Thursday, January 08, 2009


Lois Greiman

I’m thinking we all have insecurities. Right? No one can feel good about themselves all the time. Can they?

Anyway, here’s the scoop: I’ve published almost thirty books now. Some of them aren’t even too sucky. In fact, some of the less sucky ones have actually won awards--tangible living proof I can put on the shelf and fondle every once in a while. Did I say fondle? I meant….ponder. (Pssttt…sometimes there’s fondling.)

But I’m now in the…insert Jaws music here… squishy middle of the book. And suddenly it doesn’t matter that I’ve done this twenty some times before because I know, I KNOW without a doubt that I can NOT finish this one. And if, by some freaky out-of-this-universe, never-gonna-happen miracle I did finish it, it would take suckage to a new and amazingly spectacular low. My New York agent (who doesn’t actually possess tear ducts :) will cry big ol’ crocodile tears. My editor will either A. kill herself, or possibly worse to my way of thinking (depending on my current mood) B. kill ME.

And it doesn’t matter that I think this with every impending deadline. It doesn’t matter that at page 210 without fail I call every single person I know who will still talk to me just so I can warn them not to waste their hard-earned $6.99 on my next book…which, of course, will never be finished because I’m this huge spectacular loser writer who wouldn’t be able to conjure up the word ‘help’ if her hair was on fire.

So…here’s my question: What do YOU do to get yourself through this emotional quicksand? I don’t necessarily mean writing…but there’s certainly (maybe) SOMETHING that makes you believe you no longer deserve the really great things in life…like oxygen. SOMETHING that makes you want to hide under your bed inhaling powder sugar donuts until you’re the approximate size and shape of Shamu and can no longer...

Perhaps I digress. What I’m trying to say is, have you ever felt you can’t possibly do whatever it is you swore on a stack of Bibles you would do? And how did you manage to turn it around? What works for you? Prayer? Meditation? Black magic? Mumbling affirmations in the mirror? Long walks on the beach with your favorite potbelly pig? I’ll consider anything. So spill…please. My deadline’s April 1 and did I mention how much this book sucks???


Toni said...

First, I love this post, Lois, and I have first-hand books of yours here that prove you in no way suck. That said, thank you for shining a light on the darkest part of the process, the what-the-hell-was-I-thinking, couldn't I have been an accountant / CPA / McDonald's store manager and not had as much torture as this?

After a lot of years of writing (screenwriting first for seven, then books), my philosophy about books has evolved to a sort of zen level.

1) There are many worse things in the world than writing a crappy book. Some of those would be not being allowed to write, or to write freely, or to not be physically able to write. So since there's something much worse, it takes the pressure off.

2) No book is told perfectly, especially not the first draft through. Even subsequent drafts are just brushstrokes. Once you have something--anything--on paper, you've just given yourself the gift of having something to work with. You're an artist at that point, a sculptor refining the statue, the glass blower re-heating and reforming a piece into something exquisite.

3) You wouldn't tell a six year old child, if they came and sat by you to show you a drawing that their drawing was crap, that they didn't draw in the lines where they were supposed to or they chose boring colors or had a pedantic style. Well, our creativity is much like that six year old (I am paraphrasing this out of Dennis Palumbo's book, Writing from the Outside In.) If you wouldn't do that to a six year old for fear of stifling his or her creativity, then train yourself not to judge what you're doing now. Not in the middle of writing it. There's a time for that later, but now, you play.

It is the combination of these three things that allow me to get through those dark sections when I know the book is never going to work and I should go sell shoes or something. But I get the next couple of pages down instead and get hooked back in.

Keri Ford said...

See Lois, you're calling this problem the wrong thing. This is the, 'hum, I don't know where I want to go in the next scene so I'll just fart** around for awhile' period.

I might change my mind on what to call this after I have all the pressures of readers, agent, and editor (no longer helping, am I?), but for now, this is all this period is. :O)

**don't actually go around releasing gas, well I guess you can, but that's a southern usage for uselessly spending your time

Another note, Cyndi, how do you keep getting short verification words?? Mind are always 8-10 letters!

lois greiman said...

Toni, thank you. Very kind of you.

The problem is I COULDN'T have been an accountant/CPA or a Mac manager. I am totally useless in the real world. Which is one of the reasons, I guess, that I keep sitting around in my pjs telling lies all day. Or at least, that's what I had better be doing about 5 hours a day for the next three months. :)

Playground Monitor said...

I'm one of those southern girls who farts around when the words don't just miraculously appear on the page. ;-) I'm two chapters away from finishing my first novel and I'm dithering around in chapter 10.

Oddly enough, Julia Harper is guest blogging for us today and she talks about big goals and small goals and mini goals and don't forget the woowoo (the special candle, certain music, specific socks you must wear while writing, etc). I don't think you are alone with this "I suck" feeling.


P.S. My verification word is praphers, which sounds an awful like pray for us, which I say quite often when I'm writing. Or rather pray for me. ::grin::

lois greiman said...

Marilyn, two chapters away!! You go girl!

And yeah, there's a lot to be said for mini goals, or eating the elephant a bite at a time as some people say.

Helen Brenna said...

Wow, Toni - wonderful comments. Thanks. I might just print those off.

Lois, sweetie, you'll get through this and your book will be wonderful.

Pull out a couple old fan letters or emails and reread them. That's helped me a couple times.

Slug through a few days. This too shall pass.

Never underestimate the power of hormones.

Take a day off and recharge.

Lunch with your writer buddies?? Hint, hint.

Cindy Gerard said...

Holy bupkus, Lois. Have you been looking over my shoulder on EVERY book I've ever written??? i go through exactly the same mental and emotional anguish. I hate the book. I hate my writing. I know that this is THE book that's going to end my career.
And Toni - you wise wonderful woman, you. THANKS! Like Helen, I'm printing off your comments. Like Loise, I need them NOW. I'm in the middle of a book that just doesn't feel good. By George, I think I might get through it now :o)
Thanks, Lois, for bringing this up and thanks, Toni, for suggesting alternate approaches to ripping my hair out then curling up in a fetal position in the corner of my office with my thumb stuck in my mouth.

Betina Krahn said...

Lois-- are you my twin from whom I was separated at birth?!!!! The dreaded page 210! That's where I always have trouble, too!

I have trained the people I live with to tell me what I already know: this happens every time; I'll get through it; talent and experience don't just vanish down a rabbit hole and leave you forever; and GET YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR AND DON'T GET UP UNTIL YOU HAVE FIVE DECENT PAGES. Or five crappy pages, whichever comes first.

See, my tendency is to make an existential crisis of everything. Only recently (okay, ten years ago) I realized that's just another way I PROCRASTINATE. Because I am a perfectionist at heart. Who knew? I want to be brilliant and memorable the moment I set word to paper(or screen, as the case may be.) It's majorly disappointing to realize that I may have to WORK at producing something brilliant. sigh.

So Keri, you nailed it, dear.

Meanwhile, at page 210 or so, I realize my outline-synopsis-thingie is now totally blown and the story and characters are headed into entirely different territory than I originally imagined. Which means, I need to take stock and RE-PLOT the damned thing. Sometimes I fiddle around for a month or two trying to make my original plot still work. . . but that's just another bit of procrastination. I know I just have to go to work and THINK myself and my characters out of the mess I've gotten us into.

Just get on with it. Re-plot as necessary and tell the damned story. If all else fails, call me up and tell it to ME. I'll listen. And sympathize. And remind you how brilliant you truly are. And tell you to GET YOUR BUTT BACK IN THE CHAIR AND DON'T MOVE UNTIL YOU GET SOMETHING ON FIVE PAGES!!!

Debra Dixon said...

Lois-- Sweetie! Been there. Done that. Middles suck.

And listen to Toni. She's got it spot on.

Close your eyes. Think of England and trudge on. Looking back at the middle is never as scary as looking at the middle.

You can fix anything. My husband told me that once. Reminded me that creation just requires we be willing to screw it up and then fix it.

Hang in there.

Debra Dixon said...

And I like a good affirmation. I have always made a habit of reminding myself that good things happen not because I deserve them but because I'm willing to fail when other people aren't.

Hope that makes sense. I'm on my way to a doc appointment for the finger so I'm thinking fast.

lois greiman said...

You know, it TRULY does help to know other authors go through this. Authors whom I love and admire. Still, it's hard to believe when I read your finished novels. So if you all could just screw up a little more...

Arkansas Cyndi said...

My problem is that I want every word I put on the page to be THE RIGHT WORD, the first time! That causes me to stop my academic years, I called this ANALYSIS PARALYSIS. I'm analyzing so much that I don't do anything.

Interesting post. On "another blog", Nancy Martin is talking about the exact same thing. Between the two of you, I feel like a "normal writer". LOL

Keri - no short word today. "obustess"

Michele Hauf said...

Ah, the suckage. But that's what the desuckification process if for!
My problem isn't so much that it sucks by mid-section (though, it does, trust me) but that I hate the thing with a passion by that time. Hate it! Don't want to look at it! Someone give me a new baby, please!

And then I get over it. Somehow.

Kathleen Eagle said...

We're all sisters in this, which is why the only person who really gets a writer is another writer. Like Betina, I procrastinate. Distraction is the enemy, because I'll let it in st times like this. The only way to get through it is to keep at it, even if you're writing the same sentence over and over. Eventually you'll write another sentence.

I'm in the same place, Lois. Almost finished, late, long on doubts and short on confidence. I'd hold your hand, but that would be a distraction!

lois greiman said...

Analysis Paralysis! I love it.

Thing is, I generally pride myself on my ability to write crap and be okay with it. If I had to sit down and tell myself to write something good every day, I would never sit down at all. Too terrifying.

Still, like Michele said, something the suckage is almost too much.

GunDiva said...

You could do something drastic like Debra, try to chop off your finger and then beg for more time on your deadline (JK). Or you can eat five pound of Godiva chocolate like a dear friend of mine does. Or you can just write what you consider sucky stuff and be pleasantly surprised when it all turns out OK. :)

Oh - verification word "butwiter"; looks like butt writer to me - or butt wiper - hmm...

December said...

Damned if I know, but these are some really great tips! Thanks for sharing!

Actually - I usually talk to the husband, who is eerily helpful with my plots. Must come from watching so many Simpson's episodes

Christie Ridgway said...

I'm like all of you. I worry, procrastinate, worry, call friends, worry some more. Finally, it's just butt in chair until I get over the hump. might help to plan out on paper the next few scenes in some detail. Brainstorm, doodle, go to a different location, use pretty pens. Something to shake things up and shake loose those great scenes.

The book will be wonderful.

lois greiman said...

GunDiva, chopping off my finger...hmmmm.....

Deb, is it worth it?

Debra Dixon said...

Lois-- I'm pretty much going to say, "NO" on the whole finger chopping thing. LOL!

But I can send you a splint and you can pretend you're screwed. :)

Really, you know it's bad when you're thinking, "Where's a good emergency when you need one??"

I confess to seeing the zen of being in the aftermath of a crisis. No one expects you to be at your normal 150%. You get to decompress without stress.

lois greiman said...

Thanks, Christie. Sometimes if I squint one eye and the mss and don't think too hard, I can believe it might someday make sense.

lois greiman said...

December, it's true that other people can really be helpful with plots. My kids are usually really great with that because they think more...freely or something.

Right now the plot isn't bedeviling me, though. It's everything else.

flchen1 said...

Maybe it's time to treat yourself to a little break--pamper yourself with a massage and a lunch out with friends, take a nap, and then when you're feeling restored, you can take another look at this book (which more than likely doesn't suck!) and take care of it!

lois greiman said...


My husband always offers...but he generally has ulterior motives. :)

Playground Monitor said...

Love desuckification. At the Playground we sometimes have to defunkify. I guess they're related.