When You Hate Your Novel

Luc Reid @ 31-08-2011

Hate your novel?Writing a novel can be a little like a troubled romance, neh? Perhaps it started out with a flurry of excitement. Your idea swept you away and fascinated you–this was the one! This was the novel that was going to get finished or be your first sale or make a name for you. At the beginning, the characters were endearing or intriguing and the plot opened up before you like a twisty road opens up before a motorcycler on a crisp fall morning.

Yet now … not so much. It’s not that you don’t still love your novel. Of course you love it! Except you also hate it. Writing it is no longer exciting: it’s work, and hard work at that. Worse, you begin to see the flaws in your original ideas and character conceptions, or you begin to worry that the whole thing is dull and unoriginal. You picture yourself plowing untold hours into the book and in the end having a manuscript that gets only contempt from agents and malignant disregard from publishers, or that you put on Amazon yourself and never sell except to your mother and her bridge partner. Ugh.

What happened? Well, of course it’s possible that you veered off the course at some point, that the scene that you thought would be so entertaining has undermined your character’s original appeal, or that you’ve resolved too many problems and now there’s no suspense, or whatever. In a way, though, it doesn’t matter whether the job is to continue writing the draft you have or to go back and rewrite part of it first: in both cases you have to actually sit down and work on the thing, and you are having all kinds of trouble forcing yourself to do that on a regular basis.

(If you never do have all kinds of trouble, of course, that’s wonderful, and this column is not written specifically for you. Congratulations, but please stop gloating.)

There are two key questions here, one of which I’ll dig into and the other of which I’ll pretty much ignore.

The question I intend to ignore is whether the novel is good enough or not. That’s a topic in itself, and I’ve tackled it in a previous column called “Your Opinion and Twenty-Five Cents: Judging Your Own Writing.”

The question I’ll dig into is this: if you’ve decided that you really do want to finish the book, how do you stop hating (or resenting, or avoiding) it?

Fortunately, the basic answer to this is simple: if you think things about the book that make you feel bad, you will have a hard time writing it. If you think things about the book that make you feel good, you’ll be likely to work harder, more often, and more energetically. You’ll also be likely to think about the project more, yielding better ideas, approaches, and insights.

For example, if I look at a novelette I’m collaborating on with a friend (yurt-living goat afficianado mom and talented writer Maya Lassiter) and think to myself “God, I am a jerk for taking so long to get those edits done,” then thinking about the novelette will consist mainly of me beating myself up for not working on the novelette, which will encourage me to avoid thinking about it so as to not feel so lousy.

If by contrast I think “I can’t wait for us to get that novelette sent out, because it’s going to rock the world!” (and to be honest, I really do think it’s pretty great–even an early draft won a Codex contest), then I’m going to be much more excited to work on it.

Is it really that simple? Yes and no. Sometimes negative thinking patterns are hard to break, and sometimes they’re extremely hard to break. (For help, see my articles on broken ideas and idea repair) What’s more, we writers have a ridiculous number of things to worry about as we write: is it too long? Too short? Is the genre a good choice? How’s the style? Are the characters coming alive? Is it keeping the reader’s interest? Is it original enough? Is it so original that no one will know what to do with it? Are publishers buying this kind of thing right now? Are publishers even going to still be in business by the time I finish it?

If you want to finish the book, though, worry about those things only if it both helps the book and doesn’t make you want to go hide under the bed. If worrying about selling the book or about how good the book is prevents you from writing it, then assume it has a chance of being terrific and forge ahead.

Different people have different tolerance levels for this kind of thing, and the final measure is how a thought makes you feel. If you really need to get something done, then thoughts should be rounded up and forced to slave away making you happy so you can do it. Those who won’t go along with the plan of encouraging you to write your book should be lined up against the wall and shot. There will be plenty of time for their children, siblings, and friends to come after you seeking revenge later–when the book is finished.

[ image tweaked a little from an original by Dave Wild ]

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Luc ReidLuc Reid is a Writers of the Future winner whose fiction and nonfiction have also appeared in ClarkesworldStrange HorizonsAbyss & Apex, and other venues. He’s the founder of the Codex online writers’ group; author of Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures (Writers Digest Books, 2006); and a former radio commentator. He blogs about writing and the psychology of habits at LucReid.com, and his eBook The Writing Engine: A Practical Guide to Writing Motivation, is available for PDF download on his site (free) as well as for Kindle. His latest book, also available for the Kindle, is a young adult novel of backwoods sorcery in Vermont called Family Skulls.

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One Response to “When You Hate Your Novel”

  1. Steve Skojec says:

    Good post. A creative writing professor I had in college used to always say, “If you don’t like what you’ve written or find that you’re stuck, lower your expectations.”

    I struggled like crazy with that at first, but I find that as I grow older and have more and more written words under my belt that it’s just about the best advice anyone has ever given me.

    Not that I’ve finished a novel. Not yet. Maybe this will be the one… 😉