It’s the first afternoon of the Novel Incubator Alumni Writing Retreat in Jackson, NH. From my room up in the eaves, I read over the last chapter of the latest draft of my novel, attach the whole thing to an email and push SEND. My draft flies off to two extremely generous writer friends willing to read it and offer feedback.
I breathe deeply and go for a walk filled with optimism. The woods around Jackson Village are the prettiest woods in the whole world. After years of writing, I am getting close to actually FINISHING A NOVEL!
The next morning I intend to work on a blog piece. I know I should take a break so I can see my novel with fresh eyes in a month or two. But pulling out my laptop I can’t stay away. I think – I’ll just read through it fast to get the aerial view. After all I haven’t looked at the beginning and middle of the story for months.
As I read, my optimism fades. Outside it gets cloudy and begins to snow. A pit in my stomach grows and gets bigger with every scene. There is no escaping the truth . . . this draft . . . SUCKS!
I keep reading . . . 50 pages . . . 75. It only gets worse. The pit in my stomach turns to acid. I am ill. I am NOT close to finishing a novel and I will NEVER send this out. I am dying to reach into the internet and drag my draft out of my writer friends’ inboxes. What will they think of me? They’ll think I’m a shitty writer. Because I am.
I never want to come out of my room but this is a writing retreat with a craft lesson and dinner to follow. I confess to my writing buddies that the draft I’d been so thrilled about finishing actually SUCKS. They commiserate and then tell me their own sucky draft stories.
“I read over the fourth draft of my novel and hated every word.”
“I couldn’t look at my draft one more second or I’d hit the delete key.”
“I feel physically ill thinking about my last draft.”
“I pushed SEND on a draft and said, ‘There goes that piece of shit.’”
Then I remember a Pulitzer Prize nominated writer saying, “I hate everything I write.”
So what . . . are we crazy? Does every writer think their work sucks at one time or another? Unfortunately, I think it’s true.
So what do you do when you think your draft sucks?
- Don’t panic. Don’t hit the delete key. Don’t toss those pages on the fire.
- Talk to other writers. Commiserate. Go out for drinks. Commiserate more.
- Know that most writers feel like this at times. Expect it.
- Send your draft to trusted colleagues for feedback anyway.
- Then put it AWAY, even when you don’t want to.
- Work on something else.
- Remember why you write in the first place.
- Listen to the feedback from your colleagues and consider it carefully.
- If you’ve been away from your draft long enough to see it with fresh eyes and you still think it sucks, and your colleagues agree, find out what’s wrong and fix it.
- Keep writing.
Thanks to the help of my writing buddies and our teacher, Michelle Hoover, at the Novel Incubator Retreat, I peek at my draft the next day and start reading. Oddly enough, it is not as bad as I’d thought, not nearly as bad. Yes, it needs work but it’s fixable. And yes, I am putting it away now. Right now!