Another Brick in the Wall

It’s been a while since I’ve REALLY vented here, what with my love life going so well (I love you Becky) but today is just downright ridiculous. I am frustrated to the point of tears and violence at my inability to get anything going novel-wise. Having this short story accepted only serves to make things work. The problem has never been that I’m not a good writer. I’ve had biased friends and family along with unbiased professionals tell me I have something special. The compliment my “breezy style” my “excellent dialogue” my “ear for dialogue” and my “knack for sympathetic characters.” But what good does that do me though if I can’t find the right story to tell with those skills?

I could go the rest of my life and do nothing but write short crime stories. I’d be almost guaranteed of getting most of them published, I might even crack a national market or anthology. But I want more. I want a writing career and the only way to do that is to write novels. A while ago I thought all I would write would be novels. My first few attempts at short stories had failed miserably and I finished my first novel long before I finished my first good short story. But mostly it’s the challenge. I don’t want to shy away from something just because it’s hard.

And damn is it hard. There’s so much to balance. Part of me always tells myself that other writers have made careers writing great dialogue with crappy plots. But I don’t want to write Crap Plus One. After four novels now, I know where my weaknesses are. I’ve tried to fix them and in some places compensate for the things I can’t fix, but it’s still not working. People I trust have read the current manuscript and say there’s something there. They say it’s good. I think parts of it are good but I don’t know if it can support a whole novel.

Maybe all of this is just a case of me being too hard on myself, holding myself to ridiculous standards. I’ve never been involved with critique groups or reading groups or anything like that because I always felt I had a good sense of my own writing, when it was working and when it wasn’t. I don’t think its good enough, but maybe I’m wrong. I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again, the number of times an agent will give me a look is finite, and I think I’m rapidly closing in on the end of those chances. It’s very important that the next book I send out be the perfect book for me right now. I just wonder if I’m capable of writing that book yet.

Just once I would like to finish a novel and be happy with it. So far, every time I finish a book, I’m immediately thinking of all of the places it needs work and how I’m going to fix it. I no longer crave just the feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing the book. I’ve felt that, I need something new.

I’m in love with writing novels, and so far it’s a love that’s unrequited. What do I need to do to make novels love me?

9 thoughts on “Another Brick in the Wall

  1. You don’t finish novels and be happy with them. You abandon them and rue every word you didn’t cut.

    Or at least that’s what I hear.

  2. My hunch is that novelists who are satisifed with what they’ve done just stop writing.

    But that’s a guess, because I don’t know any novelists who are satisfied with what they’ve done.

  3. How old are you?

    How long have you been seriously attempting this career?

    I’m sure there are quite a few published and unpublished folks reading this, who might be rolling their eyes… they have twice as many rejected manuscripts, or they have worked at it three or four times longer than you have before they tasted any amount of success.

    Patience, young Skywalker.

    Be glad you’re not the type who finishes something and thinks it’s genius. Those are the ones who might have book deals now, but won’t in a couple of years.

    The very thing that’s frustrating you is exactly why you’ll make it – you know good from bad, you’re not lazy, and you keep your ego out of it.

    The one thing I might point to in your rant is: “I’ve never been involved with critique groups or reading groups or anything like that because I always felt I had a good sense of my own writing, when it was working and when it wasn’t.”

    No matter how self-aware a writer is, they cannot see their work through the eyes of someone else. No matter how many angles you try to view your work from, you will miss some. The ones others can see. I am in no way saying show your work to just anyone. That’s not smart. But find people you trust. Trust in the sense that you respect what they know about the craft. And then find some non-writing readers who you respect their taste in material.

    And let them read. You can always reject or ignore what anyone says, but “fresh eyes” seem to be a help more often than they’re a hindrance.

    The other thing is – you should feel good about knowing when a story doesn’t work. Story is the toughest part, imo. You can create amazing characters, but if they’re only sitting around watching Molto Mario, there’s no novel. At least not a good one. And I believe writers can’t invent story out of thin air. It comes from hearing another story, or seeing something or someone, or experiencing something – some big bang that then starts your writer brain on a path.

    You have to wait for the big bang. Might come next week or five years from now. But in my experience, if you go looking for it, it’ll take longer.

    And as the others said, I too, know of no sucessful (successful AND good) writers who are completely satisfied with their work. And I’ve met only one writer who ever thought they wrote the perfect book… and he’s working at a Starbucks in Fullerton now.

  4. Do your readers (and you) feel that your novels are getting better, getting closer to that breaking point? I’d bet they are. I’d bet you’re making important progress. That’s the most important thing, I’d say. … Unfortunately, rarely do our dreams come to fruition when we’d like them to. Certainly the case with writing, and with careers in general. The payoff, the promotion, the big deal always seems to come (for most of us) only after we’ve already “arrived.” … But I agree with you — writing a successful novel is a really damn hard thing to do, and I admire those who have done it. .. Keep on keeping on. Continue to diversify your emotional investments when it comes to writing. Persist. Have fun along the way.

  5. Whether or not a writer loves or has doubts about their manuscripts, what do the agents say? Are you submitting these? Getting a million rejections? Or are you sitting on them, not sending them out because you’re plagued by doubts?

    Who are these “unbiased professionals?” IMO, only an agent’s opinion ultimately matters.

    Do you follow the three-act structure? Do you outline with the three-act structure in mind? Do you have a clear sense of exactly which person is your main character? Have you read and applied Dwight Swain’s TECHNNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER? How about Debra Dixon’s GOAL, MOTVATION, CONFLICT?

  6. My favorite Woody Allen movie is Manhattan, so it came as a shock to me that Allen didn’t want to release it — he promised his producers two more films if they can Manhattan. Lucky for me they didn’t listen to him.

    My point, if you haven’t already guessed, is that artists are rarely good judges of their own work.

    I have to set my writing aside for about a year before I can see it objectively, if then.

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