Writing Crisis Management

It doesn’t look like an action shot, but it is.  See the tiara falling?

One thing I have learned in my life is that you need good friends.  Maybe you only need one, or two, but you need them.  This is universally true for everyone.  Even if you aren’t a crazy writer like myself prone to sudden evil bouts of self annihilation, you will at some point require a bit of Crisis Mangagement.  This is not something you can do yourself.  It requires that a very firm hand (not your own) comes in from left field with a smack worthy of Joan Crawford that lands in your face and shocks some sense into you.

Or possibly a less violent version of Crisis Management would do the trick, but it must be firm, swift, and merciless enough to freeze your rising hysteria.

I have such a person who happens to be only slightly less mad than myself, a stalwart friend and fellow writer who, from her gorgeous blog full of pretty things, you’d never imagine could execute such a tactical blow to one’s head.  Angela talked to me at great length on Sunday during the worst of my writing and personal crisis.  The crisis was not as sudden as it may have appeared but its force was pretty breathtaking.  Angela spent at least an hour IMing me (what a modernist I really am) and I knew that all she said was sensible and to anyone less intent on implosion, must have made me feel instantly better.

It didn’t.  Because I had to feel bad just a little longer.  However, all of Angela’s words, and the warm care she offered in friendship did get through to me and when I was much calmer I was left with some homing questions to answer and some reassurance that I’m not suited to a life as a grave digger or steel mill worker.  Once I stopped crying (I suppose this was my annual crying jag) all her words did their work.

Even better than that she read my last version of chapter one and the newest one to compare them and offer her own opinion, which is very trustworthy.  It turns out I was right.  The newest chapter is a piece of crap compared to the last version.  (She did NOT use such words, those are mine)  The outcome is that she thought all I needed was to add a very FEW more pieces of information to set the whole story up than I have now and might possibly benefit from a prologue.  In fact, her verdict was very encouraging.

Conclusion: trust my gut or I’ll rewrite the entire book into one huge festival of pulp.  She gave me some practical suggestions on how to achieve the goal and I have taken notes.

She also asked important questions:

  • Why do I feel it’s so important to finish this book right now instead of letting it rest and starting a new project?  (Hold the phone!  I have to write more than one book?!)

This was the most important question of all.  I have been pushing and pushing myself very hard.  What’s the rush?  Other than my middle age being upon me and knowing that getting anything published (unless you do it yourself) is a torturously long process, I need to have one finished book to be actively submitting to agents and publishers.  I need to write the kick-ass query and since it probably won’t be kick-ass going out of the gate, I need to practice.  I want to practice with a real finished project.  While working on the next book I need to have one to be actively pushing.  I can’t bear to have a string of unfinished books with nothing to show for the unbelievable amount of hours I’ve put into them.  If someone says “You wrote a book?  Can I read it?” I want to be able to let them read a manuscript that is good enough for an editor.*  Once I have an editor ready manuscript to work at selling I will be fine having several unfinished projects to work on.

  • Most authors don’t get their first or second book published but more likely their third or fourth (point is, it takes a lot of practice for most authors to write something good enough to get printed) so am I pinning all my hopes on this one getting published?

I am NOT.  This book will get published.  It will get published because I believe it needs to be in print and available for people to read.  If no publisher will take it on I will print it myself later on and make it available in very small numbers directly through me.  I don’t expect this book to be snatched up and if it is published by a publisher I don’t expect it to make me a fortune.  That would obviously be very helpful, what with my house and health care situation, but I have very low expectations as far as that is concerned.  But I’ll tell you what- I do think it will get published and I do think if it gets a chance and any publicity at all, it will do reasonably well.

  • Am I going to freak out like this every single time I have to write a third draft and if so, can I please provide chocolate for the event?

Yes, I absolutely anticipate freaking out every single time and I will try to be more thoughtful next time and provide chocolate.  I tried to be one of them new-fangled mellow authors who aren’t hair pulling mental cases with a strong taste for liquor, but I am, it turns out, quite traditional.  (Though beer is my poison of choice, not something more awesome like whiskey or gin)  Apparently I have a writing breakdown that makes me want to engage in very bad behavior like punching windows out with my bare hands or throwing my laptop from the roof about every sixth chapter.

My advice to you, if you are a writer in the classic style, is to have a writing friend with infinite patience and the calm good sense to talk you out of smashing your laptop with that hammer you keep swinging around.

*I don’t propose to get my manuscript to what I would call a “perfect” place because the second and editor gets their hands on it they will change things and force a clean up of the most minute details, there is no point in agonizing to that degree before it ever gets in the hands of an editor.

5 comments

  1. Lucy says:

    I think that it is also important to remember that you wouldn’t particularly WANT to be a formula writer either (in addition to a gravedigger, etc.). Writing a book a year gets a lot easier (I presume) if you just have to switch some details/events/names around. What the world wants from YOU, and what you deserve to give it, is something new. Thank you for the effort.

  2. ” Once I have an editor ready manuscript to work at selling I will be fine having several unfinished projects to work on.”

    The challenge I see is that seems to be your “heart” project. Being so emotionally involved with a project has an interesting set of both positive and negatives for that reason alone. The plus side is you are extremely driven and passionate about it and that will help to push you through when times get tough, as long as you have good outside support. The minus of course is that every doubtful,self sabotaging, etc personality trait that you have, and we all have them some just hide it better than others, is going to get it’s licks in before this is complete.

    To me that means that sometimes you are going to have to allow yourself to walk away for a bit and give yourself time to breath, regroup, think deeply about the internal processes that are in play to find a way to move forward. If you are making something worse by pushing at it sometimes you have to look at “what benefits?” from that happening.

    Through force of necessity you are a strong, self aware woman and I have no doubt that you can do this.

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  3. angelina says:

    Lucy- you’re right. While it isn’t my ambition to write a pulitzer or nobel winning book, I don’t want to write formulaic books. I expect my writing to be high quality and enjoyable and though there really aren’t any original stories in the world, I hope to always present an original take on things. This takes time. And work. I know that as a writer I’m not alone in these freak out periods. A book that has been influential in my approach to writing novels is Elizabeth George’s book “Write Away” and in it she shares exerpts from her private notes in which she pretty much thinks she’s a horrible useless hack of a writer and doubts everything she’s done. This is from a best selling author of MANY books! I forget this is normal too- I should go back and read her some more.

    Belinda- I know this will seem surprising, but this isn’t my most personal book project. The first one I wrote and didn’t quite finish “Jane Doe” was my heart project. “Jane Doe” is terribly personal and wasted me to shreds to write – though it also began an important healing project. When I was near the end of the exhaustive and emotionally scouring writing of Jane Doe I took a break and asked myself if I wanted to write really heavy emotional books that make people need to take valium for a week afterwards to recover from (the kind of books that get on the Oprah list) or do I want to write solid, well written, but FUN books that have some suspense and some romance and some substance but that don’t cost a reader to spill their own blood- my answer was that I wanted to write enjoyable books.

    But I think for any book to be well written the author must love their characters and their story. I do. I really love Cricket and I love Grey and Shockey and this possible future, but I wouldn’t call it my heart project. That is still Jane Doe which I intend to also finish. I invest a lot of myself into absolutely everything I do, I can’t help it.

    The reason this is proving so hard right now is because it’s kind of intense to get this far, to take a year and a half to write a book, be only on the third draft and suddenly think maybe that’s it. Maybe I can’t do better even though I know the draft isn’t good enough yet.

    You are absolutely right about needing to be able to take breaks. I did that. I have done very little writing on it for 3 months. In the mean time I have gotten gardening done! Which is great. But I’m restless to get the third draft done. I have the energy for it but it’s overwhelming. Angela has given me some great advice and I feel loads better now that I’ve had her input. My readers (Lucy, Emma, and Sharon) have all shown me what areas need the most work on but I needed someone to help me figure out how to DO that.

    As you pointed out, I can be very self destructive and down on myself, this is a sore spot. For sure. Self doubt is my worst enemy, my Achilles heel. It rears its ugly head no matter what I’m doing. A sign that I’ve come a long way is that I only freaked out for real for one day instead of tossing it all in for weeks of feeling like total unworthy crap.

    Ha! Just wait til I start working on Jane Doe again!! It will be like working inside a nuclear reactor compared to this. That’s why I’ve taken a year and a half off of working on it.

  4. Fala says:

    Hi Angelina! This is Renee, Angela’s friend (from work!). I’m really enjoying reading your blog, especially your posts about writing. Oh, how I resonate with a lot of what you’re talking about! Something in your comments here really stood out to me:

    “The reason this is proving so hard right now is because it’s kind of intense to get this far, to take a year and a half to write a book, be only on the third draft and suddenly think maybe that’s it. Maybe I can’t do better even though I know the draft isn’t good enough yet.”

    I’ve been struggling with the same thing — time and timelines, and this idea that I need TO GET THIS THING DONE NOW. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been working on my book for going on 2.5 years now, and I’m only about halfway through the third draft. I crapped out on it for a goodly three or four months and am only now getting back into a decent rhythm. And rhythm is good, and steady work is good, but I’ve come to the conclusion very recently that I need to get over the idea of a timeline. And you know what? It’s helped my anxiety. A lot.

    Something else that’s helped: Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my very favorite writers (and I burst into tears when I met her, because I’m cool like that) and I told her that I’d stopped writing for over a decade and was disappointed in myself for not finishing a book before I’d turned 40. Yeah, well, you know what? She didn’t publish her first book until she was 50, and it took her something like 4 years to write it. A slim little kid’s book, no less! And she won the Newberry prize for it.

    Anyway, I know this is just one of those throw-away anecdotes, but it really is so helpful for me to remember what that author said to me, and to remember that sometimes, it’s a really, really long process, and not every writer can crank out book after book. Maybe your book will take a couple of years to finish, three years, or more. And if it does, that’s okay, as long as you’re happy with it when you’re done.

    At least, that’s what I tell myself. Over and over. 😉

  5. angelina says:

    Hi Renee!! I’m so happy to hear you chime in here! That’s funny you should mention crapping out for several months on the third draft because that’s EXACTLY what I did only my trouble was not being able to start it and then when I did I rewrote the whole first chapter in a misguided attempt to fix everything that was wrong with the rest of the book. Angela gave me some very good writerly counseling on that and set me straight. I finally am in a rhythm again and it feels great.

    That wall I hit was super harsh but the other thing that made me feel loads better about having gone down a black hole about the book was rereading Anne Lamott’s book “Bird by Bird” in which she tells a story about writing and rewriting and rewriting one of her books that her editor told her to scrap early on but which she refused to scrap and it ended up being one of her best selling books- the story is great- she talks about having all this horrible stuff go through her head about how her writing career was over- she may as well kill herself- and proceeds to get very very drunk. It made me realize that my “ridiculous” dramatic writing breakdowns are part of a process that a lot of writers go through and it’s okay. And later on it’s all pretty funny.

    Another thing I have come to learn through this book writing process is how much I need, as a writer, the camaraderie of other writers like you and Angela and my good friend Emma. I loved talking to you that day and hearing all about your own process and the book you’ve been working on- While all of us may have different approaches to writing books and wildly different projects we’re working on- there is so much to learn from other writers and so much support to share!

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