Discouragement

I was at a birthday party for one of my colleagues this weekend, and when editors get together, even not at work, we end up talking about books.

I asked one friend how her novel is coming along, and she gave me a look.

“I’m forty thousand words in,” she said, “and I’ve hated it for the last twenty thousand. Actually, I’ve hated it from the start.”

I’m confident it’s a solid first draft. I’ve read some of her previous work, which is excellent. She’s done tons of research. She recently signed with a great agent, and good publishers are considering her completed manuscript.

And yet I’m also confident that “hate it” is exactly how the drafting process feels for her right now, because I’ve been there too.

I’m kind of there right now, actually. At this point I’m accustomed to hating every manuscript, draft, and edit I’ve ever written at about the one-hundred-page mark; that milestone is just cursed for some reason. But at any other stage of the writing process, feeling discouraged or frustrated with the manuscript isn’t terribly surprising either. I recently crossed two hundred pages in my current edit, and instead of feeling accomplished or texting writer friends excitedly, I just felt . . . unaffected.

My current manuscript is a big book, so two hundred pages isn’t even halfway. Ever overly optimistic about my writing goals, I’d hoped to be done with this edit by the end of the year. At this rate, I’ll be lucky if I’m done by summer. And all the time I’m working on this manuscript, I’m not editing my portal fantasy manuscript, which I’d love to start sending to agents in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, I could offer myself the same encouragement that was ready to hand for my friend. For where my colonial fantasy manuscript is, as a second draft in progress, it’s very solid. In the meantime, I have a completed manuscript under consideration with several agencies I would be thrilled to sign with. I have another manuscript I’m itching to get back to because I happen to like it a lot and think it has promise.

And yet I feel discouraged about my writing these days. Like every other writer waiting for their breakout, my friend and I traded opinions about books we’d read recently that we weren’t impressed with, with the inevitable question, Why are these books getting picked up and published when other solid manuscripts aren’t getting a look? And of course the question behind the question is, Should I really be spending all this time writing when there’s no guarantee that my books will be published and I’ll have a chance to share my stories with more people than just my friends?

At the same time, though, it was reassuring to talk to my friend about our novels. It was good to remember that my discouragement isn’t unique, that many others have trouble seeing their own writing objectively and working at it even when it isn’t fun or exciting anymore.

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