That’s what I imagine my manuscript saying to me. Of course, as soon as I imagine that lyric (from Twin Atlantic’s “Edit Me”), I imagine it spoken by Sam McTrusty in a Scottish accent and then I can’t remember what I was going to do in the first place.
Oh, hi Sam. What are you doing here? *giggles girlishly*
AHEM. Now that I’ve got your attention…
It’s been two weeks since I last worked on my official third draft. (I say “official” because I’ve actually saved it under the clever title “Fireworks – third draft”, but really, I’ve made multiple changes between this newish document and my previous document, aptly titled “Fireworks – second draft”.) But now it’s time to make the BIG changes and I’m a little scared. It’s like my manuscript (I sound pretentious when I say ‘manuscript’, don’t I? Oh well) is the giant spider I killed the other day – the rational part of me is saying “JUST DO IT, STOP THINKING AND SMASH IT” and the irrational part of me just wants to climb into bed, hide under the covers, and cry myself to sleep (it was a big spider and it was late. I don’t like spiders when I’m fully awake, never mind when I’m sleepy).
I’ve been reading a lot of author-y blogs lately, lots of interviews and FAQs and whatnot with successful (i.e. published) authors. And they all seem to say the same thing when asked for advice: Keep writing. Read a lot. Let go of your self-doubt.
The “keep writing” adage is fairly obvious. How else are you supposed to get better if you don’t practice? “Read a lot” makes sense. But what they don’t always tell you (and what I’ve learned) is DON’T READ BOOKS THAT ARE SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU’RE WRITING. Because then you fall into the trap of a) regurgitating scenes from their books into your own (because you’re like “Hey, I just came up with a fantastic idea! Why didn’t anyone ever write about this before?! Oh wait…”) and b) you compare yourself to them. And let me tell you, it’s not fun to read a book you previously enjoyed, dissect every part of it, and then come to the conclusion that while you feel like you could have done a better job, that in your version the protagonist would have been much stronger and less co-dependent, the fact remains that this author is highly successful and her writing style is ten million times better (and more polished) than yours.
That, my friends, is where self-doubt comes in. So many authors say “let go of it, the self-doubt will cripple you and then you won’t be able to accomplish X, Y, and Z.” And for a while, my response was, “That’s easy for YOU to say. You’ve already published a book! Even if you never publish another book, even if your first book only sold two copies, you’re still a published author.” What I never realized was that even published authors struggle with that same self-doubt.
I recently read two fantastic posts about the writing/editing process – one by Libba Bray and another by Chuck Wendig . Libba Bray is one of my favourite authors (if you read a lot of young adult fiction and haven’t read A Great And Terrible Beauty or, more recently, The Diviners, PLEASE DO SO IMMEDIATELY) and that one time I met her last fall, I fan-girled everywhere. And while I haven’t actually ready anything by Chuck Wendig, I stumbled across his blog a few months ago – it is both hilarious and educational (I think all writers (aspiring or published) need to visit it at some point).
Both of their posts, though written in different yet humourous ways, speak directly to my current mindset. They both mention how hard it is to actually have everything make sense not only in your head but on the page, how time-consuming it can be to write the story you want/need to tell, how disappointing it can be when you write something you think is great only to have someone tell you “Eh, you can do better than that”. And both of them point out that the first draft is NEVER perfect and if you don’t learn that early, it’s going to make your writing career very very difficult. Take it from me – I’ve accepted that my first draft sucks like a vacuum and I can only hope it gets better. It can’t get worse, right? (Ask me again in a week and see if I jinxed myself. I imagine my reaction will be somewhere along the lines of “I TOOK OUT ONE SENTENCE AND NOW THE ENTIRE PLOT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. *accidentally deletes entire document while flailing around, hyperventilates, and then remembers how to use the CTRL + Z function*”)
Seriously though, if someone asks me next week how my book is coming along, I’ll probably reply more like Princess Bubblegum:
At least it will mean that I’m done (the third draft, anyway).