Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On (quitting) writing

This being an author thing is harder than I thought it would be. Let me explain. See, for years I could barely function in society -- with one rather big exception:

I was always a good writer. Always.

Even as a young cub newspaper reporter (and in the grip of drug and alcohol addiction), I could write one kick-ass story. I know, because even the editors who hated me always told me I was a good writer. They'd say it through clenched teeth, but they said it.

Consequently, I started to believe my own press clippings, so to speak. I made plans early on to become a published fiction writer whenever journalism's magic wore off.

In 2007, the magic wore off. So I put on my comfy pajamas and fired up the computer and ... started to write. A book. A big, complex book.

And I learned fairly soon (about two hours into it, as I recall) that I had no freaking clue what I was doing. None. This was not journalism. I mean, where the hell were my notes?

So I started scouring the Internet and began stumbling across blogs and websites by other writers and agents and publishers. I bought books on fiction writing. I started learning the craft of fiction writing. Of novel writing. It's not easy.

Of course, by then, I was already halfway through my big, complex book. But hey, better late than never, right? Right.

Once I figured out what the hell a story arc was, I went back and tried to put one into my book. And when I learned how crucial the first few pages were, I went back and re-did them. Over and over and over again. Each time I learned something new about the craft, I went back and tried to incorporate it into my work.

The damned thing started to look like a patchwork quilt. And not in a good way, I'm afraid.

But I finished it. And had a book editor go through it and made the changes she suggested and sent it out to beta readers.

And waited. And waited. A couple checked in and said they were liking it. And then one finished. And he said he liked it. Then two more finished it and they liked it, with a couple of minor suggestions.

It was all good. I was pumped.

And then one more weighed in. And he hated it. Just didn't like it. At all.

And I was crushed. No one had ever told me they hated something I had written. Let me repeat that: No one had ever told me they hated something I had written. Never. I know that sounds arrogant and egotistical, but it's true.

I. Was. Crushed.

And so I decided to hang it up. Get a real job. Screw this writing crap. Clearly, I am not a fiction writer and will never be a fiction writer. I mean, my first attempt at writing a novel and here was someone not liking it!

Now I realize this sounds ludicrous, but I really did decide yesterday to give it up. I told the wife I would shop this one because, well, because I've wasted three years of my life on it, so I might as well try to get it published. Right?

My lovely wife rolled her eyes and told me to shut up and go to sleep. (She knows me pretty well.) So I did. Finally. And tossed and turned all night. At 1 this morning, I awoke in the second-most horrible way imaginable. I suffered a severe case of acid reflux, something I hadn't had happen to me in a decade or so. There's not much worse than jerking awake with a mouthful of bile.

Except there is one thing worse, as I was to learn a few hours later. I woke up at 5 a.m. and my left eyelid felt as though it was crusted shut. What the hell? I wondered. I figured I must have pink eye or something. But I couldn't get the crusty little knot off my eyelid. So I got up and went into the bathroom and turned the light on.

And there was a huge wood tick stuck on my left eyelid! OMG! I looked at it, reached into the drawer, pulled out the tweezers and plucked the little bastard off. And it was on there TIGHT.

Oh Christ, was that nasty. It actually made a little POP sound when it finally gave up the ghost. I flushed that sucker and went back to bed. But there was to be no more sleep for me.

Later, I went for my run through the countryside. It was a beautiful day and I put on the iPod and cranked it up. I planned to brainstorm ideas for a job. You know, something easy that pays a ton. No big deal.

But a funny thing happened instead. The entire plot for the political novel I started a few months ago fell into place with an audible THUD. And then the ending came to me so perfectly finished that I turned around, ran home and typed it out.

I can't wait to get back to it. I guess a real job is just going to have to wait a while.

Apparently, I'm a writer. Whether I like it or not. I mean, there's no way in hell I'm messing with the writing gods again. ;)


  1. I'm still laughing Terry. You are just so funny.

  2. I go through this a lot. I've never been told something I wrote wasn't good. NEVER. I wrote fanfiction for a couple of years, had a few hundred followers, and they all loved me. I wrote role play, even modded several games. Everyone wanted to play with me because I had the best ideas. I'd be writing several different stories every night with people.

    I caved and wrote something original. Everyone who has read it, loves it. Except agents. Not one single partial request. I'm about to the giving up point. Clearly, there are people with far more talent than me and I'm never going to make it.

    I started a new one. I have two readers. I really like my first story but I LOVE my new story. My readers are confused. The plot confuses them, the motivations and actions confuse them. I am 'this' close to saying 'fuck it' and just going back to hobby fanfic writing. I just spent another couple days in a hospital and I wonder if I'm wasting my time writing when I should be doing something constructive. Like needle-point. Everyone needs sweaters, right?

  3. Excellent post as I was concerned that you let one person allow you too quit. Actually, people like that can motivate us to have an I'll show them attitude!

    Good that you have been given a plot for a novel and that it'll keep you busy and maybe you'll post an excerpt or two?

    Best of luck with your writing! :)

  4. Christi Lynne Goddard! (I don't really know your middle name, but that has a nice solid ring to it). You WILL NOT give up! I mean it.

    If I'm sticking with this god-awful career, then you are too. Now you go to your room, young lady, until you give up this silly needle-point dream and can get back to work on that damned novel.

    'Kay? ;)

  5. Terry,

    David Balducci had a hard and inspiring road to publishing. I think it took him around 17 years to break in! Look at him now! He's the man! I loved this post! Everyone who has a dream feels this way at one point or another. It just means that's how much you care about it!

    Now get back to work! ;)

    xoxo -- Hilary

  6. I'm still stuck on the goddamned wood tick. The visual is killing me. OH MY GOD!

    You ARE a writer. I'm glad you came full circle. And so fast. What a relief that had to be. Getting a job? Blckk.

  7. Gina: That sounds like that old band-aid commercial: "I'm stuck on the the wood tick and the wood tick's stuck on me ..."

    And no, Im not drinking again. I'm just giddy from lack of sleep. ;)

  8. I would have been FREAKING OUT if I found any kind of bug stuck to my eye like that.

    I'm glad you found out that you're still a writer. I love it when you reach bottom and then everything for that book you've been working on falls into place. Sometimes we just need to stop worrying about something in order to truly grasp it.


  9. I think what you (and it sounds like Christi) and I, have all run into is a case of "Big Fish in a Little Pond" syndrome. I've played with writing for so long, from fan fic to NaNo's that never made it past their 50K, etc. and I always had people who were stoked by what I wrote. Now that I've moved on out of my pond and into the ocean, it's freaking scary as hell. I don't stand out anymore, and sometimes I have to fight a few creepy sharks along the way.

    Glad you decided not to give up!

  10. Just discovered your blog, and that is one epic sequence of events for a first read here. I'm glad you learned that bad reviews (from professionals or beta readers) are a lot like wood ticks. They're irritating as hell, but satisfying to pop with tweezers.

    Well, you probably shouldn't pop a reviewer's head with tweezers, but it's fun to think about.

  11. YAY for not quitting! Hearing that someone doesn't like your book is good practice for when you're a world-renowned author and some people don't just disklike your stories, they LOATHE them. But it will be alright, because you'll be published and they can stick it. ;)
    Also, your wife is awesome!

  12. You scared me with that quitting crap! lol

    Okay, I wouldn't want to EVER wake up in any of the ways you described, but the tick is by far the most freaky. Do you have to get tested for lyme or anything? Is you eye okay?

  13. Hey...Good story! Imagine that.

  14. Anything I try I want to do 100% perfectly. My most recent example was collaborating on a quilt for an upcoming wedding gift. My collaboration is with the sweetest woman on earth ... Trish Jones. I put my first block together, and it turned out LIKE SHIT. So, I called her and tried to back out. She told me to chill out, and reconsider AFTER my in-laws are gone on Sunday. She also told me she'd still give me 'quilt cred' if I only made a couple of blocks successfully. Friends like Trish Jones are hard to come by ... I can't wait to read book 2. Signed, a faithful, engaged beta reader.