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I remember, long before I started writing a novel, I had the certain sense that writers knew what they were doing and that every word was brilliant (if I loved their work); every word was golden. Because the words were important to me and I was just the reader, I assumed that the depth of import must be orders of magnitude more significant for the writers.

I also assumed they knew everything about their world and characters, and remembered every detail they had ever written, and somehow planned everything in advance, to achieve the things that moved me so much. I was a reader to whom books were a religious experience, an epiphany; how could it be less?


In some sense, this is all true. And in some, it is utterly naive garbage. But it's what I thought, and I share this tonight because I understand that readers who are not writers do still feel this way. I crossed a boundary, and I am no longer that reader.

But I'm aware of the risks I take when I say "oh my god this book is all garbage" in public, on my LJ, or anywhere. Some readers will assume that, if I say this about my work, it must be true and further, that I must have cared enough at some point in the past not to write garbage. They find it disillusioning, because honestly, if I'm just going to write crap, why bother?

And this is because they don't fully apprehend that at some stage in every book, every writer will be struck by how insignificant, how pathetic, and how craptastic the book actually is. So. Just in case.

When writers say "omg this is all crap", it's not actually definitive because it is in every conceivable way a subjective evaluation, and it is frequently fear, insecurity and isolation talking above the text in a loud, squeaky, thoroughly obnoxious voice. It is not an admission that they don't care that they are writing garbage, or that they don't care about their writing anymore, when they used to or how could they have written that book you loved, or that they are not struggling to do their best work; it's the fear that they have done all this and failed.

I am used to writing through the insecurity and uncertainty, because if I am lucky, there will be 20k words in an entire manuscript that I am certain work. I am less certain about the other 180k. (I'm working on a West novel, which is why I chose those numbers; I could have said 14k and 136k as well). The words that I am less certain of, I shift or change or cut.

I would love to be able to write without the fear. I have never been able to achieve that; there are days when I feel that the work was good, but even that fades because, well, me. It's helpful to realize that the fear is part of the process (although I generally tell myself that, and then also tell myself omg but this time it really is all awful.)

But I work just as hard as I did when I started. I think I'm smarter now, but that's also subjective. Other writers? Same thing.

The first time I heard a writer say they were writing garbage, it was shocking. I can barely remember this, but I can remember it. So now, when I hear someone at the store tell me that so-and-so said in his blog that his writing is all garbage, so he's obviously not concerned with his readers anymore, I gently explain that he is probably in the middle-of-the-book, and that he is merely talking more publicly about the process than other writers do, and also that he probably felt the same way about every single book the reader has read and liked.

But the fact that I do on occasion still have to explain this reminded me to do this here, just in case it's relevant.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 5th, 2008 01:33 am (UTC)
Huh. You know, I make comments like that fairly often, particularly when struggling with a first draft. It never even crossed my mind that people would assume that meant I was *publishing* crap. The crap stage is just a normal part of the writing process.

Good reminder that not everyone shares the writer-brain :-)
Apr. 5th, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
Huh. You know, I make comments like that fairly often, particularly when struggling with a first draft. It never even crossed my mind that people would assume that meant I was *publishing* crap. The crap stage is just a normal part of the writing process.

When you write and know a lot of writers and there's more open discussion of process, it's an easy assumption -- but there's an illusion that some readers have that is one part hero worship, and the reality causes strong cognitive dissonance and often (undeserved) sense of betrayal.

And I realized I haven't really said that on LJ before, so I thought I would.
Apr. 5th, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. :) My friends who aren't writers look at me funny when I say "and now I have to go rewrite this crap."

"If you care so much, why didn't you just write it correctly the first time through?"


Fortunately I can explain it to some of them (this being Nerd Engineer Land) that they don't design a software system correctly on the first run either, and that it takes a lot of brainstorming to go from draft to final design. ETA: and even so, when you do actually implement the system, you run into a bunch of heebie-jeebies you never thought to take into account... and now you have to redesign again, some times more radically than others.

The ones who are good engineers nod.... the ones who aren't won't get it anyways.

I was exposed to the "my writing is garbage" writerspeak when I read Neil Gaiman's blog, about a year after American Gods had hit the stands. When people asked why he didn't blog while writing the book, he said that it was because the blog would alternate between days when he was happy with what he wrote and days when he decided that he wrote crap and was never meant to be a writer.

I remember being surprised by that. But he had said it in such a way that I didn't think he didn't care. On the other hand, I am very trusting in nature.

Edited at 2008-04-05 01:38 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 5th, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
The idea of the perfectionist author despairing at the quality of their own work is always what I've thought when I've heard authors say this sort of thing as well. ;) I gotta assume that if you're a fan of an author, know the sort of work they put out, then you wouldn't be too worried about them saying things like that.
Apr. 5th, 2008 04:12 am (UTC)
*heh* Im glad you said this, but honestly, I rather knew that all along....but maybe thats because I tried to be write as well as read all my life and so understand such frustration? and never really expected books to come wholeformed from the gods's minds....
Apr. 5th, 2008 04:34 am (UTC)
Good post! It will come in handy in about five thousand words . . .
Hey, hey - I'm utterly convinced my favorite authors not only roll out of bed perfectly presentable but also have the entire timeline of their worlds etched in their infallible memories, down to the last mundane detail like how many blades of grass their MC has in their yard.

This talk of crap is merely humbleness and modesty, for 'lo, they are mighty, mighty people and deserving of their pedestals.

Granted, it's easier to convince myself when I'm not trying to do my own writing, but really, I have just not attained my own semi-divine status yet and once I get that first book polished just right, I too will be mighty mighty . . .
Apr. 5th, 2008 12:08 pm (UTC)
I'm in the it's-cool-that-you-said-this-but-I-kinda-knew-that-already camp. I think that's true of any profession in which someone is creative and puts themselves/their work on display to the public. Writers, software engineers, actors, singers, song writers, musicians....the most common thought upon immediate completion is, I think, "well, that was c**p" or, "hey, that didn't suck quite as badly as I thought it would."
Apr. 5th, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
Big thanks
It's not that I didn't know this, but making trying to make the jump from would-be-novelist to actual novelist, it's easy to read other people's polished, published work then look at my own unpolished first draft and think only, "Wow, I suck."

I needed to read this now.
Apr. 11th, 2008 01:32 am (UTC)
Re: Big thanks
it's easy to read other people's polished, published work then look at my own unpolished first draft and think only, "Wow, I suck."

The sad thing is, that doesn't change. I do it all the time. But it's partly because I am certain of what I read, and I cannot, ever, read my own words that way. I can mimic it, and I can overcompensate, but I will never come to the books I write as a reader first.
Apr. 5th, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC)
I think it's awful that others don't understand crap-speak. I have always thought it was a given that at some point, people feel badly about their work. If they went around saying "I'm brilliant!" every step of the way, there would be quite a number of uneasy looks going around the table.

No one would accuse their mothers/grandmothers/aunts/other people of careless, bad cooking if they set down a plate/pastry and said, "This is not my best dish...don't get your hopes up."

Regardless of whether or not the dish is tasty, you can be sure that some thought and effort was put into it. But sometimes, things just don't come out right in the end. It takes some reworking.

Thanks for writing this. It IS a good reminder. (And sometimes, I still think that reading is a religious experience ^.^)
Apr. 11th, 2008 01:35 am (UTC)
I think it's awful that others don't understand crap-speak. ...
(And sometimes, I still think that reading is a religious experience ^.^)

I think the two go hand-in-hand. If you have no interest in writing -- and on LJ and increasingly in the blogsphere, that seems rare -- you care about reading, and sometimes the words on the page are almost mystical in their import and in what they evoke. The idea that the person who could write something that could move you so much was not, somehow, in utter and completely control, is jarring.

I think if you're involved in any creative endeavour, there's a greater chance that you've gone through the "this is all garbage" and come out the other side. But it's coming out the other side that makes the process transparent. I think.
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. I often find that given a little distance - a couple of days or weeks - I can read what I have written with a different attitude meaning more like a critic. I then see a lot of "crap" and can set it right. Actually, that is what works for me: I keep going back in loops to what I have written - to do the "crap test". And there are days when I am not happy about my work.
Apr. 9th, 2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
Judging your own writing is even worse than judging your own art. I feel like most people are wrong about both when they think "this is great!" and when they think "this is crap!" about their own work. It's pretty rare for anyone to judge their stuff objectively. :)
Apr. 10th, 2008 09:55 am (UTC)
Ah, yes, the beloved love-hate relationship writers have with their work. I've had people absolutely love pieces I've done that I felt are completely horrible and then turn around and something I've poured heart and soul into and tried so hard to bring across meaning they toss aside and go, "Eh." This then rips my heart out and I whine about it for a few days to IRL friends who know I'm neurotic about my work.

On the other hand, it's really hard for me, as a writer, to go back to the strictly reader mindset and think things are completely planned because I know sometimes my characters springs something on me and I go "Wait, where the hell did this come from?" and they look at me and shrug and expect me to write it anyway. With this, I have often had to scratch my head when people make comments like the above where people don't care because they're writing crap. That's what revisions are for.

The other common misconception is that writers just sit down, throw something in a word processor and call it a book. If it were that easy, we'd all be writers! It takes time and attention and sometimes bashing your face against the desk in frustration and passing things to a trusted beta before sending it along to the publisher. I've had friends go "What are you THINKING?" and redline the CRAP out of things, but when it's published, it's damned good.

It's also disheartening when people don't understand that, like everyone, we have our moments where we're SINGING and other moments where the things we write feel like we're balding a cat with tweezers. Some days the muses flow and other days they sit back and file their nails while we look at them and make obscene gestures.

Now that I've rambled, I'll step down. I understand completely and had never thought blogging that it was crap could have such dire consequences for the readers. Thanks for enlightening me.
Apr. 11th, 2008 01:38 am (UTC)
Now that I've rambled, I'll step down. I understand completely and had never thought blogging that it was crap could have such dire consequences for the readers. Thanks for enlightening me.

I think readers who read a lot of different writers are probably much more aware, but I could be wrong; certainly if they read a lot about a book in progress, and love the book, they will probably think "Oh, I get it. The author is insane", and proceed from there.

But the common misconception, that writers just sit down and write golden words, is a common one for a reason, and it's easy to forget that when we're chest-deep in unfortunate words.
Apr. 14th, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)
I'm late to the party, but was pointed in your direction by jimhines, and I just wanted to chime in on this, because I'm going through it with my latest story.

Of course, my problem is that the thing is finished, and submitted, and I'm damned if I'm going to go back to it and tweak it any more. And I'm still vacillating between thinking "This is the best thing I've ever written" and "Dude, I totally phoned this in; it's crap."

Fortunately, the Hubby, who is above all else objective and honest with me when it comes to my writing (if he doesn't like something, he says so--but he also tells me why, which is worth its weight in gold), thinks this particular story is the best thing I've ever done. So I at least have outside reassurance that it's not utter garbage, no matter what my Inner Bitch says.

I think a lot of times that we, as writers, are way too close to our own work and can't be objective about it until, perhaps, months after we finally let it fly and be free.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )