The All-Consuming “Monster”

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On Friday, Kate Colby wrote a thoughtful post on “writing through your fear” – including on a writer needing to face down worries about receiving poor reviews. I liked it so much I left her this comment:

Great post, Kate. So well put – especially on the fear of poor reviews issue.

I’m sure no author likes a 1 star Amazon review. After all, who wants to read someone saying you’ve written junk? It’s human to fear scathing criticism.

When I write, I always remind myself that EVERY author produces books that earn them some negative reactions. Even J.K. Rowling gets poor reviews. It is impossible to write and expect to achieve universal applause, and if that’s a writer’s yardstick for success I would suggest that person find another line of work. 🙂

And she liked that comment! It earned a positive review!😂



All kidding aside, it’s a remarkable coincidence Kate wrote that as I am almost finished with my single biggest novel-writing effort yet. To use the cliché, my “moment of truth” is fast approaching. Eventually someone other than myself has to read the entire book.

One of the issues rather unique to writing is while you might show pages and excerpts of your work in progress to others, seeing something plucked out of an unfinished novel is simply not going to demonstrate if the whole is indeed truly the sum of its parts. It’s impossible really to share with others a true picture of what you’ve been laboring at all this time. Indeed you the writer can’t even begin fully to assess if you’ve done what you’d set out to do until you’ve finished it.

[Photo by me, 2017.]
[Photo by me, 2017.]

Which is a reality that unsurprisingly extra-stresses you out as you approach completion. As you’d written it, you were beset with doubts and worries for months – perhaps years – as to how “good” it will be or can be. Now, as you conclude it, any confidence you may feel is tempered by a sense of disquiet that unavoidably gnaws away at you.

Only when there’s a final manuscript that others read can you begin to know if you have written something worthwhile – something that some at least will enjoy. I don’t expect or seek “universal praise.” As I wrote on Kate’s blog, no one gets that.

484b

Yet I also look at those eventually 500 or so pages set mostly between 1787-1795, and I often shudder when I think about it as a whole. Have I hit the mark? Or is this a mess?

As I posted a week or so ago:

It’s a bit of a literary “monster,” I know; but the historian in me has long dreamed of crafting a novel like this one: a late 18th century “extravaganza” based around actual history and true historical figures intermingled with a group of fictional characters, and romance, twists, turns, fun, adventure, poignancy, terror in some unexpected places, and perhaps something here and there to make someone cry.

It has aspects which I know will remind a returning reader of what I’d written previously. No writer can ever really fully escape from him or herself, of course. In other ways it’s also a gigantic experiment, and even something of a “gamble” for me: it includes so much of the sort of writing that I’ve never tried before.

As a result of all that, I’m aware I’m now perhaps awkward to live with at times. My nerves are fraying. I’m tired. I’m cranky.

If I’m proofreading it, which I am now most of the time when I’m reading (for even the poor placement or accidential omission of “her” or “the” among a gazillion other words can matter a great deal and grammar/spell check doesn’t always catch stuff like that), my mind is not entirely “here” in 2017 – even if I’m sitting three feet away.

“…….. ……. ……. ……. and that’s at 12:30.”

“Uh, huh, okay, yeh,” I answer acknowledging that I’d heard something was said to me – because I’m the only one here, she’s not on the phone, and she doesn’t talk to herself – while I’m sitting on the sofa and staring at my iPad Kindle app and simultaneously I’ve just seen something in the manuscript that absolutely MUST be fixed.

“Yeh? What did I just say? What’s happening at 12:30? You said ‘Yes’ and you weren’t even listening!”

“Sorry, I was reading…”

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But I wasn’t merely “reading,” I was focusing. In fact, I was working. Because this is it.

For if you as a writer produce a flop will you ever fully recover? Chances are, no, you won’t. You may even have to delete all of your social media accounts and change your appearance and even your name (which is why a “pen name” is not a bad thing to have).

So inescapable overall are conflicting emotions that I believe about sum up what it always feels like as you are winding down an effort into which you’ve thrown most everything but the kitchen sink (which, come to think of it, you may actually still throw in; there’s some time left). The “monster” has all-consumed you, mind and soul, for months, even years. But just because it has doesn’t mean you’ve actually written something “good” either.

Planned front and rear covers for the paperback version of Conventions: The Garden At Paris.
Planned front and rear covers for the paperback version of Conventions: The Garden At Paris.

You look through it again and again – adding, deleting, tinkering. When I browse essentially finished stretches of it, on one level I’m bursting with pride and can’t wait for others to read it. (“Son of a b-tch! Damn good! I wrote that!”) But, on another level, I’m also scared stiff. (“Oh, geez, how is this gonna be received? Relocating to a cave in southern Alaska may indeed be coming sooner than I had thought.”)

Time to open up Word once more and get at it again. I’m going to do my best to have a good day. You have a good one too, wherever you are. 🙂

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