Stephen King was the first to call it as he saw it. In his amazing book, On Writing, he refers, unabashedly, to first drafts as “shitty” (I’m quoting King here). Is this true? Maybe, maybe not.
As a writer, I can’t say I always agree with him. Sometimes the muse takes hold of my brain, hijacks my fingers, and before I know it—voila! I’ve created a rough draft that’s actually, well, pretty darn good.
But not often. Not nearly often enough. Lately, hardly ever.
I think my muse has taken a leave of absence and forgotten to submit the proper paperwork. And let me tell you, it’s frustrating, perplexing, and frightening! After churning out three books a year for the past two years, we are now smack dab in the middle of September, and I’ve only written one novel in 2017. True, I’ve also written an author’s resource book, but that doesn’t count. I’d hoped to have my next novel out by now, and be preparing the release of my third.
It ain’t gonna happen. Not this year.
Okay, so I’ve had some distractions. Cancer is a pretty big one, but you’d think, with all that time off while I was undergoing treatment, I’d have gotten a boatload of writing done. Didn’t work out that way. It went more like this: go for a treatment, come home. Sleep half the day, get up and try to eat something. Stumble into my office, stare at the computer screen (bleary-eyed) for an hour, then go back to bed.
That excuse no longer holds. I’m past that now. I completed my treatments this spring and got a clean PET scan in June. I should have written 150,000 words since then! I have not. I have begun to feel desperation at “losing the muse,” so I force myself to sit down and get in my 1000 words a day (anything past 500 is a gift!). But every word, every paragraph, every scene I write seems, to me, like total garbage.
What’s a writer to do? This isn’t writer’s block, exactly. The words are coming. I’ve even written a complete synopsis of the story which, for me, is unusual. I’m usually a pantser. It’s just that when I go back to read what I’ve written, instead of feeling the exhilaration of “Wow, did I just write that?” I think, “Crap. I can’t believe I just wrote that. It’s crap.”
Singers get laryngitis. It feels like that’s what’s happened to my writing ability. Instead of making beautiful song, I’m croaking like a bullfrog.
This happened to me once before. I “lost my voice” during the creation of another book—one it took me almost two years to write. How did I get through it? I just donned my rubber boots and plowed through the garbage. I stubbornly kept writing and writing figuring, eventually, I would make it through the field of crappy stuff, and the good stuff would lie beyond.
I did. And ironically, as it turned out, a lot of the stuff I considered garbage ended up, in reality, being pretty good.
So, fellow authors, when you get authorial laryngitis, don’t give up writing. Just keep doing it, even if your prose sounds more like a bullfrog’s croak. Because eventually, your voice will return, and it will be even stronger than ever before. Know you are not alone in this garbage desert. And accept the fact that all writers go through these seasons of self-doubt again and again.
Even Stephen King.