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Fight the Crazy

A couple weeks ago someone (you know who you are) got me up against the wall, shoved a camera in my face, and demanded advice about writing a first draft. I would call this an advice mugging, except for the fact that anyone who's ever met me knows that I will seize on any possible opportunity to offer advice, as it's just about my favorite thing to do. And also for the fact that "someone" is a very lovely person who was soliciting advice for excellent purposes. Fortunately for those purposes, I'm not the only person she asked, because my advice was only half-good. Which means it was also half crappy.

Now, as anyone who's ever met me also knows, I pride myself on giving VERY GOOD advice. So you can imagine that this greatly distressed me. Or would have, if I had realized it at the time.

My advice, in a nutshell: Shitty Rough Draft. (In slightly less of a nutshell: Don't worry if what you're writing is terrible, don't worry if it doesn't make sense, don't worry if it's perfect, just write one page after another after another after another until you can write "The End." Then have a milkshake.)

It doesn't work for everyone, but I still believe this is generally pretty excellent advice...once you've reached the second half of your book. Writing the second half can seem like a horrific slog through an infinite number of illogical events, confusing plot twists, and uncooperative characters with no end in sight. While I'm sure there are those who find this an enchanting phase of the process, I call it the death march.

And a couple weeks ago, when that camera appeared in my face, I had just reached the end of it, having finished a first draft of a(n exciting, new, hopefully out-of-this-world brilliant) novel. So the one-miserable-day-at-a-time strategy was right at the forefront of my mind.

But here's the thing. I had forgotten that the death march is just one phase -- and, if you ask me, not nearly the trickiest one.

This month, I'm starting something new, and I'm now reminded of what I forget each and every time I get to the second half of the book, which is that writing the first half -- or at least the first few chapters -- sucks. And it sucks in a very specific way that requires some very specific advice. Since I so love offering advice, I've decided to do just that.

(I should note here that, yes, I'm aware this blog post would have been much more appropriate and helpful had I written it, say, LAST MONTH, when what seems like the entire world but me retreated into writing caves in order to work on their NaNoWriMo manuscripts at lightning speed. But surely I can't be the only one out there a little slow on the uptake. Someone else out there must be starting a book in December...right? This post is dedicated to you. Or, if you don't exist, to me. Because no one needs to hear this advice more than I do.)

The thing about starting a new book is that when you first start writing, it's like floating on a sea of chocolate mikshake, sweet and unexpected and full of wonderful possibility--a honeymoon period that for some people, I'm told, can last months. For me it lasts about five minutes. And then the Crazy starts. This is when I start feeling completely ridiculous and possibly even clinically insane for imagining that I could actually write a book. Especially a book that doesn't suck. The nasty little voice in my head points out that it's very likely this book is going to be terrible, that every page I write makes it more nonsensical, that even if it's a brilliant idea I'll probably screw it up, and that, let's be honest, it's probably in fact the most terrible and useless idea to be introduced into the world since Hammer Pants.

Actually, that requires more than just a link (especially for those of you who didn't have the privilege of experiencing them firsthand):


Now, I'll admit, there are also moments when any new book seems destined to be the greatest book I've ever written and possibly that anyone has ever written and instead of working on it I'd be perfectly justified lying on the couch fantasizing about massive advances and international tours.

There are even moments, many of them, when I just sit in front of the computer, typing away, thinking about nothing but what comes next.

But eventually, inevitably, the CRAZY returns. And I can't help feeling like it would be smarter to devote my energies toward an activity with a higher possibility of yielding success.

Like tetris.

I often tell people that when I was a teenager, I wanted to be a writer but could never come up with ideas. This is a lie. The truth--though I rarely remember it--is that I came up with lots of ideas, and I wrote the first couple pages of many a story (even a couple novels) before giving up in disgust, certain that the only thing dumber than the idea for the story was me, for thinking I could, or should, write it.

I've now finished and published more than ten novels. But every time I start a new one, I still hear that little voice in my head saying: You're nuts.

(I'll admit the existence of a little voice in my head makes that a strong possibility.)

The conversation basically goes like this:

ME: Woohoo! Three more pages. This is totally (someday, eventually) going to be a book!

CRAZY VOICE: Yeah. A CRAPTASTIC book. And not even a book, so much as a big pile of paper covered with ink. Don't forget to recycle. You know, when you come to your senses and throw it in the trash.

ME: I always think that, and it's never actually true.

CRAZY VOICE: Which statistically means there's a high likelihood that this time it is.

ME: You have a point.


ME: *weeps*

I firmly believe that finishing a novel is an act of brute force. But starting a novel is a leap of faith, and it's a leap you have to take every day, blindfolded, with your hands tied behind your back -- until you hit the point where the prospect of giving up is at least as unappealing as the thought of going forward and just getting the damn thing done. Which is what makes the whole thing so terrifying, exhilarating, and utterly annoying.

I also believe (or at least, dear lord, I hope) that I'm not the only one who has this problem. It's clear to me that I'm never going to be able to make the little voice shut up, nor am I going to be able to convince it that I'm neither a moron nor a lunatic. Which leaves me with only one option, and it's an option I highly recommend (hear comes the advice): IGNORE THE CRAZY VOICE.


And while you're doing so, it doesn't hurt to blast this at full volume at least once a day:


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 8th, 2010 02:13 am (UTC)
a little bit of crazy
Hey Robin,

I started to write a book at the beginning of this month (to try and distract myself for a month to NOT touch a crap-tastic first draft) and yes, I have the crazy insane voice too. Thanks for the advice, I have to go slap that voice around and get back to writing :P
Dec. 8th, 2010 02:16 pm (UTC)
Dec. 8th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
Hahah! This is *exactly* what I've been living for the last two months. Thanks for the pep talk!
Dec. 8th, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC)
Nice. Fuel for another day in the trenches!
Dec. 8th, 2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
I think I was ambushed by that same certain someone!

Great advice, and oh how I love [title of show] for so many reasons!
Dec. 9th, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
omg, how could I have forgotten DIE, VAMPIRE, DIE? I mean, I saw [title of show] at the last minute before it closed, and everything. . . I have such a short attention span. Thanks for the reminder - and also for the "I never have any ideas" point - because I did the exact same thing when I was a teen! I have boxes & boxes of story beginning which were really quite good, I see now, but not only did I think they might be stupid, I knew trying to make them less stupid would be tooooo haaaaaard . . . so I just went for the milkshake.

Live & learn.

For another helpful p.o.v., I offer the wit & wisdom of our very own Delia Sherman, in her "How to Survive a First Draft":
Emily Wood Mitchell
Dec. 9th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
Morte, vampyr, moooorrrrrrteeeeee!
I have always wanted to use that number in an SCBWI workshop. (I've just been afraid of how the blowjob bit would go over . . .) Lovely, lovely post.
Dec. 9th, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
I needed to hear that today. I so needed this!
Dec. 9th, 2010 08:51 pm (UTC)
this is so comforting. (comforting in that "oh thank god i'm not alone" kind of way). yes. as far as advice goes, this is pretty excellent! thanks for sharing it. :)
Carol Wilson Holaday
Dec. 9th, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
Trudging the road to happy destiny
Great post! I think you pegged how almost every author frequently feels.

I'm in the middle of a YA paranormal novel and I so relate to the struggle with negative self-talk. Half the time I think that I should just stop while I'm ahead and stick with editing and ghosting, and the other half of the time I am so in love with my characters and absolutely certain their story is awesome and must be told.

In the end I just tell myself to keep trudging along and moving forward with my writing no matter what I am thinking of it in the moment.

As they say on the movie Galaxy Quest, "Never give up. Never surrender!"
Dec. 10th, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
You have no idea how much I needed to read this exact post on this exact day. Thank you.
Dec. 10th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
I...think I may love you. No one has ever expressed this for me as well as you have here. Every time I start a new book it's like that. I keep expecting it to get better, but it never does, and I always wonder when I'm going to be good enough or professional enough or practised enough that it goes away. I'm so relieved that it's not just me. Thank you, thank you, a thousand thank yous.
Dec. 11th, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
I was going to express my undying love and devotion for you, but then the crazy voice told me that would be stupid and cliche and whatever but I told it to shut up and I'm posting this anyways.


IT is brilliance at its finest. Really really. It's really comforting to know that I'm not the only crazy person who subjects herself to a daily struggle against the inner crazy voice, and knowing that makes it easier somehow. I guess I've always known that I couldn't possibly be the only one, but it's nice to be reminded of that every once in a while.

So thanks. You are awesome.
Dec. 21st, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
Oh dear gods, you are awesome. Thank you for this. Untold vampire deaths will surely result.

And then, again, tomorrow.
Jan. 16th, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC)
provides access
Great post Jeff. Can't be more excited to see where you guys end up another 12 months from now.
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:49 am (UTC)
painter 11
Wish you best luck for the current and next year!There's always room for more thing.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
I'm the author of several novels for teens, including HACKING HARVARD, the CHASING YESTERDAY trilogy, and the SEVEN DEADLY SINS series.

My newest book, SKINNED, comes out in September 2008.

Also, I like cupcakes.