Thursday, August 31, 2006

Never Let Them See You Doubt (& George Pelecanos live)

There are unwritten rules for authors. One is you can never express your insecurity.

Well, okay, you can if you’re really popular and successful and destined to be regarded as a great writer. Then, people will smile sympathetically and chalk it up to nerves and modesty and think it’s cute that someone so talented isn’t completely conceited.

But if you aren’t in that category, it’s almost as though showing any signs of doubt or weakness is an invitation for your work to be dismissed. You aren’t well known. There must be a reason you aren’t well known. You look nervous. Ah, deep down, you know you aren’t very good.

I mean, it isn’t like every single book published gets dropped on all the famous author’s doorsteps, they read them all and then pick a few select books to blurb. Same with reviews in the major press. A lot of it has to do with name recognition, with an agent and publisher behind the author giving them lots of support, talking them up.

If you’ve got that, you can afford modesty. If you haven’t… Maybe you can’t be too honest.

I suppose there are some people out there who never second-guess themselves, who are completely assured, who trust that every time someone reads their book they’ll think it’s wonderful. I tell you, I wish some of that would rub off.

It doesn’t matter how many people have said they like it. Husbands are suspect (sorry honey). Friends, the same. And I hate to tell you this, but at least for me, that niggling self doubt, the worry that it wasn’t good enough, didn’t go away when I signed a publishing contract.

I’m staring at a September 1 deadline on, well, a handful of things. One of them being turning over my book to my editor, for the ARCs to be printed. Sounds exciting. For the first time, I’ll hold an actual printed copy of this work in my hands – not one I printed on the laser printer, but one that’s come from somewhere else. It’s the first moment that you really, truly know what it’s like to hold your book.

Which is why I’m scared to death.

I’ve been over the thing backwards and forwards. I’ve had readers comb it for mistakes. Kevin just read it, for the first time since the original draft was done two years ago, and even he missed typos that I picked up on when I went through. And damn, he was thorough.

All of which leaves me certain there must be more mistakes in there that I’ve missed as well. Oh, I know, it’s an ARC. It’s not the final version.

It’s just the version the reviewers are going to read. It’s going to be what sells them, or invites them to rip it to shreds.

You think you know how it will feel to be here. How exciting it will be. And that’s a complete and utter fantasy. Well, for me, anyway. I have a bit of a workaholic perfectionist streak to me, about certain things. And this is one of them.

I’ve decided that the reason you ask authors for blurbs is not to endorse your book (although that happens as a result). It’s simple. When you’re scared to death the book won’t measure up, along come the blurbs that tell you it’s wonderful.

So that you can convince yourself it’s worth pressing on for just a few more days and getting it done.

I’m now, officially, tying up the loose ends on these deadlines. I would think it would feel good to pass my baby over and know that it was moving on to the next phase. I’d be able to breathe deeper, right? At least sleep? Because there wouldn’t be anything else I could do anyway.

The past few weeks I’ve been lying in bed when I should be sleeping, thinking about the book. Thinking about the growing list of places the ARCs are going. And felt sick to my stomach. I’ve got to admit it. I’ve been grumpy and irritable and short-tempered. And prone to bursting into tears for no good reason.

Yesterday, I made my trek over to JB Thompson’s blog to see what was new with her. And you can see for yourself what I found her talking about.

It wasn’t long after that that JB emailed me with a blurb for Suspicious Circumstances. I spent a lot of time misty-eyed as we exchanged a few emails, and she told me at length what she thought of the book.

All you really want to do is connect with the reader. To convince them of your story. To sell them on your characters and have them say it’s a damn good read. But books, art, music, movies – this stuff is so subjective. A person might read your work and not be crazy about it, and that doesn’t mean the book isn’t any good. It just means it isn’t their thing.

So when someone comes back and tells you all the things they liked about your work, and they’re all the things you hoped someone would say, you breathe a little easier. You did your job. You succeeded.

Although, since I’m a big pessimist and worry-wart, that feeling only lasted for about ten minutes before panicking and worrying resumed.

I think this is never going to get any easier for me. I’m my own toughest critic.

The up side to that is, I could never imagine just coasting in my career. Of course, the down side is, I’m going to go through this again and again and again…

This is kind of cool. George Pelecanos and Steve Wynn, live.


Steve Allan said...

Deep down inside we are all fagile little people who hope no one will discover our egg shell exteriors.

Anonymous said...

All of the freshman just moved in to the building my husband oversees at this university. The amount of uncertainty and worry about succeeding is almost visible in the air. And it isn't just the freshman. It's the staff, my husband, me. I don't think you ever lose that feeling that maybe this time it won't go well, no matter what everyone else is telling you. We all identify Sandra, and right now, we're all probably thinking, yeah, but she's more talented than I am!

By the way, thanks for the link to George's reading, I had heard about it. That was way cool!

angie said...

nail-biting days (weeks, months, etc.) are no fun. I'm not sure it gets better, but i like to think i've come up with better coping skills. More beer, less coffee seems to help a little.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Steve, I won't tell anybody you said that if you don't. Knowlege of your eggshell exterior will be safe with me.

Norby, that is kind of cool! And there's a publicity angle if I ever saw one! Funny, you do think of starting school as a time of great excitement, but you're right. There's a lot of fear that goes with it too.

Angie, more beer, less coffee. Now, why didn't you tell me sooner? :P

Anonymous said...

I used to do stand-up comedy back in the dark ages of the early 90s. No matter how well I thought things had gone, and no matter how many people told me what I did was fine, there was always someone there to let me know I was shit. I quickly developed a stony cynical heart when it came to opinions of my work, good or bad (but that's a bit of a lie, good's always good).

Also, I saw the Pelecanos piece a couple of hours ago, then I followed your link and watched it again. Great.

Unknown said...

I've written four books and after getting a couple of rejections for the first one, I didn't even bother submitting the next two, convinced they wouldn't be good enough. Having the courage to put your work out there, despite your doubts, that's worth as much as being able to write a good book (and go read your blurbs again if you're still doubtful about the latter).

Sandra Ruttan said...

John, you may not have been reading my blog back then, but in July I had a chance to meet George Pelecanos. He was one of the special guests at Harrogate Crime Festival. A captivating speaker, really interesting person to listen to. I didn't expect I'd get to meet him, but I actually did. I wish I'd said a zillion things but I'm just glad I got to meet him - who knows if I'll ever have another chance?

Vincent, you shouldn't lack courage. You tell a damn good story (one I'm looking forward to finishing as soon as the edits are done!) and your work is solid. Don't give up!

And I did read the blurbs again. But I have a scene that's giving me grief at the moment... :(

mai wen said...

I truly think most writers can relate to this. I haven't even been published, but my first story my mentor read he loved and after that I was terrified to share another story with him. What if he hated it? What if that first story was a lucky mistake and truly I'm a flop? He ended up Not liking my next story, but liking some after that. So it ended up okay, I guess I just had to accept you can't be perfect and it was nice that he still had faith in me even after a bad story here and there!

Good luck Sandra, hopefully when the widely positive reviews come pouring in you can relax a little!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

This is the negative part of the "I'm god" / "I'm wormshit" cycle. We all do it. We all have it. Repeat after me.

I do not suck.

I do not suck.

I do not suck.

Now get back to those edits.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Mai Wen, I relate to that. Especially if someone's opinion is important to you, you SO want to impress them. It's the worst thing in the world - the potential for the greatest high or the lowest low.

Stephen, there's a comment I'm dying to make, but I'll email you!

Bill Cameron said...

I live!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hey - that's good news Bill!

Unknown said...

Sandra I think everyone putting their work which in essense is themselves out into the public feels the same way. I make jewelry and do mixed media art and I feel the same way about each an every piece. Oh my god it sucks. Then someone says they like it and I think hey cool. Then ten minutes later I think oh no it sucks they were just being nice. We are our own worst critics. Heck I feel the same way about the reviews I write. I figure someone is going to write my and say you liked that book what are you stupid? But hey we keep on doing it anyway despite our doubts. Now you go and finish up those edits and know you have done the best you possibly could and just try to enjoy the moment. :0

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yes Andrea. I will stop whining and obey, right now. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Bill lives!

Andrea's right. Sometimes you just have to say "I write what I like, and the world be damned." Of course, if you damn the world it probably won't buy your book, so there's the rub. :)

Just sing the song, Sandra. It will make you feel better.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ah yes, Julia, our song. Big smiles from me on that.

Chaser said...

I have total faith that you will rock.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Lisa!

Daniel Hatadi said...

Damn have I been slack with blogs.

Coming in late on this one, but I'll add this to the mix:

When you spend that much time being critical of your work, as you should, it makes perfect sense that the habit continues--even past the point of its appropriateness.

You will kick butt, however, so relax, take it easy. Grab a pina colada or similarly gaudy cocktail and kick back.

Or if you're like me, keep worrying late into the night. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

The best thing, Daniel, is that if I worry late into your night, that just means agonizing all day for me. Now if you tell me you worry all day too, then I'm screwed.

But good point about all that time being critical and then switching gears. It's hard.

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