A Fine Line between Pleasure and Pain: Read in Case of Self Doubt

I slept and dreamed that life was joy,
I awoke and saw that life was duty,
I acted, and behold duty was joy.
– Rabindranath Tagore

Having finished the work in progress, I’ve moved on to the next project: which means I’ve opened a book about a third done that I started a while back. While I am largely pleased with a lot of what I found beneath the dust: solid plot, good scene breaks, nice levels of action – something critical was missing. My last project had a really strong main character, a real scene stealer. One of the important things for me in the new book is to push myself, try to write a new character (and not just keep recycling a single personality type). While working on this, at making the new guy distinct from the old one, edits and critiques of the last book are coming in. Together, this makes writing more work than pleasure. It’s work I want to be doing, but expressing it raised a conversation with a friend about writing for the joy of it and writing towards trying to publish while another friend was struggling with being blocked too busy with her daily life to find the time to work on her book.

By nature, writing novels is a weird exercise. You work alone, maybe talking through ideas or discussing elements of the book, but ultimately, you do it by yourself. You steal time away from friends and family, forgoing television or the gym to find the time to put hand to keyboard. Then you start to share it with others, getting input, and learning that you completely fouled something up in the first act. Critical feedback too early in the game can crush your motivation, so you ignore it until you’re ready. Then you rewrite, edit, rewrite, for what feels like forever. When you’re finished, no matter how hard you worked, there’s no guarantee of success. So how do you keep going?

Write the book you believe in, the story you want to tell. This way, when the rejections come, and they may be little or they may be huge, you can keep going. It takes a little delusion to believe in your writing, but not too much. Over-confidence can blind you to self-improvement. I think one of the hardest things about writing a book is learning that you may never sell it. You might never make it big enough to see one of your books on the rack at your local bookstore. Each rejection can dissuade you, get you down. You’ve got to push past this, improving and striving while you sift through the feedback to learn what’s useful. This is where writing for the fun of it comes in. Take pleasure in the craft, in the work. Don’t give up, and keep getting better. It’s toil. It’s hard. And it has to be worth it even if you never publish. Write because you love to.

6 thoughts on “A Fine Line between Pleasure and Pain: Read in Case of Self Doubt

  1. The Bag Lady says:

    Thank you fantastic and timely advice

  2. “…By nature, writing novels is a weird exercise…” Amen!

    I really like this post about the inside of a writer’s world. I just happened to stumble across your blog and this is great. Keep up the good work and, always, write on!

  3. Anonymous says:

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  4. Michael says:

    Awsome post!

    You should blog more often or do you just not use this one much.

    I think my problem is that these days I am not “deluded” enough. I am all too aware that chances are this won’t end with me getting published.

  5. We all go through those moments. I had to get talked off the ledge about it myself in the fall. And Karen was there recently.

    I am trying to blog more. It helps me a lot when I get good comments — this winter has just been really busy. My day job, which I love, has needed long days. Any creative energy left at the end of those has gone into my work in progress.

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