Monday, June 6, 2011

Write the Book that Sucks

"But I’d finally reached a point where the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than the one of writing a book that sucked."
                                                                        Sugar, from the Dear Sugar column

Revision is hard.

But you already knew that. I've revised three books before this one, and for some reason I keep thinking it's going to get easier. "Oh yeah, I'll just tighten up some scenes and do a copy edit and BOOM! Masterpiece."

Rewriting is somehow worse. Maybe it's just the perfectionist in me. I really like for things to be perfect. Like, almost to the point where it's a psychological disorder. If I really allowed myself to wait until "everything is perfect" I would never start anything.

Some people plan novels as a way of preparation, only it takes so long it becomes procrastination. For me, it's more like I want to "fix" the stuff I did "wrong" with the last novel so I don't make the same mistake again.

That's not the right way of looking at writing, I know. There is no right and wrong, there is no mistakes. It's all just a process of learning what works for you and for the book you're writing right now. The status quo changes with each book you write. Letting each book require it's own demands and needs will produce a better book overall, than trying to force some sort of uniform system on every single book you write.

You can image then, what the perfectionist part of my brain keeps telling me while I go through the rewrite. "You messed up so badly last time you're writing the book over. Don't mess up this time OR ELSE". Or, "Even your best isn't going to be good enough. You need to re-plot this book from scratch with an intricate diagram showing each plot and character arc. Get to work!" *cracks the whip*

Obviously this isn't a great place to work from. I've had to do mental exercises to keep thoughts like that from entering my head. I didn't mess up. It's just part of the process. My book is not doomed. I am making it better, and I can SEE the difference.

And my perfectionism has it's place. It makes sure I don't send things out that aren't my best. (with the possible exception of my blog. I proofread each post a few times, but this blog is in part a way to help me put words out there and Get Stuff Done without taking weeks to proof read every single post. Even though when I find typos, it kills me inside.)

Earlier last week though, my mental defenses crumbled and I felt horrible. My book was awful. I am going to rewrite the pants off this book, and then send it out to beta readers, and then revise it again before I query agents. And even though I feel like this is the best book I've ever written, that the characters and plot will just knock your socks off, I've felt that way before. Each book that I've finished felt like the best book ever. And it was for me at the time.

Looking back now, not so much. My first novel sucked, as most first novels do. The second one wasn't much better. I could see myself improving with each try, but that knowledge didn't help me now, looking at my current book. There was stuff wrong with it, stuff I just couldn't see yet because I haven't reached that level of writing yet.

Cheery thoughts to have in your head while rewriting, let me tell you.

But after combination of helpful friends giving me words of encouragement, and reading the online advice column "Dear Sugar" and I am feeling ready to tackle the world again. One of "Dear Sugar"'s articles really resonated with me. There's a lot of good stuff in there, but the line that stuck with me the most was the one I quoted above.

I realized that I had to write this book. I love it too much. It's too awesome and interesting. I have definitely come to the place where NOT writing this book is worse than writing a book that sucked. 

This also reminds me of a great video by Maureen Johnson about allowing yourself to suck. Go forth now, and allow yourself to write. Dare to write no matter what, even if it sucks.


  1. If I never wrote a book that sucked, I'd never finish anything.

  2. And the two lemons on the front of that YouTube video make me want to watch this video:

    When life gives you lemons

  3. Okay, I just thought you should know, I just spent the last hour looking up Maureen on You Tube. And that video is a whole mountain of awesome where it snows awesome, even in the middle of summer.

  4. Joe: Yes, that's kind of my point to myself. If I didn't ever write books that sucked, I wouldn't get anything done at all.

    Rena: I know! This post took an extra hour to write, because I got sucked into Maureen's vlogs.