't it? For the future readers, or one's spouse, or mother or old flame, etc. "What will X think when they read this?!?" You are absolutely right - as the writer, I just have to write the story that I feel needs to be written. Doing anything else would be someone else's story, not mine.

    @ Mark: So true - that's the nugget of what it all means. Just stick to it and get it done. If it's not all it could be, do better in the next book.

  19. If it is any consolation, I felt exactly that way many, many times, writing the first draft of my manuscript. Push though. My book sold. Keep going.

  20. I'm so glad to see other people with the same kind of angst. It's the best thing about this writing community.
    It feels good to bitch about it, doesn't it?
    Sometimes just blogging about your frustration is enough to push through the blocks we put in front of ourselves.
    Soldier on, Tony. You can do it.


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