“…there’s a hormone secreted into the bloodstream of most writers that makes them hate thier own work while they are doing it, or immediately after.”
–Francis Ford Coppola, “Letter to the Reader”, Zoetrope magazine.
That is so true.
End of post.
No, no, of course that isn’t the end of the post, because you all know I am far, far too long-winded to just throw a quote at you and run away. Although that would be funny, if you picture it literally. I run up, throw a slip of paper at you, and tear off. (Reminds me of the time my husband and I got into a water fight. I had control of the hose, so he ran around to the back yard. I waited, hose at the ready, but almost dropped it when he suddenly appeared, running at me with a look of maniacal glee on his face, holding a plastic grocery bag full of water. Which he flung at me. And which we both watched fall to the ground with a splat about three feet shy of me.
I tried to turn the hose on him but I was laughing too hard to squeeze the trigger thing on the sprayhead.)
Anyway. Do we writers hate our work?
I do. Actually, it’s a lot more complex than that. I love my ideas, absolutely adore them. That period where the story starts to gel in my mind is the most exciting time in the world.
Then I get started, and I love that first chapter or two, or even three or four if I’ve planned a lot of great stuff to open the story (which of course I should.) And I’m so, so sure this will be THE book.
Then I get to about chapter five and my enthusiasm wanes. I still love the book, but it’s starting to feel a little more like work. I’m just not doing the job the way I hoped. The story isn’t as strong as I hoped, it isn’t flowing as well, I’m having to make decisions, or my characters are deciding they don’t want to do what I planned for them to do. They glare at me with their obstinate little faces twisted in disdain while I beg them to argue, or go for a drive, or have a discussion they don’t feel ready to have. Sheesh, I think. My own characters hate me.
And it’s right around chapter 14 or so that I decide they should hate me. I hate me. I hate this stupid book. What was I thinking?
But somewhere, somehwere deep down I think, I was so sure! So I keep plugging, hating the idea, hating the book, hating myself for failing the idea that I know realize sucks, but not badly enough to deserve my terrible treatment of it.
And finally I finish the book, and I set it aside, convinced it’s the worst piece of trash ever written. I remain convinced for six weeks or a month, when I reread and decide it stinks, but maybe not as bad as I thought, and maybe with a little editing…
And then I start submitting it, all the while certain it stinks.
And if it goes somewhere, or if it doesn’t, I will re-read it six months later or nine months later (this seems to be about the right time) and decide it’s actually pretty good!
So here’s my question. Do we hate our books just because they’re ours? Is hating our work part of how we grow as writers?
See, I see people all the time (usually with the word “nitwit” posted above their letters to Miss Snark) who are convinced their work is stellar. Excellent. They are going to turn the literary world on its ear.
Their work is usually unintelligible.
But then, there are also literary geniuses, award winners, who harbor the same convictions. Their work does turn the literary world on its ear.
The rest of us plod along.
Do you need ego to be both truly great or truly terrible?
And since, let’s face it, no matter how uch I hate my work, some part of still thinks it’s good enough to be published, am I a big faker?
How is it possible to love and hate your work at the same time?