Monday, April 30, 2007

The Harder They Come: Writing Woes

Those who follow this blog know that I've been slacking on entries lately, because I wrote two books back-to-back January-April.

The second book, (FUZZY NAVEL, Jack Daniels #5) kicked my ass. I've never agonized over a book like this before. I fretted about plot. I worried about construction. I second-guessed tone. And while I was never blocked, my daily output was much slower than average--about half of what I can usually do.

Part of the problem had to do with writing one book right after another book, without any brain break in between. It was harder than I thought. My hat is off to writers who can write THE END and then immediately start on the next book. I'm not sure I'd attempt it again.

Part of the problem also had to do with the structure of FUZZY--it takes place in real-time, over an eight hour period. There are two POVs in first-person present tense, and six other POVs in third-person present. The book is pretty much all action; there's a psycho in Jack's house, waiting for her to come home, and Jack is followed home by three snipers--so she can't stay in the house, and can't leave the house.

Part of the problem was length. This book is my shortest yet, and I thought I'd be told to pad it out and bump up the word count.

But the biggest part of the problem was believability. I kept questioning if it was realistic to have my characters under fire for so long but still able to make jokes. The book is action-packed, but it's also funny, and I was scared this would take the reader out of the story.

So, for the very first time in my writing life (FUZZY NAVEL is my 15th novel, counting those that never sold) I doubted my voice. I doubted it to the point where I was convinced the book wasn't working. I'd made a big mistake. I was going to have to start over from scratch, and jump through hoops to satisfy my agent and editor.

Which meant I spent more of my time second-guessing than writing. Which meant the book took twice as long to write, even though there was less actual writing and more staring at my last sentence and wondering if I should change it.

The ending was tough. Keeping in sync with the experimental tone of the rest of the book, I also wanted to have an experimental ending. Even though I knew what I wanted, I kept worrying about it.

I hemmed and hawed until I finally sequestered myself in a hotel for four days and finished the bastard. Then it went, fingers crossed, to my beta readers.

To my pleasant surprise, they all really liked it. Since my beta readers are comprised of several published thriller authors, this made me feel pretty good.

What made me feel even better was my agent and editor saying they loved the book. In fact, the editorial suggestions they each made took less than two hours total to do.

So now I'm left to puzzle over my doubt. Did doubt make me concentrate harder and turn in a better book? Could doubt indeed be a good thing?

My conclusion: Hell no.

Doubt is never a good thing. If I hadn't doubted myself, I still would have written the same book, only faster. Doubt didn't force me to make changes, or take the story in new directions. All it did was postpone me from doing what I should have done in the first place; write the story I wanted to write.

So are you paralyzed with fear that your latest opus sucks? Are you convinced you're a phony and a fraud and can't write for shit?

Repeat after me:

1. When in doubt, keep writing anyway.

2. Tell your internal editor to shut up until you reach the end.

3. You're often a poor judge of your own work. Let your readers tell you if you succeeded.

Writing should be fun. That's why we became writers, right? It isn't for the money, fame, or glory. It's because we love telling stories.

Don't let worry get in the way of that love.