Who'd be a writer?
Startling news, just in! I have completed my fantasy novel, The Valkyrie of Vanaheim.
At least, I think so. Yesterday I told my wife, as I beamed with joy and satisfaction at the news. In the wee small hours of this morning, I was already having doubts. I kept waking up with reservations and questions which I couldn't dismiss, no matter how hard I tried. And I speak as someone who usually sleeps like the proverbial log, in fact I trained the log how to sleep. My lack of sleep illustrates the scale of my neurosis. Yes, it was that bad.
Some background on this situation. The Valkyrie of Vanaheim has been gestating for two and a half years. Elephants give birth faster. It has appeared in a couple of different iterations, never quite working. Much of that time, those two and a half years, was spent with the book on the back burner while I tried to find solutions to its problems. Almost a year ago, I was two chapters away from finishing it. Yeah, two chapters.
I took the decision to give up on the story because no matter what I tried, the ending wouldn't work. It was a big step, to abandon all that work. Of course, you don't abandon it completely. You re-use some of it. Eventually, I concluded the problem lay with the main character. I tweaked her slightly in a couple of areas and suddenly there she was, I'd found her. Writing her story became clearer, easier too. The climactic battle finally worked because of those changes and the relationships forged as a consequence.
Writing the book has, for the most part, been enjoyable. It brought satisfaction of a need which exists deep inside my psyche. Hence the title of this piece, Who'd Be A Writer? Because we may enjoy the writing process but it is one filled with masochistic torture. We struggle to create something which we can hold up and say we think is good enough to share with other people. With luck our readers may even enjoy the story and share their enthusiasm with others. If the writing gods so wish, the book might even sell quite well. And, if the stars align correctly, an agent might even want to represent you because it 'fits their list'.
These are the benefits, as aspiring writers we consider ourselves lucky if even one of them happens.
The drawbacks are found in the torture chamber of self-doubt. Once the thing is finished, we ask ourselves - is it really? We generate our mental lists of the things we should have done, find the mistakes we made, reconsider all the decisions we took on the road to writing the words THE END. And, as if that isn't bad enough, we give the book to our beta readers. There begins a second level of torture as we wait and imagine what responses will arrive in our In box. Beta readers have to be honest, of course they do, but steeling your loins to cope with the feedback is tough. Mainly because you say to yourself, "Why didn't I realise that?" Anyone else find their response to a compliment is, "They're just being polite."
All of this leads me to this observation. Writers need to be treated like your pet cat or dog. We need to be stroked and petted every so often.
My previous novel, currently out for submission and getting polite rejections, is contemporary fiction. My wife challenged me to write it. She dislikes speculative fiction big time and doesn't read my other stuff for this reason. That's fair enough. One day last year, during Lockdown, she cursed fluently about the lack of quality fiction available on her Kindle. "Why don't you write something in this genre?" she challenged. So I did.
She's now read the novel twice. The second time she still giggled in the right places. Her verdict? The best book she'd read in years. Now, before you say, "She's your wife, she has to say that!" let me point out that if you think that, you have NOT met my wife. She has the eye of a natural born editor. She has very high standards. She does not suffer fools gladly. At all. She is, I'm pleased to say, my fiercest critic.
For this reason, when she tells me I shouldn't doubt myself, for a while, I believe her. Hence the reference to stroking the cat or dog. Writers need regular reassurance from a voice of reason that we value and can validate us. I'm not talking a quick pat on the head and "Of course you can write!" either. We need some scaffolding of informed analysis to support our neuroses. These are the people who genuinely deserve mentions in the Dedication and Acknowledgement pages when your story is published.
Without these people - how would we survive? I repeat, who'd be a writer?