The Loneliness of the Long-distance Writer

So, I’m still deep in editing – I can’t say how deep, but my head keeps going under, and I’ve definitely lost sight of the shore. It’s getting to the point where I’m considering just giving up the struggle, slipping away into oblivion (actually, Skyrim is more apt).

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I’m sure the key to my next edit is in that cave down there…

I don’t know why it’s become so hard recently, so I thought I’d blog about it. I’ve gone through tough patches before, but momentum seems to dwindle more and more each day. I’ve been writing most of my life, but only with any serious intention for the past few years, since I discovered that self-publishing was an option. I suppose that’s because I thought there was some trick to being a published author that I probably didn’t have, so it was nice to know that option was there.

Now that I’ve met more authors, I know that “trick” doesn’t exist (unless you count luck), and the more I learn about writing and publishing, the more murky the waters ahead become. I’ve completed four books now, one very old one, two very new ones, and the one I keep going back to and am currently (supposed to be) working on. I think I’m getting better at it, but I don’t know how good I have to be (or even what that means – more next time).

I assume a lot of writers get to this point sometime (even frequently), and the more self-aware you are, the more often I assume this happens. How can you tell the doldrums from the something more serious? I’ve heard it said, “If you can, quit” – but the point I’ve reached is more like, “if the words aren’t flowing, take a break (and play Skyrim)”. I know a lot of people say you must write every day, but, to be honest, screw that right now.

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So why have I hit this wall? I’ve come up with a few possibilities here, but the main thrust is that editing is not fun. After the latest round of beta-reader feedback, I was at first energised to “fix things” and make my book better – good enough to finally do something with. In trying to address the feedback, however, I’ve gotten into this funk.

Part of it may be fatigue with the book – it’s been a WIP for over ten years now, on and off, which is probably too long. It’s changed quite a bit since the first finished draft, and even more since the very start – all for the better, I assure you. But some of those changes were painful to make, some came from the head and not the heart. Sometimes they even came from somebody else’s head, and that’s perhaps the problem.

I worry that it’s not my story any more, that I’ve fallen out of love with it, that I’ve killed too many of my darlings and scrapped some of the things that made me love writing it in the first place. Now, I don’t want you thinking I did everything my readers suggested, or “fixed” every “problem” they pointed out – far from it. I only addressed the ones I agreed with, and rejected others with reasons I hope are valid.

Few of the issues were even unexpected, or surprising – I’ve made some personal choices that I know aren’t going to work for everyone. I’ve spoken before about my tastes not always being populist, so I was prepared to have to make hard calls on some things. Some of the solutions I came up with are really exciting, too, and, as I said, I was energised by them at the start.

It’s the final few – the muddying of already-muddy waters, the changes pushing the plot beyond breaking, the culling of a few cherished idiosyncrasies – that have brought the process to a halt. These changes are now make-or-break. The fixes have to be better than the original first time; they don’t get the benefit of all the editing passes I gave to the incumbent sections. I find myself again lost down the rabbit hole, looking at the roots of the trees of the proverbial wood…

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You will know him by the trail of edits…

I just want to be done with it – again – so I can move on. Rather than finishing this latest raft of edits, maybe it’s time to put the book to rest. Sometimes it feels like it’s had so many patches and grafts that there’s hardly an original sentence in it. It has been refined and honed, yes, but at some point too much whittling thins wood to snapping point.

But I still love it, really. I can’t put it down. It’s the story I have to tell right now, for whatever reason. I have to do it justice, and I have to believe I can. Whether anyone else ever agrees it was worth it probably doesn’t matter – though it would be nice if one person did. Part of me is happy to keep working on it until I’m satisfied, however long that takes (and it could take a while).

On the other hand, I also have book envy. People I socialise with (on the internet, natch), have books out there in the world. Pretty good books, too, getting lovely comments from people who have read them (for the most part). They probably aren’t making much money, but they seem happy having birthed a book-baby or three. It seems like fun, and I want to join them.

But then I think, what if my books’s not good enough? What if I put it out there and nobody reads it, or if a bunch of people read it and hate it? Which is worse? I suppose I’ll never know until I try, and all I can do is make the book the best I can make it.

So, back to editing it is!

 

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5 thoughts on “The Loneliness of the Long-distance Writer

  1. Why write every day? Day dreaming, playing games, listening to music, watching films and documentaries is all research, all planning. You file it away for use later on.

    And you if you don’t feel like writing, don’t!

    I set goals and try to stick to them, but give myself rest time, play time, quiet-I-don’t-want-to-think-about time.

    Having said that, there are days when its tough. Really tough. On those days, do something more fun!

    And then go back to it…

    I wish there was a simple answer, but its great to see you’re not giving up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh James I can relate to this so much! I think on days when it is this hard, you do need to step away, and write something else. Even if it is blogging, or short stories, or anything else, that is fresh and new. Plot another novel for the future or play around with ideas. But I can tell this book means a lot to you. If it has been ten years in the making, then that tells me you are very passionate about it, and it’s not the story itself stopping you finishing, it’s probably more the fears you listed in your last paragraph. That people won’t like it and so on. I can only say I know how you feel. With The Boy With The Thorn In His Side (a ridiculous 800 page book, totally impossible to categorise or market, took over 20 years to finally get it out there) I have been there. That book was my baby, still is, as it is my favourite, and I worked on it so much over the years, changing narrative viewpoint, tense, etc. I did take breaks from it though. in fact I wrote the Mess of me very quickly during a break from it, and that was just the book I needed to freshen things up again. I’m having similar issues with The Tree Of rebels. Still half temped to shelve it, as it still doesn’t feel like the book I want it to be. I can only say what worked for me, write something else, anything else, keep writing, and don’t give up. It obviously needs to be told! perhaps because it is so big and important to you, that’s what makes it even harder to let go!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah yes – the funk!
    The funk gets me often and I take it as a sign that I need a rest. To me, the imagination (or whatever you call the creative juicer in our brains) is just like any muscle. When overworked, it gets fatigued.
    You can train it like a muscle, you can make it faster, maybe more accurate, but you can also wear it out. And like a muscle, I believe you can injure it.
    You also need to fuel it. I watch movies and read, watch documentaries and go for long drives with my music up really loud, all to refuel a worn out mind.
    As for editing the WIP, I had a manuscript on the go for 10 years or more. On the advice of a publisher, I shelved it and started something new. That story, specifically that manuscript, was my apprenticeship. No carpenter makes a great chair the first time and there are only so many times you can rework the same item. It’s after years of experience that you can make a chair that is serviceable. So, maybe take all the ideas and concepts from that WIP and re-imagine them. Re-write the story from another POV? Or maybe pop it on a shelf and tell it ‘thanks for the memories’ and move on to bigger, better stories!
    Good luck!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Every time I wonder if I should trunk this novel and move on to something new, I have trouble coming up with anything “bigger and better” that holds my attention. I have written two other drafts since, and both have some good points, but I don’t have as much desire to keep working on them…

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  4. Try Shawn Coyne’s “The Story Grid” if you need help in laying out your book. I really wish I’d found it before my first one was published. I don’t do everything he suggests, just the parts that make sense to me, especially the spreadsheet tool. Also, writing everyday, even if it is just one sentence that I know I will probably cut from the finished work, seems to be essential for me. First book took twenty years, second one took six months (and is a better book) after I learned that. He also talks a bit about literary versus genre (which I’ve always called wordsmiths versus storytellers), a subject you seem to be creeping up on in your post on what you consider good.

    Liked by 1 person

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