Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dark Tea Time of the Soul (The Writer's Edition)

I've been working on the same screwed up 30% of tDW for nearly two years now, and I've reached the point where I've decided the entire book is crap and needs to be burnt down to ashes and buried in a big dark hole in the ground in Siberia. The problem with only working on the crappy parts of your book for so long is that you decide the rest of the book must be crappy, too.

Which, of course, it's not. Or I sure as hell wouldn't be going through this process. There are some good things. And in the 30%, there are even some salvageable things, though I'm having a hard time deciding what those are.

I'm in the middle of one of those Dark Writing Tea Times of the Soul, where I go out and read the blogs of people I know and think, "Why the fuck am I so behind?"

Granted, anybody reading Elizabeth's Bear's blog is going to think, "Why the fuck am I so behind?"

A lot of this running-faster-I'm-so-totally-in-a-race problem is that I tend to latch onto people outside my age group. You know, people like Bear who are ten years older than me.

Which is silly. If I want to run a proper race (which isn't recommended, but egads, I'm always fucking doing it), then I should probably judge my progress in relation to the people on this list (OK, let's pretend Tim Pratt and Catherynne Valente aren't on that list, OK?).

To be honest, the only person any of us are competing against is ourselves; the fact that so-and-so has a three book deal and I don't doesn't screw *me* out of a three book deal, and increasingly, I'm very happy that so-and-so got a three book deal, cause I either know them or am aquainted with them in some way (six degrees of separation and all that).

I think a lot of this sudden jumping around like the white rabbit is that I've actually been going to cons and meeting/speaking with other SF/F writers or at least seeing them on panels and bumping into them in the bathroom. And at some point you start to wonder if maybe you're just an imposter, and shouldn't be there at all. SF/F, in particular, is one big incestuous social club (I don't neccessarily mean that in a bad way), and it doesn't take long for everybody to know everybody else, or at least to have heard of them. I mean, you know, why aren't I comparing myself to, say, Michael Cunningham? He's 54 and has only written 6 books. Sure, a couple of those books are near perfect, but shit, I can write 6 books by the time I'm 54!

The answer, of course, is that I don't feel he's in my peergroup, and I don't know him. I'm also not likely to ever run into him at a con (ha, wouldn't *that* be a trip). Because if we're talking sheer literary greatness and movies and at least a little money, then hey, I should aspire to be Tom Wolfe. But I'm not running next to Tom Wolfe. I don't read his blog. I don't sit with him at lunch.

And it can be a bitch, feeling like you're clawing away at something for so long, and very little seems to be coming of it, whereas other people who've been clawing at stuff for a long time are making something of it.

The really crazy part about my sudden low mood regarding writing is that this has been one of the best years for me as far as writing goes. I sold two short stories this year (the max I've sold in a year, thus far, is three), and I've got some interest in tDW, and God's War will indeed be finished someday. I have a lot of projects. It's not like I'm stagnating.

But damn, it sure feels like it.

The thing with writing, with any art, any craft, is that it takes a lot of time to get good at it. A lot of time. And a lot of practice. And a lot of trial and error (read: "failure"), and after a while you start to wonder if you're just beating your head against the wall merely to hear the satisfying thump.

There haven't been a lot of things in the last year or so that I've had any success with. The fact that I somehow managed to sell anything at all and get a novel out the door says something about where my priorities are, and probably where some of my talent is. Cause if I really sucked goats at this, I have no idea how I'd have had anything to talk about as far as writing goes, this year. God knows it was hard enough to function on my ten hours of sleep a night and type up dialogue with a sugar headache. But I did it.

And you know, one of the biggest lessons I'm pulling out of this whole chronic illness thing is knowing that I could function as long as I did, as sick as I was. It's not something I'd recommend, obviously, but looking back on it, at what I did manage this year while my pancreas slowly died on me, I'm wondering how much better things can be once I get my shit back together.

Maybe the Dark Tea Time has to do with the fact that I know I'm about as better as I'm going to get, and it's time to test that theory. And if it turns out I'm still a staggering failure at nearly everything, then it's not just cause I was sick, it's cause I'm just incompetent.

I don't believe that'll be the end result, but I think that's some of the fear behind my inability, the last couple of days, to start getting my life back. Granted, I've had a lot of emotional upset to deal with, and that takes me down for the count, and the heat's been seriously staggering, but the emotional pain will ease, and the heat will dissipate, and that will leave me with... me. And no more excuses.

4 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Elizabeth said...


Have you thought about working on something else for a while? Just put this down and walk away, and write a different book, and come back in a year or two?

That works *really well* for me. (It might not for other people, but I find that finishing a draft and doing a revision and then just going off and writing a different book helps me both grow into a new project, and get some distance from the old one.)

If it's any consolation, when I was 25, I hadn't finished a single book. In fact, I didn't write a finished novel until I was 30.

And it's ass.


Posted by ebear

Kameron Hurley said...

I've got an agent interested in this one who requested rewrites, which is why I'm back at it again.

And to be honest, I've revised the hell out of the damn thing so many times that I just want to get it out to her again in the fall and go back to concentrating on the other book I'm writing, which has got 50 pages to go until I finally have a draft (I'm sort of bouncing back and forth between them, which is why both of them are probably taking so long).

I do like having several things going at once so I can retreat to one when I tire of another, but damn, I'd like to get this book back out again.

And yea, I think I did read somewhere that you really got into the swing of things at 30, but damn, woman, look at what you did in fives years!

Crap. Maybe it's just a matter of reaching critical mass....

Elizabeth said...

Ee. requested rewrites.

Mazel Tov!

I had a similar experience with B&I--I did so many rewrites of that book I no longer even know what's in it any more.

I suspect you will do fine, however

Tim Pratt said...

I'm currently trying to hack some usable chunks out of an abandoned manuscript, and it's killing me. I want to keep the plot, and most of the characters, and even some of the scenes, but there's a lot of crap in there, and it's depressing me. I might be better starting over with a page-one rewrite, but I'm trying to be efficient here, and there *are* little nuggets of gold strewn throughout. Still, this is one of the hard parts, and I don't much like it. I can relate to looking at words you wrote and cringing, believe me.

Good luck finishing the revisions! 

Posted by Tim Pratt