Mine ain heid in yon tree!
I’ve had my head buried in Scots all day in an effort to add some flavor to my Scottish characters in Cricket and Grey. Meaning to add just a touch of it to add a bit of the sound of the real thing without meaning to muck everything up with constant dialect which would be tedious to read and to write. It seemed a good idea. My plan was to spend all day polishing up the complete rewrite of chapter one. Which, for the record, has been completely rewritten a total of five times now. More than any other chapter or part of the book. The depressing thing about that is that it sucks more now than it has any of the other times I wrote it.
This entire third draft effort has been beyond laborious, tedious, impossible, and made me believe that I have now come to the very edge of my writing abilities. Here it is. I believe that I am a second draft quality writer. I can’t get past it. Every effort is stilted and repulsive. Smoothing? Polishing? Not capable. My mother, in an effort to help me out agreed that I may have just hit the limit of my skills and talent and said “after all, it’s not like you have a degree in writing.” She pointed out the snug suggestion that this is an opportunity to stretch myself. As if I haven’t been stretching myself just to write the first and second damn draft. No, I don’t have a degree in writing. I know that people who do have such degrees are predisposed to believe that it gives them a real edge. Who am I to say? I’m an uneducated eejit.
Everything is making me feel worse. I was really hungry and just ate a ton of pizza. I am already obese. I hurt myself more when I’m feeling low because I am already a repulsive being physically and no amount of effort I put into changing that will help. I feel disgusting. So the natural thing to do is to ensure that I become even more disgusting. My mom commented about me “inhaling” my pizza and this, naturally, determined that I would eat the maximum amount because obviously I am already a pig. I have a breathtakingly self destructive nature.
This is huge though. Really huge. Not my obesity. Not my physical repulsiveness (I can’t bear to even look at my own face in the mirror any more), no, it’s really huge have finished the second draft three months ago and still not be further than one single chapter rewrite and for that rewrite to be worse than the version before it. I have expended an insane amount of time and energy into this project with the firm belief that I am capable of doing this and making it really good. However, three months for 5,00o shitty words is unacceptable. People saying to “sit back” and “wait a while” might think that this project is some kind of personal indulgence. It’s not. This is me trying to finally make my damn career as a novelist take off after 31 years of practice, observation, practice, voracious devouring of literature of all kinds and all genres, creative writing classes, submissions of work to contests, a hundred million words penned by hand and by typewriter, self publishing poems, reading books about writing, going to see and hear authors speak, more and more endless practicing and constantly working to make my writing better. This is me, mid-life, not there yet. This is me with the hours slipping away from my life and suddenly everything that comes out of my head is pure shit.
We all have our place in life, in our career, in relationships, with ambitions and rank. At what point does a B-movie director admit that he/she is B-movie material? At what point does an author accept that their fiction is nothing worthier than pulp? Is it so bad? Can it possibly be worse to accept a lowly rank in one’s field than it is to continually believe yourself to be worth more when everyone else sees that you have hit your level, and consequently fail to achieve your goals over and over?
The too-long sentences, the information withheld too long and the other information given too soon, the questions unanswered, the scene’s not well set up, the confusions and awkward shifts in place and time, all of this can be polished by an excellent writer. I am incapable of fixing these things. When I plunge my hand in it becomes worse and worse. I now have fragments of change attempted all over the place that have simply muddied and messed up what already needed polishing.
I’ve read quite a few mediocre books in my time. I’ve read an astonishing number of books from famous authors that I thought were weakly written, disappointing, and not quite up to my level of expectation of enjoyment and intelligent writing. I have also read authors who have won Nobel prizes who have a very special way of making the most convoluted insensibly long sentences the length of paragraphs that once you get to the end of you must read the beginning to remember where it all started. Faulkner. Whom I despise even more than Steinbeck, but not less than Flaubert. Wait, no, I do hate Faulkner most of all. His work is like a great masterbation of words for which my understanding and interest as a reader isn’t really necessary to the author.
Obviously many people disagree with me on that. I’ve had arguments about Faulkner. And about Steinbeck. Though, for the record, I hate Steinbeck because his books make me want to kill myself though his writing is excellent; I hate Faulkner because his writing is tortured and unintelligible and lousy.
But me? I already know I’m not in the same league as Steinbeck, and by that I mean to say that I know I never will be in his league, but I’d like to believe that I’m better than a hack. I’d like to believe, and indeed, I used to believe, that I am better than mediocre. What on earth could have led me to believe such a thing besides having my head up my ass and my ego on backwards?
If you have any idea how many hours I’ve laid into this project, you would have to ask yourself how I managed to only get this far having put in so much time. The thing that stuck with me after reading those articles about what authors really make is that in order to make a living many authors are writing two books a year. How many drafts are they writing? How long are these books? What quality? Nora Roberts writes several books a year, she’s not only been on the best selling list so many times I’m sure it’s very boring to her at this point, but how many drafts is she writing? How many hours a day? Obviously she’s no Steinbeck either, but where on the scale does her work land? She’s prolific. I have put in a lot of hours on my book. I have put in an average of 25 hours a week on my book for over a year. Why isn’t it better than it is? I have two part time jobs: the one that pays, and writing the book. I know Nora Roberts puts in at least 8 hours a day on writing (I read this about her) so obviously she’s putting in full time. Because she’s a successful full time author. But even so, she’s putting out multiple books EVERY SINGLE YEAR. So how much actual time does she put into each one in terms of hours?
Maybe I am not capable of making my story better than it is right now. I know I’ve read published books much crappier than my unfinished on is. Should I stop now? Should I just trust that all the imperfections and things that a better writer than I am could have fixed are just how my work will be and get myself published as one of the crappier rougher books? What do I do? Should I scrap it altogether? Walk away. Is this a message to me that I really really really aren’t meant to succeed at anything in my life? Because, you know, I have yet to be a real success at anything. There always comes this point where I can’t get any further. Like back when I actually thought I was good enough to become a professional blog writer. I worked really hard at so mlly any angles. There was also the retail business which didn’t fail so much as it drained the light from my soul and the money from my house and if I wanted to sign over my sanity to the devil I might have seen that become a success- but really, even saying that is ridiculous because I basically failed to make a go of it. I was told absolutely that I would never become a designer at the job where I was a design assistant. I did fairly well for not having done the one thing I really wanted to do- become a designer. I also failed at being a costumer and also managed somehow to believe I was a business partner of that concern but it wasn’t until I quit and I was told I had to file as an independent contractor, but without any of the deductions that might have accompanied a partner- I knew that I had just been an employee with delusions and my ex-employer has since gone on to be very successful. I’ve paid a lot for all of my failures. Those are just the professional failures.
That’s not me feeling sorry for myself, I mean I obviously am feeling very sorry for myself at this moment (and I assure you it won’t last for too long), but that is a list of facts. You can put a good spin on all of those professional experiences and explain how they helped me grow, how they were all opportunities to become better and wiser and smarter and more successful. But the fact is that I keep racking up those opportunities and think I’m learning and growing and becoming stronger and smarter and the fact is, I never reach a single goal I set for myself. Where is the “I worked my ass off and look how far I’ve come!” or “All those hours I put in and finally I’m where I wanted to be!”. Those aren’t moments I’ve had.
To get this far with the book and to not be capable of taking a step further? That is the worst failure I’ve ever experienced.
I am fully demoralized.
People say to wait. Give it time. Take a break. But what for? Why? What will that accomplish if I have reached the limit of my writing skills and talent?