Book update #5

Let’s talk feelings for a bit. While feelings are good for inspiring the writing process, maybe they’re better left out towards the end of it. When you’re almost finished a project, you have to be ruthless and review what you’ve written with a cold, unflinching eye. You should cut mercilessly, trim away the fat. Be adept at gracefully and gratefully accepting criticism. Pfft, feelings! You’re not a baby. You are an artist, honing.

My husband was out of town for two weeks and although I wasn’t accustomed to a quiet apartment, it was wonderful having uninterrupted time to work. And work I did, steadily, consistently, sitting at the kitchen table and hiding away from the cold air outside. It was great. But, after more time than usual to stew in my own thoughts, I started psyching myself out a little. I printed out a story that I thought I was almost done with, and seeing all those words on a real page scared me. I crossed out paragraphs, lines, put big question marks or sometimes simply wrote in the margin, “MAKE THIS BETTER”. Huh.


This coincided with Andrew’s return to Montreal. Shortly afterwards, we grabbed some dinner at Aux Vivres, a nearby vegetarian/vegan restaurant that can amazingly turn coconut into a respectable bacon substitute (I know it sounds crazy, but it actually tastes good. This coconut bacon has nothing to do with this entry, but I just wanted to mention it. Coconut bacon!). The restaurant was so packed that I was practically bumping elbows with my neighbours. The atmosphere was bright and cheery and we were having a perfectly pleasant time, until we started talking about writing stuff. Suddenly I found my eyes welling up with tears. “It’s no good!!” I said. “None of it!” I cried into my lovely, multicoloured and uber healthy rice bowl. I might’ve wished they were fries instead. Our neighbours did a good job of ignoring me and Andrew rubbed my arm and patiently told me that I had nothing to worry about.

Ahh, such a pathetically hilarious scene. I laughed at myself afterwards, but oof, I was freaked out. I wrote emails to my girlfriends. They wrote me back within hours with perfect little peptalks; they are amazing. That helped a lot too.

The truth is that so far I’ve been really pumped about this whole experience, excited for what comes next, but I’ve also, annoyingly, started accumulating my fears into a neat little list. What if I can’t make these stories “better”? What if the book is an exercise in public humiliation? And oh god, my parents are going to read this thing and are going to tell their friends about it. There’s like, sex in it. There are too many stories about people dying. Or cheating on each other. So much infidelity! What’s with that? And how many fatal car accidents have I written into my stories? Too many. Oh GOD.

It’s really easy to start making a list of the things you don’t like as soon as you start thinking about them. It’s dangerous.

At the moment, after a fairly productive weekend, the panic has waned. I’m still nervous, but much calmer. I have other, more important things to concentrate on (i.e. let’s eliminate some of those car crashes, yes?). There will be no more crying at vegetarian restaurants. Or rather, if I’m going to cry in public, it should be somewhere with more indulgent food and drink options.

I’m assuming (hoping) that most writers feel like this occasionally, especially those about to publish their first books, so I might as well acknowledge it, get a few laughs out of it.


5 thoughts on “Book update #5

  1. I've had so many similar breakdowns, once in a restaurant too. I find it so strange that taking a step back from my work makes me freak out. You'd think it'd be the opposite!

    I don't know if this helps, but in Doris Lessing's autobiography, she talks about several things she's written that she hates. She even suppressed one of her novels because she disliked it so much, even though people do actually enjoy it. I think you really can't think too much about the way your work is or will be received; it's always so up in the air.

    That said, I still worry about shocking/weirding out my parents through my writing too. =)

  2. thanks, sammy :) it's good to know that even doris lessing dislikes her writing sometimes.

    and i read that lorrie moore always encourages her students to write stuff they wouldn't show their parents, so hey, we're on the right track!

  3. When I have a 500 word news release going out in the morning I toss and turn all night, afraid that I accidentally said the eff-word somewhere in the copy. I can't imagine the anxiety an entire book would induce. I don't have any comforting words to offer, except that I, for one, am super excited to read this book when it comes out.

  4. Teri, you and I are on the same schedule, headed for September releases. I already had to have a preliminary talk with my stepmom about my dad reading my book. We didn't even talk subject matter. Just that there will be some difficult things and they need to know that none of it is meant with meanness or spite. Gah.

    I'm going to send you some sheets on editing that Susan Musgrave lately shared with me.

    In the meantime, my mom is visiting this week, I should be editing, I have a(nother) cold and I'm beginning to feel as though someone soaked me in a vat of water, only to discover I was actually assembled with water-soluable glue.

  5. amanda – the thought of you accidentally including a curse word into a news release is absurdly funny! :)

    darcie – good for you for having that talk with your stepmom and dad. i can imagine that it was an intense conversation. i would love to see susan's editing sheets if you don't mind sharing them – you're an angel for offering! and take care of yourself. xo!

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