Writer’s Angst

5 Apr

All writers, even the ones that look balanced and happy, are insane.

There, I said it. It might be news to you, it might not. Anyone who talks with me for more than a minute and twenty seconds will come to this conclusion on their own. Those who haven’t had the pleasure (sure, that’s the word) are henceforth forewarned. Writers as a whole are insecure little egomaniacs, and isn’t that just a cluster fuck of opposing characteristics, but it’s the best way I can think to put it. We think we’re both small gods and the gum at the bottom of your shoe. Possibly at the same time. We’re geniuses and yet we’re talentless hacks. Possibly swinging from one self-assessment to the next in under a minute. We seek validation and praise, we seek acceptance and pats on the head. We take harsh criticism of our work as badly as we’d take, say, you punching our pets in the face. Don’t do that, by the way. I will cut you. Seriously.

If You Fuck With My Dogs, I Will End You

Before I continue with my own rant, I should probably make it clear that people more successful than I am have gone berserk about this topic, mainly Chuck Wendig. The Rumpus addresses “writer envy” here, and Cole Gibson talks about how bad the Internet is for her/writers here. All of these things play into Writer Crazies in different ways for me, and I’ll try to spell it out best I can.

The First Manifestations Of The Crazy:

So you have an idea for a book. It’s a germ, nothing more, and you start to write and do your thing. At some point, whether it’s the outlining stages or maybe it’s just blabbing about it to a friend, it consumes you. It eats up every other sentence, it becomes the big blinking light at the forefront of your brain that won’t let you ignore it. You used to be able to converse without a mention of this idea coming into play, but now that’s impossible. Your friend talks about her kid’s shitty diapers, and you’re like “speaking of shitty diapers, I was totally thinking my vampire would have like, three dongs and twelve fingers. It’ll help him fight the lab monkeys.”

The Second Manifestation Relates To The First:

When people’s eyes start to glaze over, we notice. This is when we become quasi-cognizant that maybe, just maybe, we’re talking book too much, but the fact is? Eye rolls, eye glaze, anything less than AS MUCH ENTHUSIASM AS WE HAVE FOR OUR PROJECTS sends us into loathe-spirals, either of ourselves “why would anyone care about my stupid three donged vampire, I have no talent, it won’t sell, and I should just cut myself or burn the manuscript” OR you “I remember when I liked this friend, but that was before they eviscerated me with their cold disdain.” In either case the end result is the same: we skitter back to our Gollum cave, start writing again, and go quiet for a while.

The Quiet Is The Third Manifestation:

“Hillary, you need to bathe.”

“Go away. I need to write this chapter.”

“You haven’t moved in like, three days. Where are you pooping?”

“I’ve rigged up a tube. It’s fine.”

” . . . a tube to where?”

“Your dinner plate. Fuck off.”

Don’t trust us if we’re quiet for too long, and by all that’s holy if you love us, make us not use the poop tube. We may kick, scream, thrash, and throw things, but sometimes tough love is good love. Too much quiet IS a bad thing. Air us out, pretend we’re your grandma’s closet.

The Fourth Manifestation And The Need For Approval:

The book is complete, now we want everyone in the world to drop WHATEVER THEY ARE DOING and read it. Right now. No, don’t put your kid down or go grocery shopping or . . . work. Who the fuck needs work? READ MY BOOK. Clearly putting any activity before our book means you don’t want to read it, and you think I’m talentless, and you’re probably right (return to Manifestation Two), and I should just go flip burgers instead of romancing the publishing industry and . . .

“Wait, you are reading my book?” We get so excited, but then the waiting happens, and the waiting is killer. After every chapter you read we want updates. Oh, and? If you take longer than three minutes to read the entirety of the manuscript we start to wonder if the piece was evocative enough because you somehow managed to walk away and go do normal people things, like take that bath we denied ourselves when the last third of the book was coming together.

The Fifth Manifestation As It Pertains To Approaching The Industry:

At this point we’ve cut anyone who wouldn’t read our beautiful baby out of our wills. No, we don’t hate you non-readers forever, just mostly. This is where the whimsical idea of “I’MA WRITE A BOOK” gets REAL, SON and the crazy escalates twofold. We’re querying agents, but what you don’t realize? We’re doing it all day every day, even if we’re not physically doing it. We might be at work, making the motions of doing whatever thing it is that we actually get paid to do, but the fact is our brain is on Agents and Query Tracker and Publisher’s Marketplace. We’re designing our list of dream agents, imagining best sellers, and trying to figure out what we’ll do when we’re penultimately successful and sitting at tables crunched between Neil Gaiman’s Leather Jacket and Christopher Moore’s FuckSox.

The query letters go out and . . .

The First Bout Of Waiting Is The Quiet Crazy, Manifestation Six:

The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Let’s talk about refreshing an inbox. So you’ve got the query letters out there and you carefully followed submission guidelines and now it’s WHO WANTS TO READ THIS IN PUBLISHING OMG. The moment those letters are emailed/mailed, you’re watching your email address. All the time. All day long. No matter what you’re doing or where you are, you have a browser window open to your email address just so you can tab back to it and see if there’s been any change. I did this. Lauren, the most temperature human being in the world, did this. Everyone I knew who was looking for representation did this. You can’t help it. It might have only been twelve minutes since you sent that email off, but damn it, the agent should KNOW IT’S COMING AND DROP WHATEVER THEY’RE DOING.

When the answers start to come in? Yeah. It’s ugly. The no’s are sad and that’s to be expected – we go on little emo tears and sniffle into our 47th cup of coffee. What’s really bad, though, are the yesses (aka requests for partials or fulls). We want to tell EVERYONE. Even people we don’t know. We want to cry it to the rooftop that SOMEONE WANTS TO READ OUR BOOK THAT ISN’T OBLIGATED BY MARRIAGE, BLOOD RELATION, OR YEARS OF FRIENDSHIP. We froth at the mouth and spin in circles, all the while shaking and laughing like the crazy people who hoard cellophane wrappers and sniff trash.

Manifestation Seven Is A Combination Of One and Six:

Once the agent is landed, we are now back to talking about our book ALL THE TIME. We talked about it during the entire process, of course, but it tapered down when we ran out of ways to say the same things over and over again. With the agent? It’s utter regression. We’re incapable of speaking about anything else without somehow tying it to our fictional child. “Why yes, I’d love fries with that. Did you know my character Adam stuffs fries up his nose to express sadness?” This over-sharing propensity is combined with the aforementioned trash sniffing and hooting so we’re now bordering on those punch-drinking zealots who walk around with sandwich boards proclaiming the end times.

Zealot, Or Gary Busey

Manifestation Eight, Waiting As The Loud Crazy:

We’re on submission, we know logically we probably won’t hear anything at all for quite some time. The problem is, every time we look up anything anywhere ever, some author is talking about how they got their offer and a six trillion dollar advance all in two weeks. It’s the only thing we read about because the rest of the process seems to be shrouded in mystery, so we assume – incorrectly – that all book deals must happen like this, SO WHY NOT OURS. When it’s pointed out that these big huge advances happening in record speed are actually anomalies (and thus why they warrant mentioning on the internet – they really are the vast, vast minority) we freak out to anyone who’ll listen about BUT I’VE HEARD NOTHING AND OH GOD IT MUST MEAN SOMETHING. Everything means something at this point. Even silence means something. No seriously, we start to have make believe conversations in our head of what the editor must really think when contemplating our fictional work, and that they’ve gone silent FOR A REASON AND THE REASON IS ABJECT LOATHING, PUBLIC SCORN, OR SOMETHING WORSE.

We bitch and piss and moan and groan and over-analyze everything. Forever.


Now, I can’t chime in on much after the submission process. That’s the stage I’m at right now, and relatively early on to boot. I anticipate much more crazy should I get an offer, and I’ll no doubt talk about that if/when it comes. It’s probably worth noting that I go through at least four of the eight crazies listed above per day, though my own personal “favorite” is the I’M A TALENTLESS HACK IN COMPARISON TO EVERYONE ELSE, WHY DO I DO THIS followed up by OH MY GOD I JUST HAD THE BEST IDEA EVER, YOU SO WISH YOU WERE ME.

Writers. Crazy. All of us.


11 Responses to “Writer’s Angst”

  1. Jo Wisor April 5, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    Hillary, I so loved this. So you and so good. So there. 🙂

  2. Arrens April 6, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    The very thought of Dave having to eat tube-served shit on a plate for dinner is both disturbing and very unsurprising. Just sayin’.

    • Hillary April 6, 2011 at 9:03 am #

      I assure you, he’s adept at avoiding it now. He even pokes me sometimes (though with a long stick) to ensure I don’t fester in my own filth.

  3. fynralyl April 6, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Fabulous post! I’m at the beginning of these (currently “worthless hack”) and I have no experience with the later ones, but I have the symptoms! Does that mean I’m a real writer after all?

    • Hillary April 6, 2011 at 9:06 am #

      The minute you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) with no intention other than crafting story – even if it’s just for you, an RP blog, anything – you’re a writer. The author title might not get bestowed until you’re entrenched in the publishing industry, but a writer? Absolutely. And don’t worry, it’ll get worse. Soon you’ll be sniffing garbage with the rest of us.

  4. ILikeBubbles April 6, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    This, forever.

  5. Aggrokitty April 6, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    I don’t consider myself a capital-W Writer, but Stage 2 eats my brain on a regular basis. (It manifests in cooking and jewelry design too, because My Brain Hates Me.) I lost about an hour of sleep last night – because? My brain presented me with a new plot twists for the protagonists of THE SILLY MERMAID STORY I MADE UP FOR NUBLET WHEN SHE WAS SICK. Which is never going to see the light of day or anything other than off-the-cuff nublet amusement, and my brain STILL spent an hour going “ooh. Isn’t that cool? Think about what you could do with that, and THAT-”

    …sheesh. 🙂

    • Hillary April 6, 2011 at 11:52 am #

      I was just talking to Linedan about this – even with blog posts you can get brain crazy. HAVE PEOPLE READ IT, DO THEY LIKE IT? WHY IS MY SITE TRAFFIC DOWN. MAYBE I’M NOT AS INTERESTING AS I USED TO BE. The crazy can get you about shit OTHER than novel writing. Anything is fair game.

  6. Verdus April 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    I can believe every word of this. (Especially the bit about the dogs; seriously, who would mess with dogs that adorable?) Right now I’m stuck in a holding pattern with a half-finished manuscript and brain-load of “I’M A TALENTLESS HACK”, slowly clawing my way out of the Dread Pit of Burnout. I’m not so far gone, though, that I don’t remember what it was like during NaNo.

    I oscillated rapidly between stages one, two, and three. I’d feel the pang of self-conscious dread when anyone asked me what my story was about, a quiet thrill if they thought it was neat, and profound emo despair if they didn’t. The few times I had people read small excerpts were even worse. I’ve been working on a short story in the meantime which has sent me through similar crazy-spirals, but with quicker feedback since it’s posted on the intart00bz.

  7. Marilyn Kelly April 7, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Truth hurts sometimes. I’m a year into submissions with an agent. For the first nine months, I kept my cell phone on during meetings, kept it in my pocket when I absolutely had to silence it, and giggled like a two year old whenever it rang. I literally puffed up when I told people – ‘I have to take this call. It might be my agent.’
    Alas, the mainstream publishing industry is stalled along with most of the world’s economy, and I go hours without checking for a missed call now.
    Liv passed your post on. Have I been yammering about my latest story idea to excess? I swear it’s high concept and a very talented actress is going to win an Oscar for the lead when it comes out as a blockbuster movie.
    Or it might be shit.

  8. Sarai April 8, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    Man, I go through 1, 2, and 4 every time I finish an RP-related blog post. It really is crazy.

    Although I’ve never really claimed to be sane in the first place…

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