Why is it so hard to show people your writing?

Ernest Hemingway quote

A while ago I compiled a big folder full of words of wisdom about how to write, where to find motivation and tips for writing success. Now I need it, I can’t find it anywhere, but somewhere in there was a quote that I took to heart. I can’t remember who said it, but the sentiment was something along these lines:

Being a successful writer basically boils down to the ability to tolerate your own crap.

Now, more than ever, this rings pretty true. Writing anything – a blog post, a poem, a journal entry, a novel – takes a lot out of you. It’s an outpouring of your own innards. But for me, every time, something seems to go awry between the thing inside me and it ending up on the page. Every time, the process seems to go something like this:

In the quiet of my own head, I have a thought, the thought seems amazing and original and interesting, so I write it down and realise as I do so that a) it’s not the thought I was expecting it to be and b) is it really that interesting? It definitely doesn’t feel that original anymore. Then I try and make it into something a bit clearer and shinier than it is, though it’s nowhere near as shiny as I intended it to be, and then I sit back and occasionally look at it, accompanied by the uncomfortable undertones of ‘I don’t think you can polish this turd, Catherine’ for a few days, weeks or years. Then, I either crack on and do something with it anyway, or I abandon it. Mostly the latter.

It is SO HARD to get perspective on your own writing. More than a year after finishing my one and only novel I’m still warily skirting around it as though it’s an unpredictable mongrel pawing at the front door. Is committing to this weird, kinda funny-looking thing going to make me happy, or miserable? I’m so conflicted.

OBVIOUSLY the first thing I did after finishing the second draft was get some people to read it. Without any outside perspective there’s no hope at all. But my readers were all people who love me, and who – though they provided feedback – probably wouldn’t have told me if it genuinely was a pile of crap. They are too nice. Only one person who doesn’t actually know me has read it (a friend of my dad) and his feedback was quite positive, along the lines of ‘it would make a good Richard Curtis film’ which quite frankly, made my year.

I’ve been swinging back and forth between trying to find an agent to represent me, or going the self-publishing route, and both are scary. The agent route is hard because the competition and calibre is so high, and my self-promotional skills are pretty slim right now. Trying to write a synopsis and a query letter (more on that another time) takes forever, and each agent wants something different. I’ve sent my submission out to only 5 or 6 agents so far, and each one has taken me at least an evening to put together. I imagined being able to put together a solid submission package and then firing it off to all of the agents on my list over the course of a few days, but…. uh, no. That’s not how it works.

And the momentum is really hard to keep up, because I over-think EVERYTHING. Each time I have to tweak the synopsis, or the query letter, I then start wondering if I should change the story itself, and then I’m sucked into a downward spiral of re-reading the manuscript, questioning everything about what I’ve written (are my characters believable? Boring? Am I going against every feminist principle out there by writing about a woman who just really wants a man even though that’s the basis of practically every romance everywhere? Does this plot make sense? Would anyone actually behave like this? What am I even doing here?!). It’s at least another three months before I manage to pull myself out the other side of this and fire off another – probably quite meek and mediocre – submission to an agent.

Zadie Smith quote

Truth be told, it’s exhausting and boring. And doing nothing for my self-esteem. I assumed that finishing the novel would be the biggest hurdle and my biggest achievement, but seriously, just being able to feel proud of what I’ve written would be a huge step right now. Not to mention getting it out there! I don’t care if someone comes back and tells me it’s completely ludicrous and awful – any feedback would be better than trying to flog… not even a dead horse. A horse that I’m not sure is even a horse. It could be a goose! It could be a giant ferret. I don’t know!

I find myself ending up wanting to shout out ‘For the love of GOD, would somebody just validate this! And by extension, meeeeeeeee!’

But that’s not the point. And self-publishing on a shoe-string is no better, because with no professional editor to critique it or small band of cheerleaders who’ve read it and love it, it’s still a totally unknown entity.

There is very little purpose to this post other than to share my complete stuckness over publishing my novel/goose/giant ferret. I’m sure I’m not alone. I really need to start up some conversations with other people who are going through this, as it’s a far, far lonelier process than I ever expected. I’ve started writing the next one already just to take my mind off it.

And so the cycle continues…



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