Why I Had A Breakdown Over My Novel

I won’t try to relate this to a theoretical writer today.

Many of these posts are aimed at the readers. Well, whoever those are that might benefit from reading them. Sometimes they’re sounding boards – I’ll speak to the unspecified collection of writers, but in truth I’m writing it at myself, and often about whatever stage I’m at.

Today is different.

It’s not that people won’t relate. While I’m convinced the vast majority will read this post and think “Dude, really?“, there’s a possibility some might go through and think “Wow. I had a moment like that.

The Thing with Writing

Writing is fraught with its own things, and one of the common situations is that you’ll find someone that’s written, loves what they’ve written, but wouldn’t ever dream of sharing it with someone. I was like that for a long time, but it’s hard to reconcile that mentality when the aspiration always leads to letting others enter your world, seeing it in print, and doing it until you’ve no more words or breath left in you.

Whether it’s self-publishing, traditional, or just circulating print-outs and pdfs amongst friends, eventually you have to lay it out on the table. It might be bad. There might be mistakes. It’s not enough to just guess that they’re there and attempt to hide from them. You can’t overcome them if they’re never recognised, or never given light. I still struggle with this aspect. My first reaction after getting critical feedback is “No… but I thought I was good. Isn’t this what I want to produce with my life? It can’t be crap.

Boo fricking hoo. Everything’s crap until it’s not. It takes me some time to see where things fall through because I’m too close to the fire, but when I do, it’s as clear to me as it was to the people who said so. There’s some mental and emotional gymnastics required, because you need to accept that your particular arrangement of words is not as good as you originally thought, but still believe in it enough that you try to salvage it.

Same old story, no news here.

A Critical Point

As yesterday’s post said, I’m working on the rewrite of my current novel, For More Than Earthly Ends. It’s approaching a critical point in the story. The underlying structure of the story is that there’s an event that happens in the story’s past, which has a profound effect on a half-dozen characters. Those characters go off to live their separate lives, each in one of three story threads. The critical point is because one of those story-threads is about to veer off and bump into the other two threads, and change the course of each.

The draft I shared with a few people had issues, and in working on ways to resolve them, I found lots more I wanted to change. Whether or not the things I’m changing would be seen as broken or not, I really can’t say, however I do believe everything is better because of it. I mean, really, really believe it. And believe in it.

There’s a few stereotypes when it comes to writers, particularly with choice of beverage. Coffee has been a very common one, but I’ve not really had much in the way of alcohol in a long time. Exceptions were made last night. Lots. Maybe that’s the contributing factor, but I’ve always thought I get around the buffers in my head when inebriated. If I’ve been down on myself, the buffer of thought that demands perfection withers away, and I get glimpses of a thought that says “hey, I’m not so bad.

Just glimpses, mind you.

The Actual Incident

One thing I have to say is that you shouldn’t feel sorry for me. What followed was a very emotional experience for me, but one that was also cathartic.

It was a little after 11:30pm. Might have been cold, but owing to a certain liquid, my limbs were numb to any concerns over temperatures. I’d gotten off the train and started my walk home, all while listening to bits and pieces of my writing playlist. There’s a lot of songs in the playlist, but the core theme always comes back to an amalgamation of four – this is a weird thing where in my imagination, the three very different songs blur together at different parts, forming some special theme song. If I had an ounce of musical talent I’d consider trying to mix them proper, but the mind does well enough. The main piece to take from that is I was listening to one of the most emotionally laden tunes that relates to my novel. And yep, drunk. And thinking about my novel.

I thought about the progress I’d made. The improvements. I thought about how I was walking past a building I’d already pictured as the central point of one of the story threads, while listening to a song. I wasn’t quite there in the story, but I was traipsing along its borders.

It was too much for me to hold inside, but once you know it’s coming, what else can you do? My throat was already pulsing, and I knew that sharp ache beneath my eyes was just a warning that tears were on their way.

I didn’t understand it at first. Was it just the song, the place, and the drink? Stupid me, get it together. I could’ve skipped to a different song. I considered it, but didn’t. Whatever was happening, I needed it to happen. I needed to dig into this raw torrent and let it unsettle me, ravage my composure, and serve whatever had to be given.

I ran through the possible causes. Was it insecurity? Maybe. I thought about what I’m writing, and pulled out a thought. What if I’m wasting my time? What if it’s not good at all? There was an easy out for this fractured emotional state; the one I’d been telling myself over 20+ years of concerted efforts to write, the one I’d clung to whenever someone told me it was good, even while I balanced a belief that I had sufficient talent with regard to writing. I’ll be the first to tell someone I’m confident in my ability to write, and the first again to tell them how terrible my writing actually is. If you go for the astrology thing, no surprises I’m a gemini, but I think it’s just a severe case of cognitive dissonance.

It wasn’t the easy answer. The “I’m bad and everything I do is bad” response didn’t have the grounds. I could think the words, but it wasn’t belief.

A thought came back to me. This thing that I’m writing? It’s not terrible. It’s not even average.

It

Is

Good

Huh?

It is good. My novel, the one I started planning a year ago. The one I began writing in November. The one I’m rewriting. It is good.

It was one of the most terrifying thoughts I’ve ever had. That is the ridiculous truth. When I go to my core, when I shake away the halfway words and modesty and doubt, the novel that I’m working on is good and it scares me. I’m not even halfway through my current rewrite, still a long way from being finished, but I recognise now that I’m working on something I’ve been dreaming of for so long. There is accomplishment in it.

I’m closer to a finish line than I’ve ever been, but I know it’s not a waste and that is scary. The potential of success, scary.

It’s not like I’ve only one story in me. There’s more than I could ever write. I’m won’t finish this and say “Well, life mission accomplished. I can go die now”

Others have told me I can do this. Others have told me I write well or that my ideas are good or that they love my characters. I still had a part of me that suspected they were either being nice or plain wrong, but now, no. My world-view has shattered and instead of this dream of mine being this impossible thing, it is something I am capable of. I’m actually doing it.

What matters more is that I believe I’m doing it well, and I can’t wait to take you all through it. Even more so now that it feels like it will do justice to what I imagined.

For a long time, I’ve said that writing was my passion. I’ve hoped that it was what I was meant to do. I’ve defined myself by it. The difference now is knowing. If the same or a comparable situation came to you, after years of doubt and uncertainty and untenable hope, you had this moment, wouldn’t you cry too?

One thought on “Why I Had A Breakdown Over My Novel

  1. I, too, have a real bipolar attitude to my work and hate the way I swing between extremes – some days I am sure it sucks, other days I feel like it’s pretty good. When a publisher recently told me my ms ‘had legs,’ it was like another voice cutting in there – and it felt scary, but so good… After six years of endless drafts, and basically full immersion in learning how to do this thing (I was either writing or reading most of the time) somebody in the know acknowledged I had it in me to pull it off. With this affirmation, the tears came, on and off, for a week. Thx for your honest post.

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