I’m a terrible writer. Some days.
“I hate writing. I love having written.” – Dorothy Parker
Winter has been quite the emotional roller coaster for this scribe. My first novel, Straightville, U.S.A., hasn’t found a publishing home yet, and a recent pass from a promising editor had me ready to throw my laptop off the roof.
Meanwhile, after churning out 50,000 words of my second novel during November’s National Novel Writing Month, the manuscript was weak at best and not getting any stronger. Between allowing myself to step away from it a little too often or forcing myself to sit down and try to write something and getting nowhere, the project was not going well.
With the benefit of a little hindsight, I must now decree that NaNoWriMo is not something I’ll try again. Maybe it works for some people, but I don’t think you’re living in the healthier parts of yourself as a writer. It requires that attention be paid to word count at the expense of thorough research and planning. So even though you may wind up with 50K words on December 1, they’ll likely be junk. My writing eventually came to a halt, and I discovered I was telling the story of two protagonists that I really didn’t know very well.
So you can imagine my panic when, after informing me that we’d gotten another pass on Straightville, my agent, Steve, asked to see book #2 so he could provide some feedback. Yikes!
I immediately sent the first chapter to my primary reader, my dear friend Atish, who doesn’t attempt to spare my feelings when providing honest and constructive feedback. His response? Lukewarm; promising but not quite sizzling. After nearly an hour of discussion, I was on process overload and, quite frankly, needed to end the conversation. As difficult as it would be, I knew my only way out of the cave was to scrap my NaNoWriMo writing and, in essence, start from scratch. So that’s what I did, keeping the concept and the protagonists but completely reimagining their entire worlds.
I rewrote the first chapter and shared it with both Atish and Steve. This time, I hit the mark. When Steve said, “I think we have a winner,” I was finally ready to climb down from the roof, laptop fully in tact!
I’m now happy to report that book #2 is back on track and progressing nicely. Book #1 is still on the hunt for a publishing home, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the second one may hit shelves first. We’ve already gotten interest in the concept from at least one publisher…I just have to finish the damn thing! And hope isn’t lost on book #1. The feedback we’ve gotten on Straightville has been a mix of very positive thoughts coupled with enough constructive criticism to have me looking forward to writing a revision. For the moment, though, I’m staying immersed in the world of book #2. More to come.
A couple questions to any writers who may be reading this: Have you ever chucked a lengthy manuscript and started from scratch? And what do you do to pull yourself up when you begin feeling like the worst writer since, well, this lady?
7 thoughts on “I’m a terrible writer. Some days.”
Primary reader Atish here. First, I'd like to say what an honor it is to be included in my dear friend Matt's creative process in the early stages of his second project. He even suggested I consider a career as an editor. Immediately visions of a glamerous and exciting life in NYC a la Sex in the City flashed in my mind, perhaps in my next life. Flattering as the compliment was, I'll stick to my unofficial capacity for now. I'm just happy he values my perspective, insights and suggestions. In all honesty, it is fun for me.
Second, Matt really does have a winner on his hands with his second project. I'm hoping I not only get more of a sneak peak as he continues the process but can once again help him as source of advice and critical perspective.
And finally third, a couple of questions for my dear friend, do you think NaNoWriMo would have been more productive had you gone into it with a more concrete and coherent vision for the tone and direction of the project?
It seems to me that NaNoWriMo was just a lot of writing for you but what was it that you actually had written? In other words, quantity won over quality. Would you agree?
Would NaNo have been a hit if I'd planned more thoroughly beforehand instead of the "planlet" I had in place? The short answer is maybe. The long answer is that I've asked myself that very question and I do think I could've gotten the details more concrete before Nov. 1 and probably had a better month. I had the character sketches and the outline and the plot points mapped out, but even all that was a little rushed in hindsight. If nothing else, the experience taught me more about what works for me in my writing process and that scrapping 50K words isn't the end of the world. I needed to write crap and chuck it to arrive at where I am with the story now.
Did quantity win over quality? Certainly. That's the basic premise of NaNoWriMo. It's in the language put out by the people behind it, for goodness sake! For some people, it works as a helpful part of their process. So, ultimately, am I glad I did it? Yes, it was a valuable experience and a valuable lesson. Would I do it again? Nah.
And, Atish, you've still got plenty of time to be a fancy-free New York editor! You're not that old 😉
Let's see how I continue to do as your unofficial editor before I decide on a somewhat radical career shift. 😉
And you're right. just look at you, fulfilling your dreams and you're OLDER than me. 😛
Care to explain your writing process in further detail?
Well, I actually already did in an earlier post! I'll make it easy to find. Just click here! It was written prior to starting on this current project, though, so I will say the writing process is always a work in progress (and sometimes a piece of work in progress!). Right now, the old-fashioned pen and paper routine for planning is working well. And I'm trying to do better with setting writing goals: mapping out an entire chapter's plot points and character motivations – where they are at the beginning and where I need them to be at the end – before I begin writing. It's working well.
I have terrible memory. I remember reading this post. Now I feel like that friend who doesn't remember things his friend tells him. D'oh!