Monday, April 19, 2010

Let the Nervousness Commence, Part Deux

Remember the post I made a few months ago about submitting Teahouse?

Something happened with the communication between myself and the publisher, and the manuscript was never read. No big deal, really. He got back to my “Hey, have you gotten around to reading my submission?” email within a day and I resent the file.

Now I have to sit and agonize all over again, though.

I don’t get this way with short stories. I write them, read them over, revise and send them out, often forgetting about them after I’ve recorded them over on Duotrope. If they’re accepted, great. If they’re not, they go out again. I can do this over and over and over and never feel even the slightest pang of anxiety. I know my stuff when it comes to short fiction, and for the most part I’m unshakably confident about my abilities.

With novels? Forget it. I’m riddled with self-doubt and nervousness from the moment I write the first sentence to the time I feel I’m finally ready to send it out into the world. I have zero confidence overall with a novel, even if there are paragraphs here and there (sometimes even whole chapters, believe it or not) that I feel are completely solid.

I can write short stories just fine.
I can whip out flash like nobody’s business.
I can edit the hell out of anything you put in front of me.
I can read, formulate an opinion for and review other writers’ novels with absolutely no trouble.
I can conduct interviews with authors, editors and publishers without a single issue or dull moment.

I cannot write novels without reducing myself to a twitching, nervous wreck.

I used to think that I only needed a bit more experience in writing long fiction before the feeling would fade away, but it hasn’t diminished much at all. Between Teahouse, Rain and now Ghostbox, I still feel like I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing. As a reviewer, I’m handed books all the time. As I read them (and the ones I read simply for pleasure), I notice how each author handles scope, pacing, subplots and all the other things that go into long-form fiction. None of them in any way resemble what I end up throwing down on paper. Compared to most other writers, my own novel-writing efforts feel very sparse, like short stories that have dragged on too long. My own work feels like it lacks the layers characteristic to novels. They feel like they’re nothing but details dictated to the reader in a dull monotone broadcast by a broken, rusting piece of antique machinery.

I do go back to my older work, long after it’s been finished, and reread with a fresh eye. Occasionally I find myself even enjoying it from a detached standpoint, but I always wind up asking myself, “Is this really the way it should have been?” I often find myself wanting to write it differently but completely unable to do so.

I think one of my biggest problems, at least with Teahouse, is that it takes place (in part, at least) at the junction between two cultures, and I’m terrified I’m going to be incorrect with some facts or that my intent is going to be misconstrued. I remember during the beta reader phase when one critiquer told me that involving Japanese characters made me look like an anime fanatic. I wanted to slam my face off my desk. They also, I believe, told me I’d ripped key plot points off a well-known Japanese film, which it only had the most passing of similarities to. A common event (and I mean common - this is the kind of thing that you read about in papers or see on the news frequently) occurs in both stories. Oh, I was furious. I almost changed the entire backstory. That’s how paranoid I became. It’s a good thing I decided against it, but still, what if this happens all over again if/when the book is published? Is it good enough to withstand that kind of nonsense? I don’t know.

I’ve been driving my author buddies, and even some of my non-writer confidantes, nuts with this lately. They shush me and tell me I’m crazy, or that my long fiction is just fine, but I still feel like scrapping it and starting all over most of the time. Every time I update Rain I want to just tank it and forget the project was ever conceived. A little voice inside me constantly pipes up and lets me know it’s probably better to just conclude the story at its logical end and be done with it sans drama, so my little Facebook novel still exists.

I don’t know. I doubt this feeling will ever go away, no matter how many times I finish a novel manuscript. I suppose it’s just one of those weird personality defects that you can never rid yourself of. I will forever be the paranoid novel-writer, no matter how much my skills improve.

I suppose there are worse things I could be, like the horrible writer who doesn’t realize they’re horrible. I think that would be more humiliating in the long run.


Pastor Howie said...

You're absolutely not a horrible writer--I'm glad you realize that! And novel writing is such a mental and emotional investment, I think it makes perfect sense that you're paranoid.

But, if you don't feel good about any one of your novels, I'm not going to say "I'm sure it'll be fine." I'm a staunch supporter of writers ditching their novels when they have bad feelings about them. I have a pile of poorly conceived novels that might've been passable had I spent a few more years re-writing them--but I'm glad I didn't. I wouldn't have come up with the awesome stuff I wrote later if I'd wasted more time on them. (Still, at the end of the day, a crappy draft is never really a waste of time, because it helped me hone my craft.)

So, yeah; I'd say "follow your writer instincts." And drink. Drinking usually helps a lot when submitting novels. Especially tequila. ;)


Jessica Brown said...

It's weird. It's not that I don't like Teahouse. I loved it while I was writing it. It's a weird little story about compulsive suicide that spreads beyond a core group of friends and threatens the world. I still think the idea behind it is brilliant.

I just don't know how strong I am with long fiction. I read all these other novels that seem to get it right and I wonder if perhaps I'm not going about it the right way, or that I'm structuring it incorrectly, or that I'm not adding enough detail, backstory or subplot. Too much consulting of the "how to write a novel" books, probably. They've always intimidated me with their formulas and charts and whatnot, but I can't stop looking them over. I probably should.

Plus, my explanations suck. I struggle like mad to tie up loose ends without making at least one character turn out to be the handlebar mustache guy tying the girl to the train tracks while explaining everything he's doing because, hey, no survivors, right?

I'm in love with the book I'm working on right now, but I haven't been able to find time during the semester to write out the back half of it. I've got tons of notes to work off of, and the next six or seven chapters heavily synopsized (is that even a word?), but it's still waiting patiently for me.

I try to stay away from Tequila. Last time I had it, my friends and I wound up screaming obscenities at poor Bradley Cooper while watching The Midnight Meat Train. Actually, they were less obscenities and more comments about Bradley Cooper's meat train. We're all terrible people, I know.

I stick with the coconut rum until I can trust myself a bit more.

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