Subjects touched upon herein: babies, exes, disappointment, learning experiences, and the interdimensional hell portal that is life.
No spoiler alert because no spoilers.
“WAIT JUST A DAMN MINUTE. There are 40 chapters in the book. How come you only did a walkthrough of 27 chapters?”
A lot of writers have that “My books are my babies!” attachment disorder that exposes them as shitty parents who send their kids out into the world unprepared to stand on their own feet without Mommy Dearest breathing fire at their enemies.
I have a “My books are my exes” detachment order. After a year or more of one-sided trying to make it work that is a learning experience for me but ultimately has disappointing results, it’s over. I move on and accept that I’m never going to get the money the bastard owes me. As of the day I push it out the door, it’s dead to me. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to touch it. I no longer have any interest in dissecting the relationship in search of deeper meaning or trying to convince anyone of its good qualities.
As of the day this post is published, almost two months after the book’s release, I’m still talking to myself here. I’ve already learned the lessons I needed to learn, so there’s no reason to comb through those final 13 chapters looking for things to repeat to myself. I have a limited amount of time that’s not otherwise spoken for by entities that enable me to pay my bills. If I’m going to use that time to write words, I’m going to put them toward the new book, not more blog posts about the last one.
“Did you just trash your own book?”
No. I’m above trashing my ex.
When I say the results were “disappointing,” I’m not saying the book is a piece of shit. Every time I look for something to read, there are dozens of books I can’t get through the first page of the sample without cursing everyone involved with the pox. My book is better than those. I don’t finish reading at least a third of the books I do buy because somewhere after the sample ends, so does whatever quality made me think it was safe to commit. My book is better than those. For every entry in my Never Do This Shit notebooks that I didn’t do, WCAD is objectively better than books that do that shit.
If I thought it was worse, I wouldn’t have inflicted it on anyone else.
But when I start, I have grand expectations, and every word committed to paper is an admission of limitations — mine as a writer and as a person, the scope of a single story, the English language. The reality can never live up to the glittering majesty of the fantasy, so in that way, yes, it’s disappointing.
If I had to give it a grade, I’d give it a C. A C is average. As someone who had a panic attack at the thought of getting less than an A on anything in school and went way overboard to make sure that didn’t happen (with the exception of physical education and that half credit of a performing art that was a graduation requirement — in which I considered myself lucky to get the pity C’s the teachers gave me after watching me puke and cry every day), I’m certainly not thrilled with a C, but that’s how it stands. It’s on my permanent record. I can’t change it. I can only do better next time.
When I began, I didn’t know some of the things I know now. The curse of continuing education is that everything you did more than a minute ago seems stupid, and sometimes what you’ve learned is too monumental to apply retroactively to an existing flawed thing, but you’re in too deep to throw it out and start over. The same thing would happen with the replacement book if I learned something during the course of writing it, which I would, and then I’d have to scrap that, too, if I was going to take that “give me perfection or give me death” stance. Nothing would ever get written that way. I have to accept that 2015 Ren did the best she could, the best she could do is leagues better than 2010’s crap, and chalk up this imperfect book to forward progress.
I don’t expect you to have the same grade because you’re not grading by the same criteria. You have only the story itself and your personal preferences to judge by.
I’m acutely aware of what’s in the book and also have my personal preferences, but I also can’t help but factor in how much I fell short of my lofty expectations and how much I’ve improved from my traditionally published work and what a huge deal it is to come back from that place where I said, “Fuck it, I’m not writing anymore,” and finish a novel with zero support and not even the usual bullshit “guarantees.”
Through this combination of possibly being unreasonably hard on myself and possibly giving myself more credit than I deserve, I arrived at a C, better than the dregs but not at the level of the greats. Back to the book-as-child thing, a C warrants the “I’m disappointed in your performance, but I accept you the way you are” speech.
After all, there will be other siblings who still have a chance to live up to my expectations…
“Did you at least learn something?”
I learned lots of somethings.
- If I do a walkthrough in the future, FINISH IT before releasing the book. Once I let something go, I can’t be bothered to revisit it, no matter how much the unfinished business festers like a brain splinter.
- Don’t screw around with preorder again. When I’m done with my part, I want to move on, not sit around waiting at least 10 days for preorders to go live so I can upload the book to places that don’t do preorders so release date is consistent. During that 10 days, my enthusiasm shrivels to nothing, as can be expected when the relationship is over but the other participant is still living with me because there’s nowhere else for it to go yet. Pretty much every vendor will have books up within 24 hours, so it would be better for my sanity to get everything organized and deployed the instant I’m ready rather than uploading where preorder is an option, waiting for those links to populate, editing my website to reflect this information, then waiting 10 days to upload where preorder ISN’T an option, waiting for those links to populate, editing my website to reflect this information… It’s inefficient. I’d rather get it all done at the same time instead of doing two rounds. I HATE being done with my job and then waiting on other people to do theirs, so why do that TWICE?
- Don’t waste $400 on NetGalley again. It runs for six months, but you stop getting hits when you age off the first couple pages of new releases, which takes about 10 days, and then you’re as good as invisible. Nobody’s logging in after a four-month absence and saying, “Hmm, let me look at all 700 romances available.” About half the requests from “professional reviewers,” as they’re called there, have no evidence of ever reviewing anything anywhere — I’ll even go to the trouble of checking their email address on Goodreads if they “forgot” to post any links, but nope, nada, nothing. Some have a 100% “NetGalley feedback” rating, but you can’t look at that feedback beforehand to find out if it’s all stars, no text, and ultimately useless for promotional purposes. There are people who never download after approval and people who download 16 times (that’s not shady at all) AND STILL NEVER REVIEW. A third of the way through my contract, 55 approvals and 77 downloads have yielded a total of four starred-but-no-text ratings that appear nowhere but on NetGalley (4.25 average, so yay, but ultimately useless for promotional purposes). Authors who hustle may get better results with the service, but the entire point for me was to avoid hustling. If you’re okay being that aggressive, you can do so without paying $400 for a landing page — just shove your book at reviewers directly once you’ve gotten their attention. If you have to hustle to get attention that merely being available on NetGalley doesn’t generate, you might as well send the reviewers the file yourself and save your money. If you’re not going to hustle, setting that $400 on fire will get you more attention, if only of the “OHMYGAWD WHY ARE YOU SETTING MONEY ON FIRE?!” variety. When thinking about marketing in the future, I’ll keep in mind $400 will buy a lot of advertising in places where “unprofessional readers” might actually come in contact with it.
- Rebuilding from scratch with no network suuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. (When I made the decision to sever all ties with past writing incarnations, I thought rebuilding would merely suck-with-one-u.) I know from experience that there’s very little overlap in readers between genres and between subgenres within romance even with “I am also these other writers” transparency (at least judging by old mailing lists, approximately 8 per every 1000 recipients had interest in more than one pseud, and nobody had interest in more than two), so I wouldn’t have been able to import the whole mass over here, if any of it, anyway. If I had known it would be such an echoing void, however, I might have overcome my resistance to disturbing the sanctity of inboxes in hopes that 0.76% of those people MIGHT accept the invitation. BUT. I had my reasons, which ultimately are more important than being invisible is objectionable, so inboxes everywhere shall remain unsullied.
- Trust Angry Writer. This probably requires an abbreviated version of the origin story of Ren Benton. A long time ago in a land far away, I had a publishing experience that gutted me, to the point that I said, “Fuck it, I’m not writing anymore.” I quit writing. I sank deep into depression. After a few years of this, I was watching an interview with a couple of people I have tremendous creative respect for. They were promoting their new thing, and they were excited about it — little-kids-on-Christmas-morning-showing-off-their-cool-new-stuff excited. I had tears streaming down my face as I watched this unfold. They’re about my age. They’ve been doing this about the same amount of time I have. How have they not had all the joy crushed out of them like a tube of toothpaste, as had been done to me? And as soon as I asked the right question, the answer came to me, and I got PISSED. Rage swelled inside me, and Angry Writer rose like a flaming Fury declaring, I’m going to write. Stay the fuck out of my way, or I will destroy you. Which was great. It changed everything, saved my life, yadda yadda yadda. BUT. I’d been damaged. I had no confidence left, and I didn’t trust this raging creative demon I’d only just met, who wanted to do things and go places that made me extremely uncomfortable. I got in the way, a lot, and I can see where that left marks on the book. I know all the places where I wouldn’t go far enough, wouldn’t commit in the book, and then usually wrote a blog post to bolster it because diluting it by dividing it into two separate locations was safer for me. I was timid, and Angry Writer was too disgusted with my weakness to follow through on destroying me, so the book is… a pity C. It could have been better if I’d let her off the leash to go on a rampage. Imagine Angry Writer standing over me, eyes full of fire, hair a dark, snaky writhe, saying, See what happens when we do it your way?, and me sitting with head meekly bowed, saying, “Yes, ma’am. It won’t happen again.” (It will happen again, but to a lesser extent each time. I’m still a coward, but I’ll creep out of my comfort zone if someone — even an imaginary construct — hacks at the scary jungle ahead of me with a machete to clear a path for my next step.) As I’ve said previously, during the rough draft, I don’t know the characters well enough to truly understand them — writing this book was the rough draft of Angry Writer. Now that I have a better idea what Angry Writer is trying to accomplish, I can be less resistant and try to impose fewer restraints, and the next draft (Angry Writer’s second book) will have more nuance and depth. By the 11th or 12th draft (book), she should be in pretty good shape.
Just before taking a scary step to change a situation that had been making me progressively more miserable for many years, I had an epiphany:
The alternative to misery doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be better.
I’ve had a tendency to stay in awful situations indefinitely when the ideal alternative wasn’t available because I didn’t see the point in moving laterally.
Now, I’m trying to develop a tendency toward constant motion when I’m unhappy because I don’t see the point in rewarding those who would use me for target practice by standing still. My new philosophy is optimistic pessimism: Give somebody new a chance to be an asshole!
Things have not been easy. In some ways, they’ve worsened. But I have not for a single minute regretted escaping from that situation. Waking up every morning with uncertainty is better than waking up every morning with certain dread.
In many ways, WCAD is a story about letting go — of the past, of demons, of shoulda/woulda/coulda/if only — and at least faking the courage to move forward into a potentially better future, which is perhaps too raw a wound for me to have poked at right now.
More likely, I didn’t poke it enough. I should have let Angry Writer jam a knife into it and debride the rot, but I was too squeamish.
Next time, I’ll close my eyes and let her savage it. (That’s the plan, anyway.)
A large part of this process was seeing if I have the endurance to write a book after the previous debacle and the prolonged hiatus from writing, rebuilding a sliver of confidence that had been eroded to nothing. The writing of a novel is a long, lonely, thankless task, and the only reward at the end is a self-administered pat on the head for going the distance. Simply getting through the experience was a small victory.
Small victories are a big thing in storytelling. They give the protagonist something to cling to when everything else goes to shit. “My horse is dead. My best friend betrayed me. My enemy is peeling my eyeball in a gross parody of LASIK I disbelieve will improve my vision. But hey, remember when I succeeded at summoning that tiny interdimensional hell portal? That was badass of me. I bet I could do something badass again. Badder ass, even. I’m smarter and stronger than I was before I achieved that goal. I don’t need no stinking friends! Or depth perception! Although I do miss my horse.” *opens big interdimensional hell portal in floor and Sparta kicks enemy into it*
2015 wasn’t a great year for me, but I did finish a novel, which was badass of me.
And I started writing another, which I know I can finish because I’ve already demonstrated my ability to perform such a task, and it will be badder ass than before because I’m smarter and stronger than I was before I achieved that goal.
So that’s what I’m clinging to headed into 2016 — one small, imperfect victory to give me the courage to persevere through continued uncertainty and no small amount of dread.
Here’s wishing everyone a better New Year.
WCAD is a little over 92,000 words. The walkthrough, not including this post and all the other bits I wrote and discarded for lack of interest, is 31,441 words. I figure an extra third of a book about the book is way above and beyond already, but if you’re dying to know something about the part of the book I didn’t walk you through — or about anything else — deposit your questions in the comments.
Otherwise, after wrapping up the year with a photo gallery of sugar and gluten, I’ll be taking a break from weekly posting for a while due to lack of things to say until I have another book to share.