A Brief Visit to the Pit of Despair

Did I mention that Captain Marvel is fantastic? You should go see it at least twice; I liked it even better the second time.


I got the first set of beta comments on Fairy Hills earlier this week. Being a mature and experienced writer, I scanned them, nodded, wrote an appreciative note to my reader, and then went in the bathroom and cried. When I was younger, I would have done it the other way around, see.

The comments are perceptive, and do an excellent job of pointing out every place where that book is a mess. This is a perfectly normal and necessary part of the writing process. At the same time, being told by someone whose opinions you respect that your best bet is the equivalent of gutting this project down to the studs is disheartening, and the perfectly normal reaction is to plunge into gloom and vow to never touch a keyboard again, perhaps go live off-grid in Wyoming and raise alpacas.

2018-10-06 12.23.49
Advantages over writing: very soft, will judge you but not out loud.*

There are a number of hard things about writing. One of them is navigating the line between writing for your own enjoyment, and writing with an eye toward other people reading it someday, and maybe even giving you money. If you write purely toward the second goal, you’ll be miserable (Samuel Johnson’s famous snark aside), not to mention that there are far more efficient ways to make money doing things you don’t enjoy. If you write purely toward the first goal, though, you won’t have any readers.


A further wrinkle comes from the fact that it takes so goddamn long to write a book at all. At least in the early phases of a project, you have little choice but to write for your own enjoyment, because no one else is going to read it for a long while, let alone pay you. But at some point you will have to navigate the hilly transition between “I wrote this for me, and it’s perfect,” and “I want to give this to someone else, and it could use some work.”

You don’t have to do that, of course. You can keep it for yourself and love it just the way it is. Only you know if the rewards of getting over those hills are worth your effort (since you are not actually guaranteed any tangible rewards at all, I find it’s best to stay focused on the Accomplished a Difficult Thing merit badge).

Now what? A new draft of Fairy Hills is going to be a major undertaking; the issues are not “fix this scene” or “fix this bit of dialog,” but “fix this character” and “fix this plot arc.” Meanwhile, I’m 35k words into a new book, don’t particularly want to stop, and dropping it would run counter to my “finish stuff for godssakes” goal. (Which means navigating back into “writing for myself” territory for a while! This business can get confusing.) If I can keep up the current pace, I’ll finish this draft some time in May. By then I will have a plan for Hills. I can spend the summer on that; after eight years, a few more months of work won’t kill me.

The nice thing about writing as opposed to, say, masonry, is that any problem you created with words can be fixed with different words.

So… back to work, I guess.

* Photo is mine, from the 2018 Sandwich Fair. I believe this beauty is named Tupelo Honey.

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