Part of the fun of being a writer is that as you grow you begin to learn your own process. This is both like and unlike any other writer’s process. When they relay their experiences there are those moments when you’ll find yourself nodding, but then there are those which seem so alien, so counter to everything you read.
I’m old friends with that stage half-way through drafting when you feel “everything is crap” but in the last couple of days I’ve discovered a new stage to my writing. I call it “The Fear”.
To understand it, you have to realise that I’ve carried this novel around in my head for years, a lot of years, maybe as much as twenty. Sure it’s evolved over time but those first few chapters have been written and rewritten and rewritten.
Friends thought that I was just going to be one of those people who never completed things, just eternally revised. Heck, I thought I might as well; some form of writing OCD. But deep down I knew the chapters weren’t right, that they didn’t match what I had in my head. And so years and revisions have passed like water turning rock into a smooth pebble.
Hardly a year has gone by without me announcing to the world that this would be the year “I complete my novel” and to be fair it’s never been without effort. In recent years since I’ve really focused on my writing, the effort has been a lot more, but still the revisions piled up.
Then last year, things felt right. Either my internal critic had softened up a bit or I was starting to deliver the type of prose I’ve always wanted. But in June I realised what I was trying to write as one book (in a series) was actually two. That split meant massive amounts of extra work, but it was the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle. The book felt right and the first draft got completed at the end of September.
I felt good about the novel, I really did. There was every chance that everyone else would hate it but I’d delivered what I’d set out to do. The thing was though. People who’d read parts of it liked it as well but I didn’t want to acknowledge that for fear of jinxing it.
Editing began in October, and the plan was for it to take a month. I totally underestimated the time. I reckon I’ve put three to four times the amount of effort into editing the novel as I have writing that last draft.
One of the things that has surprised me during the editing is how much I enjoy the book. I know this sounds crazy, but I’d forgotten a lot of the detail. Had this been someone else’s novel (corrections and edits aside), I would have raved about it. That, for someone who has spent so long being critical of their own work, has genuinely surprised me.
To ensure it’s understandable and hangs together as a novel, I’ve had a couple of alpha readers who I’ve passed chapters to as and when I finish editing them. These are old friends, and more particularly old friends who’ve never been shy about telling me exactly what they’ve thought of my work. Family might be your biggest fans (although not in my case) but friends can be your biggest critics.
Now I’m not going to lie and say they think it’s perfect. They’ve raised issues but nothing novel-crushing. Pretty much all their issues (whether I agree with them or not) are easily fixable. The things I worried they might hate, haven’t been mentioned.
They actually like it.
Then today one of them told me they had some “extreme criticism”. My first reaction is “Oh good” because logically I want people to be hard and honest on a novel I want to survive in a hard and honest world. Of course, the emotional response is the opposite; I’d be upset if someone said they didn’t like it.
Success and / or praise does not sit easy with me, so I felt quite relieved that they had a major issue. But I was almost disappointed when the issue was a duff chapter. It’s not even a major one, just one needed to move the plot on. It’s a fair point and one that’s pretty easy to fix.
And it’s not that the alpha readers aren’t being honest or lax, it’s just starting to seem that maybe, just maybe I’ve written a potentially enjoyable novel. It could still be poorly written, but people do seem to enjoy it.
And therein comes The Fear.
Keep in mind that Jetsam has just been released and despite all my fears that it would never get published, I now have it in my hands, beautifully laid out with an illustration. It’s a real tangible thing that says I can do fiction. A product of hard work and dedication.
More surprising has been the reactions of family members. My mother has said in the past that she would read my novel “but she wouldn’t enjoy it”. Yet she recently read Jetsam, and her attitude towards my writing has changed.
“That story really has… something,” she told me. You know when you’re a writer? When your own mother gives you that look.
After years of hard work, things seem to be coming together for me, and it’s frightening.
As a writer, I daydream a lot. It goes with the territory. Now I don’t believe getting a novel deal any more than I believe in elves and goblins (well maybe a little more), but I still dream about it. Not, you may be surprised to hear, of fame and riches, but of feeling my name on the cover, of having people say they like the story.
And it all feels dangerously in reach. After years of dreaming I can almost touch it.
But The Fear is that it’ll get snatched away from me. The logical response is that it’s unlikely your first submission will make it but everything is a learning experience. The emotional response (maybe only for a day or so) is that you’ve wasted years of your life on a folly of a story.
The book is 7 chapters and change from being complete. Then with any amendments that have arisen from the alpha readers, the book goes to beta readers.
Again, I don’t expect it to be perfect. But I have this fear that the beta readers will read it and be disappointed by it. I can imagine the private tweets:
Person A: So, how is Adrian’s novel?
Beta Reader: Not very good I’m afraid.
It’s an irrational fear but one generated by my inability to cope with success. This only seems to affect my writing, but I think because I want this so much and I’ve worked so hard, I fear I’ll be lulled into a false sense of security only to have my hopes dashed. Better to believe it’s all lies than have my heart broken.
…which is stupid because I think I am quite rational about these things and have a good understanding of publishing.
I’ve come to accept that this is part of my process that the closer a novel comes to realising my hopes and dreams, the more I’m going to fear that it won’t. I suppose that will dissipate over time. It’s just a confidence thing.
But at the moment, with it being this close to completion, I have nothing but The Fear.