It’s been a pain, I tell you, writing my second novel. I’m working on rewrite number three and I’m far from sure it will be good enough. Maybe the whole idea is flawed? Maybe I should just burn the whole thing?
But then again, I don’t want to set my Macbook on fire.
Writing is painful. Or can be painful, if you let the whole process get to you, which you will, over the period of writing a book. Characters and ideas burst into the sky like fireworks or burn down to the ground in flames. You love yourself and you hate yourself. You think you’re the greatest writer who ever lived and suddenly you can’t get a sentence together. Doubts, doubts, doubts. Will they understand? Is it funny? Is it vital? Does it fulfil a need? Is there place for it in the market?
You see what I mean. Painful.
I launched myself into this book with excitement. I had an idea that I wanted to play with, how it would be to work as an assistant for a “Brangelina”, or a “Robsten” – a celebrity couple dealing with the constant pressure of fame AND marriage.
I would center the book around a celebrity assistant, a guy who lived inside of the LIFE, but who still could observe the craziness from outside. It would be funny, I thought. And people like reading about celebrities.
I attacked the story in a furious pace. I set off at least an hour every day for writing (mostly during lunch, but also late evenings) and I was progressing towards the finish line with gargantuan steps.
Everything was going so smoothly I was already toying with the idea of what my third book was going to be about. I thought I could be one of those authors who write 2-3 books every year. Being an author was easy-peasy!
Then it hit me like a hardcover on the head – the book sucked! My writing had gone at such a speed that I had forgot to put anything in it – an idea, a feeling, something beyond sentences. The plot was there, but still I had lost it, if you get the pun. The writing was empty and stale and, I hate to admit it, pretty fucking boring.
I was doing what I derided other people for in my day job as a Creative Director, rushing it. I had set myself an ambitious deadline and completely lost the target when it came to quality in the storytelling. It was like I just wanted to get the story over with so I could rake in the money and start writing the next bestseller.
In retrospect, this sounds silly, but I was on a speeding bus and Keanu Reeves wasn’t there to stop it. I was going to hit the wall with a BAM.
Luckily, my girlfriend Lenah woke me up. She reads my writing and I read hers, and I remember her telling me that it just wasn’t good. “What’s your idea here?” she asked me and it hurt like a migraine.
“Idea?” I said, immediately taking a defensive (passive-aggressive) position, “What do you mean?”
“What is the idea behind the book, what is it really about?”
That stopped me in my tracks. Deep down inside, I was screaming, because I knew she was right. In the haze of finishing the book in record time, I had completely lost the idea. Even the idea of an idea!
“You can do much better than this,” she said, and at first I was angry at her for telling it to me straight, but after thinking about it for a while, I couldn’t defend myself anymore. My writing was simply not up to scratch. I had to rewrite the whole thing (insert swearword).
So I did. I rewrote it.
I took quite a while, and afterwards I gave it to her like a proud little school boy, expecting only praise. The book was damn funny, I thought.
But Lenah wasn’t happy. There was still something missing. “Ahhh, not again!”, I thought. What can possibly be wrong this time?
Then I read it myself and saw the same thing again. The story was better, but it sounded automatic, mechanical – it lacked feeling.
Crap! I thought, and started rewriting it a third time. This time doing BIG changes, rethinking the whole story line, adding and subtracting scenes, changing characters – a major manuscript overhaul.
A week ago I finished “draft” three and now I’m going through it with my red pen. It’s so much better than my previous two drafts, but I’m still not sure it’s good enough. Is it really something I’m truly happy with and that I can be proud of?
But then again, are you ever?
I don’t know if I set too high standards or too low standards for myself and my writing. I know I’m not the kind of person to opt for the easy way out, but I also know I have a tendency to rush from one idea to the next. Because I want to hit that publish button so badly. I want to checkmark the “project”. Still I want it to be good, of course. No, good is not enough, I want it to be brilliant.
You see what I’m fighting with here?
And my “split personality” is what makes it so difficult for me to assess how good (or bad) my stories are and that’s why I need a second reader, which is my first layer of quality assurance – my shit-filter. Usually, one layer/filter isn’t enough, you ideally need a second layer too, for example a group of friends, but the first layer is the most important. And the first layer needs to be harsh and honest and give it to you straight.
That’s why I’m happy to have Lenah, who’s always honest and sometimes harshly so. She helps me keep me on my toes.
And right now I’m truly nervous to hear what she thinks of draft number 3. But if I pass and can start to think about publishing, you will be the first to know.
Otherwise I’m off to rewrite number four. Or burning the whole thing. (Not my Macbook, but I’ll print it out and do a ceremonial cremation.)
Good luck with both your writing and your reading, and thanks for staying with me.