Can you write an entire book, beginning to end, whole and complete, and hate the result despite all the time you spent on it? Yes, you sure can. I’m going through this particular weird writer hell at the moment.
I wrote the perfect book. By ‘perfect,’ I don’t mean it’s a sweeping, flawless example of high literature. I mean I constructed it to every technical specification. It has a forward-moving plot that comes to a dramatic climax followed by a satisfying ending. The characters are all fleshed out with well-defined and sympathetic motivations, and believable backstories that influence their actions. I hit on every point and marker for the genre and intended audience. There’s no loose ends or anything frivolous. I even managed to construct a somewhat unique and interesting premise, if I do say so myself.
The problem is, when I finished it, I didn’t feel a great glowing sense of accomplishment. I didn’t feel creatively fulfilled. I just sort of felt like I’d finished a homework assignment.
I thought perhaps the passion would come in the revision, as it sometimes does for me; that when I clipped and rearranged and polished, I’d find the glowing gems beneath. It’s happened to me before, after all. I’m almost done revising it now, and I still haven’t found the gleam. Sure, there were a few scenes that gave me a mild feeling of joy like “hey, I wrote that,” but there’s been no overall thrill. I feel like I’ve written a long essay on some subject I have no real interest in and now I’m shoring it up so I can at least get an A on it.
In part, I think it’s because I just don’t like the characters. They’re great characters in their construction, as I said above, but I’m just not into them. It’s kinda like watching a show that everyone else loves but you just can’t get into. You can’t explain why, it’s a fine enough show, it’s just not your bag.
Earlier this year, in contrast, I wrote a story that I absolutely loved. I raced to the page each day to write it, and it all unfolded before me in brilliant clarity. I loved every aspect of creating it, I loved the characters, and when I finished I was breathless with the pounding of my brimming writer’s heart. Not to mention I was actually sad I was done writing it and there was no more. I wrote it in less than a month, revised it in a few weeks, and it was picked up for publication a few scant months later. It was a whirlwind romance of…writing a romance.
I find these two reactions are the extremes, though. Hating what you wrote and being absolutely in love with it are two ends of the spectrum, and most pieces we write fall somewhere in between. You may love parts of something you wrote and hate others, you may have to dig a while to find contentment in the prose, or you may just find that ‘good enough’ feeling eventually. Writing is a game of ups and downs, joy and sorrow.
But what of the hated, finished story? Should I complete the revision and send it off to a publisher? It definitely needs a sequel, and was always written toward having a sequel. I have some ideas for that sequel but I fear by a few chapters in, I would once again feel like I was writing a homework assignment. Do I scrap it? The sunk cost fallacy involved will haunt me for weeks, I know. Do I repurpose it into something else? Change the characters? Chalk it up as practice and move on?
Isn’t writing just glamorous?
Have you ever written something you hated and couldn’t bring yourself to feel passionate about? How did you handle it? What did you do with the story?