Sunday, February 2, 2020
Writing Through the Cycle of Despair
Just last weekend I did a video chat with an author friend, because I asked for her help with some brainstorming. We also chatted about our current projects and deadlines. Now, she's had multiple books on the NYT Bestseller list and commands enviable advances. She has a large and passionate fandom. But she was at the phase of her current book where she doubted *everything* about it.
I said, "the phase where you're certain the book is not only TERRIBLE, but the one that will destroy your career forever?"
And she said, "YES!"
This is an inevitable Groundhog Day cycle for me. (For those who don't know, this metaphor comes from the 1993 Bill Murray/Andie MacDowell movie, Groundhog Day, where he is trapped reliving the same day in an infinite loop. If you haven't seen it, it's both entertaining and a terrific analogy for working through the same issues repeatedly until we find our way out of them.)
My Groundhog Day writing cycle goes like this:
Baby love -> potty training -> school years -> horrible teen that smells bad and begs you to kill them -> off to college -> adult reconciliation
I know that's a metaphor within a metaphor, but I feel that's on brand for me.
Basically, when I start a draft, everything is joy, cuddles and sweet-smelling new everything. Then there's a bit of wrestling to get it to behave - the potty training phase - but then I settle into helping the book grow up, get smarter, stronger, bigger.
And then we hit the teen years. The teenage phase for the book is when it totally rebels. It drags bad company home. It smells terrible and is generally filthy in every way. It's recalcitrant, miserable to be around, and you begin to wonder if you should kill it and bury it in the back yard to spare society.
That's when I'm utterly convinced that the book is not only TERRIBLE, but the one that will destroy my career forever.
It's funny because, even though this crisis occurs with every book, it's no less a black moment for that. Even though I *know* this is part of the writing cycle - that I've gone through it before and emerged with a good book - each time I hit that crisis it feels new and especially true. I'll actually think (and my friends will point out) that I've gone through this before, that it's a natural part of the cycle and to just keep going - and then the panicked voice will take over and shout:
NOT THIS TIME! THIS TIME IS REALLY IT! THIS BOOK IS SO EXECRABLE THAT IT WILL NOT ONLY FLOP, IT WILL CONTAMINATE EVERYTHING ELSE I'VE EVER WRITTEN OR WILL WRITE AND DESTROY MY CAREER FOREVER.
It even shouts in all caps like that.
I don't know why this is. It's a deeply emotional, even existential doubt that overpowers all rational sense. Sometimes I think it's a test from the universe, a chasm of despair that must be crossed to prove that you want to create the thing badly enough to keep going.
And eventually, if I keep going, the teenager gets their hormones under control and leaves home. Later we can reestablish our relationship as adults, with mutual respect and understanding.
Speaking of which, I have the copy edits in hand for THE FATE OF THE TALA. Barring disaster, I should be able to finish those today, which means the book will be live on the website store by Wednesday at the latest, and then going live on the retailers after that!!
My copy editor called it "A triumph!" Just saying. :D
Labels: Groundhog Day, Jeffe Kennedy, The Fate of the Tala, the pit of despair, The Twelve Kingdoms, The Uncharted Realms, writers life, Writing
Jeffe Kennedy is a multi-award-winning and best-selling author of romantic fantasy. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and is a member of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). She is best known for her RITA® Award-winning novel, The Pages of the Mind, the recent trilogy, The Forgotten Empires, and the wildly popular, Dark Wizard. Jeffe lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is represented by Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.