Fight the Crazy
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.
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.
CRAZY VOICE: I know.
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: