I have always been a self-hater when it comes to writing. I have crumpled up and thrown away more work than anyone else I know. Not only that, I also have a broad collection of work that I will never, ever look at again.
Because I hate, absolutely hate my own writing.
I just don’t get it. When the writing bug comes over me—like now—I am so excited and happy to have something to say. There is nothing better than elaborating on an idea and putting your thoughts out there. Some of my happiest moments in my entire life involve the times when I’ve been writing. So what is it about my attitude towards my work that leads me to the point where I want to kill my own literary children?
I’d feel pretty weird about this if I didn’t know that at least one other famous writer felt the same way. For instance, Franz Kafka, author of “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial.” Apparently, Franz Kafka burned 90% of his work, and then, according to a blog by Jory MacKay, after his death in 1924, his friend and literary executor, Max Brod, found a note in Kafka’s desk asking him to burn the rest. Luckily, he didn’t do that.
Stephen King famously crumpled up and dumped into the wastebasket the first three pages his first novel “Carrie” in a bout of self disgust and his wife had to rescue them and urge him to continue. And, of course, this was the book that made his career!
In addition to these stories of great writing that ended up being rescued, there are the stories of bad writing by good writers which was thankfully dumped in the garbage can and luckily left there. For instance, in 1983 Margaret Atwood was writing a novel about Mayan eccentric flints which she luckily disposed of before continuing on with “The Handmaid’s Tale” .
I’m sure there are many more stories like this which both well known and unknown writers could talk about.
So what’s my particular problem?
To be honest, I’m not sure how I ever became a writer because, as I said, my earliest memories are of ripping my writing up and throwing it away. I absolutely hated it. My writing was a complete and utter embarrassment to me. I only ended up in the position of writing as extensively as I have now because eventually I had a burning desire to communicate information that I felt was desperately important to convey. I was outraged by my observations of profound social injustices in the mental health system and the family court system and, gosh darn it, I was not going to let it stand. I chose to speak out against it in the only way I could think of, which was through my writing.
Thus, my Initial attempts at writing were letters to the editor, and finally, after a lengthy period of time I became the inveterate blogger and memoirist that I am today. What made me write what the fact that I was just so angry about the issues I spoke about, I could not be silent. In the end, I stopped caring about the quality of my work because the task of sharing my convictions became considerably more important to me.
So what is my problem now? Why am I getting into this problem again?
At this point, the turning wheels in my writing existence have gotten to the point that even without the kind of intense motivation I had earlier in my career, I keep on producing because I’ve gotten accustomed to spending my time this way. Ultimately, this writing business has become so much a part of my life that I recently wrote a novel of something like 200 pages. My question is, at this point, what should I do with it?
Of course, I am immediately having my old standby reaction to my writing, which is, I think it is horrible and believe I should immediately throw it in the nearest garbage can, throw gasoline on it, and toss in a match. Each time I review the opening chapters of the book, I wince with dislike at every word. So, should I pay attention to myself and toss the book?
I have no idea!
How is any author supposed to be able to assess his or her own work for quality. I suppose I could solicit a few readers to take a look and share their response, but no, that would be much too painful—expose my deep and unutterable shame regarding my horrible writing to others. No, I could never do that!!!
Maybe I should just put the book aside and come back to it at a later date when I am feeling fresh. Unfortunately, if I do, that might lead to a worse problem. I wrote this book over an extended time period in between a host of other activities. This means that I have quite forgotten some of what I did in this book even though I worked with an ongoing plot guide that I filled in as I progressed. Seriously, how do people keep track of what they have and have not said as they write a novel, unless they have an editor to remind them, and I sure don’t have one. This means that if I take time off from the book, I may have totally forgotten the book when I return to it, given my spotty memory. That means coming to grips with the book will be considerably more difficult.
Bottom line is, I never expected that writing a novel would be like this. I thought I would have more control, more of a capacity to structure the novel as I wished, and that hasn’t turned out to be true. Sometimes plotlines and characters just take off and you can’t do anything about it. I certainly have much greater respect for what novelists do as a result of writing this first novel.
Will I destroy what I’ve got? Will I ever try again? I have no idea. It’s going to take me a while to stop rolling around in the mud of writer self hate before I answer those questions. One thing I do know, I am not the first or the last writer who will ever have to walk through the dark night of the writer soul. But as I learned through my experience with non-fiction, if I can make it through, I may find that things aren’t as bad as I fear. This means that for now, I will leave my manuscript burning plans for another time.