Writing books can be a bitch.
I recently put the finishing touches on my latest fantasy novel, Death of the Grinderfish. While this manuscript has been a WIP for many years, I finally buckled down and finished my dystopian world. I was ecstatic with the results and couldn’t wait to get it into the hands of my beta readers. I even read through it one more time before sending it out just to be sure and I loved the adventure as much as when I first came up with the concept. This story was a result of years of tireless hard work. My beta readers were going to be blown away. Or so I thought.
With excited anticipation I gave out my heart and soul to the same beta readers I’ve used for each of my novels. Now, it was just a matter of waiting for the adulation to come pouring in. I might note that during the editing phase my aunt’s less-than full-throated enthusiasm should have been my first hint that something wasn’t right, but I ignored any doubts because of how much I loved the story.
My mom was the first beta reader to get back to me. She was engrossed in the story and loving it. So far so good. But at some point she lost interest and set the book aside. When I grilled her on what had happened she wasn’t exactly sure. She said she had just lost interest and would get back into it at some point. She never did. Yikes. That’s not good. But fantasy wasn’t her thing, so let’s wait for some other opinions.
Slowly, each beta reader returned their notes. While none of them confessed to not liking my story, none of them were blown away by it either. Most of their critical notes were either technical in nature or minor stumbles like a chapter that dragged on too long or a conversation felt too stilted. Those types of critiques. But behind all of their minor criticisms was a lack of enthusiasm for the story that I hadn’t received before. I soul searched and read through the manuscript again and again I loved what I had created.
I didn’t and still don’t understand what’s wrong with the story. I have never experienced this. I’ve had bad reviews and good reviews and I understand how stories rub different people in different ways but these are my beta readers. These are the ones who support my writing and generally like what I’ve written which is why I settled on them in the first place. To have received such lukewarm responses told me the future critics and readers would be brutal. My philosophy (stolen from someone much wiser than myself) was if I wrote something I personally liked, then others would like it as well. That has worked well for me to this point, but now I’ve lost a little faith in that approach.
As an optimist I decided to move on to something else and put the Grinderfish on the back burner for now, but I have a new problem. I have lost some confidence and enthusiasm in my own writing. This isn’t me pitying myself, it’s me trying to move on without understanding what went wrong in my last venture. I don’t trust my stories anymore. I usually take between a year and two years to write a book, but now I am finding it difficult to muster the effort when I’m not sure how the final product will be received. For example, when I run into a tough part I’m more apt to close my computer and walk away. Sometimes I go weeks before I return and muscle through my stumbling block.
As much as I’d hate to say it, but the loss of my publisher, combined with the enormous effort and time in my Grinderfish failure has taken something from me. But more than that, I don’t know where I went wrong. If I open my Grinderfish story today and start reading it, I love it. Is this just a case of thinking my children are wonderful when the rest of the world sees them for the heathens they are? If so, how do I trust my judgement in the future? How do I bleed and sweat into an idea if I have no way to determine if the honey is worth the hard work? I’ve written things that I ultimately didn’t care for and relinquished them to the wastecan of my computer, but this one is different.
In saying all of this, I must add that I am confident that I’ll be fine in whatever I do with my writing. I am fortunate to be an optimist. When I get knocked for a loop, I tend to move on and heal to be better than I was before. I’m working on something new now. My newest manuscript has just hit 40,000 words of a planned 80,000. I’d like to say I’m liking the progress, but I don’t trust my opinion at the moment and need to reserve my opinion until I see how it turns out. My new story is tentatively titled The Thin Line and it’s my attempt at a new direction.
Let’s hope it doesn’t suck.
Let’s hope I can tell if it does.
Let’s hope it’s not Grinderfish part deux.
I’ve posted the first chapter of my Grinderfish story on my blog if you’d like to see it. Here’s a link. Ch. 1