?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

The Bitter Nadir of Self-Doubt

I have now been writing novels (and all those other things) for "a living" for a very, very long time, and I find myself, rather unexpectedly, coming upon one of the innumerable pitfalls of this existence. The sudden certainty that I simply will never be as good as I need to be to make myself happy with my writing. Sometimes, I manage it at short-fiction and vignette length work, but the novel? The novel, which is the bread-and-butter of the "genre" author's existence, has always been a peculiar beast for me. Every novel so much harder than the one written before it. Sure, it seems to me that each novel is better written than the one preceeding it, but...that's partly because each time I pour twice the energy into the effort as I did the time before. And now there is The Red Tree, and I see it quite clearly in my head, and I just do not know if I am a good enough writer to write it the way it must be written. Not as whimsical dark fantasy or some cliché-riddled "horror" show. The shape of it is something I've never done before — at least not at novel length. And I feel entirely inadequate.

Add to this the stress — the fact that I have four to five months to complete a novel that should take me two years. The fact that my office is being disassembled about me, and in another 18 days, we leave Atlanta, Georgia for Providence, Rhode Island (a move of more than a thousand miles northeast). There are endless interruptions and distractions. My overall health is worse than at any other time in my life. The part of me that has never believed that writing is "work," even though it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do, insists there are far more important things I should be attending to now than this novel. And, in the end, I just do not know that I am good enough. My desire may be exceeding my reach. I know that this novel has to be at least twice as good as Daughter of Hounds, which is by far the best novel I have ever written, and I am struggling to make it simply as good. Yesterday, I wrote a mere 657 words. I sat here, all day, straining for each and every syllable, cursing the whole foolish endeavor. 657 words. The preface is not finished, and neither is Chapter One. I have less than 10,000 words done on a 100,000-word ms. And I am exhausted, and not well, and worried, and there's so much packing left to do, and, in the end, I fear I am simply not good enough. But the only way through is straight ahead. And no, this is not whining. This is telling the truth about my life as a writer, which is the only reason i keep this journal.

Behind the cut are photos of the Moosup Valley area in west-central Rhode Island where The Red Tree is being set. All these were taken along Moosup Valley Road. The geology here is igneous for the most part, and has been poorly studied, poorly dated. All metavolcanics (light- and dark grey-, fine-grained, interlayered feldspathic gneiss, schist, quartzite, amphibolite, and lime-silicate rock; composed chiefly of feldspars, muscovite, biotite, quartz, and amphibole; locally staurolite and sillimanite) and gabbro (dark-grey to dark-purple to black, mostly coarse-grained gabbro. massive to foliated; main constituents pyroxene, plagioclase, amphibole, and biotite; some partially altered). Near as I can tell, from my limited research of the local rocks, these unnamed formations are either Carboniferous or pre-Carboniferous in age, which doesn't tell me much of anything. Imagine asking someone how to find San Francisco, and they reply, "Well, it's farther west than the Mississippi River. "Pre-Carboniferous" is about as useful. Not that the local geology is relevant to the novel, I just felt like a tangent. Here are the pics:





Tyler Free Library, ca 1896-1900.



Turn off to Barbs Hill Road. Most of the novel actually happens out Barbs Hill Road.



They call this trickle the Moosup River, but I think that's some sort of local joke.



The Mount Vernon Tavern (not that you can find a "Mount Vernon" anywhere nearby), ca 1760.

All photographs by Carol Pollnac.



After the writing yesterday, I packed maybe five boxes of books. My office is beginning to echo. I finished Chapter Ten of Chris Beard's The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans, a chapter largely devoted to the likelihood that anthropoid primates may have arisen as early as the Paleocene (about 56 million years ago), and appear to have entered Africa even earlier, after evolving from prosimians in Asia. Then I went with Spooky to Candler Park to get a pizza from Fellini's. Back home, we gorged on television because I was too tired for anything else. No Byron, because he and Jim went to some show at the Variety Playhouse. Another episode of Millenium (2-7; "19:19"). Then the new Doctor Who, and this Donna Noble woman isn't growing on either of us. It's like the Doctor's new companion is Edina fucking Monsoon from Ab Fab. Then the new ep of Battlestar Galactica, which was rather good. And then I did a little rp in Second Life, just a brief scene in the library with Omega and Neri and Bellatrix. Bellatrix is Nareth's new thrall. Last night, Bella was wearing her adorable new meat dress (thank you, Hyasynth), which was very appropriate. About 1:30 ayem I crawled away to bed, and Spooky read House of Leaves until about 3 ayem. Ba da pa pa. And that was yesterday.

Comments

( 25 comments — Have your say! )
jtglover
May. 10th, 2008 04:33 pm (UTC)
Then the new Doctor Who, and this Donna Noble woman isn't growing on either of us. It's like the Doctor's new companion is Edina fucking Monsoon from Ab Fab.

No kidding. I kept hoping she'd be zapped by a rampaging Ood, or at least lose the guts for interstellar adventure.
greygirlbeast
May. 10th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)

No kidding. I kept hoping she'd be zapped by a rampaging Ood, or at least lose the guts for interstellar adventure.

It's just sad.
jtglover
May. 10th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
After Rose Tyler and Martha Jones (and even Kylie Minogue), yes it is. Very much so.
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
May. 10th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)

"But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'" - Hemingway, A MOVEABLE FEAST

Here's my thing...

To start with, I strongly suspect even Hemingway knew this was a lie. Maybe a necessary lie, but a lie, all the same. Secondly, I don't need one perfect sentence, but more like 7,000. And, finally, well, we all know how it turned out for Hemingway.
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
May. 10th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)

If this has been achieved without the 'truthfulness' of which Hemingway wrote, then you're one hell of an illusionist.

"Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat."
seph_ski
May. 10th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
All artists are frustrated by the difficulty in producing works that come close to reflecting their internal visions.

I do not have your gift with words, so I'll just quickly add that you're one of my all-time favorite authors. (Pardon the fangirlishness.)

...Also, we (husband and I) hate Donna Noble too. I was really hoping they wrote her in just so they could quickly kill off a companion in some tragic way without getting death threats from obsessed fans. As she's surviving each passing episode, I'm losing hope in that theory. Her character seems to bring the show down a few notches from "fun sci-fi" into the depths of "cheesy and childish sci-fi". Rose and Martha contributed to the stories nicely, but Donna is just a distraction.
greygirlbeast
May. 10th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)

Rose and Martha contributed to the stories nicely, but Donna is just a distraction.

A stiff, abrasive distraction.
seph_ski
May. 10th, 2008 05:20 pm (UTC)
P.S.
Reading my comment again, I realize that my remarks about the common creative struggle sounded a bit patronizing. I didn't mean it that way. I know your circumstances right now are particularly difficult, between the move and your health. I was trying to be comforting and remind you that even the best of the best (a group I would put you in) are often disgusted with their own works in progress, and many times finished pieces. But I am sorry to hear your work and your circumstances are giving you such stress these days. I wish I was better with words and could say something that would boost your confidence a bit.

But yes, Donna Noble... Bleh.
greygirlbeast
May. 10th, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC)
Re: P.S.


I wish I was better with words

I say that a hundred times a day. But, thanks.
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
May. 10th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Donna Noble / Oods / Pompeii

I admit I did like her in the "Runaway Bride."

I honestly loathed her from the start.

Several times in these episodes, I swear the Doctor glanced at her from behind with an expression of "WTF are you doing here?"

You saw that, too?
elaine_brennan
May. 10th, 2008 06:36 pm (UTC)
My recollection from (long-past!) college days at Brown is that at least some of the folks in the Geology Department there did do at least *some* research on local geology. Whether any of them are either still at Brown, or whether there's any more information available there than what you've already gathered, I don't know. Still, it might prove a resource the next time your curiosity itches!
greygirlbeast
May. 10th, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)
My recollection from (long-past!) college days at Brown is that at least some of the folks in the Geology Department there did do at least *some* research on local geology. Whether any of them are either still at Brown, or whether there's any more information available there than what you've already gathered, I don't know. Still, it might prove a resource the next time your curiosity itches!

Most of what I know as gathered when I was last in RI, in July/August 2006, rather lazily from the several sources available to me at the the Peace Dale Library, largely publications of the Rhode Island Geological Survey at URI. I'm sure there's far more than what I know, though for someone who's spent her life with the fossiliferous, sedimentary rocks of the SE US, the plutonic and metamorphic strata of RI are very frustrating.

Edited at 2008-05-10 06:56 pm (UTC)
cause_catyljan
May. 10th, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
Not sure which series of Doctor Who you are on, but Donna becomes more likeable as things progress. Catherine Tate made her name here with her stupid-as-fuck "comedy" show; but she does start to make more sense in this role.

There was collective revilement when she was announced as the new Assistant. I don't like her comedy, but give her a chance...

greygirlbeast
May. 10th, 2008 07:23 pm (UTC)

Not sure which series of Doctor Who you are on, but Donna becomes more likeable as things progress.

That's what I keep hearing, but....

There was collective revilement when she was announced as the new Assistant. I don't like her comedy, but give her a chance...

I seem to have little choice.
robyn_ma
May. 11th, 2008 01:13 am (UTC)
Hmm, how can I cheer you up without pointing you to something time-consumingly distracting?

Oh! Here, have a photo of Kat von D as a vampire. From a movie she's currently filming in North Carolina.
greygirlbeast
May. 11th, 2008 01:31 am (UTC)


Oh! Here, have a photo of Kat von D as a vampire. From a movie she's currently filming in North Carolina.


Well...I will say that didn't make me feel any worse.
dreamburnt
May. 11th, 2008 06:33 am (UTC)
I have not had the time to watch a single episode of the new Doctor Who, but...
I need to stop being gobstobbingly shocked when my favorite artists exhibit signs of being less than glowingly aware of how glorious their every scrap of creation is.

You've been my favorite published author for a few years now. This is probably not a terribly appropriate introductory post-reply-comment, but what the hell.

Bests and good luck.
greygirlbeast
May. 11th, 2008 06:42 am (UTC)
Re: I have not had the time to watch a single episode of the new Doctor Who, but...

Er...I'm stealing your icon.

Edited at 2008-05-11 06:42 am (UTC)
dreamburnt
May. 11th, 2008 10:57 pm (UTC)
Re: I have not had the time to watch a single episode of the new Doctor Who, but...
*laughs* Cool! It's from a friend's comic.
loki1978de
May. 11th, 2008 06:50 am (UTC)
Having read your post, i thought of something. A little story that happened last year (most likely still is happening).
I knew a young woman over the internet then. She should be about 20 now. She is not a writer, but she draws. Her knowledge is in Manga. Now this is a hype at the moment and lots think they can draw what the paid artists do. The net is flooded with fanwork that just hurts the eyes. Most only copy originals by putting a blank paper over it...But she is totally different. She draws original and she is brilliant. A drawing style that is hard, brutal and at all usuable for genres like "magical girl". It's a big jump to say she should get published, but i do say that.
I fear it will never happen. Cause in her eyes, she is no bit better, draws not different, than all the myrads of bad fanwork. Her mind sets her into a weird perspective. She has a picture in her mind and as long as she cant get it on paper to the last millimeter like she imagines it, it will not even be acceptable.

I guess you are at least not THAT hard on yourself. Of course you have the full control over your work and that you set the level of quality high for your work is good.
I am happy that your work does get published. That many people can read it. A writer is always growing and changing. Of course you get better. But you do that mostly naturally. Don't press your self too hard on something that already happens.
And dont count your rate of work on the word count alone. It's a number, nothing more.
Christoph Ransmayer
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christoph_Ransmayr
whose "The last world" i had to read in school, is an author who is said to do not more than one sentence a day ;-)
I can understand your stress, your nervousness and how bad health just makes it all worse. But i am optimistic that in the end, "The red tree" will be an outstanding piece of work.
Hopefully one that i will have signed, next to my bed


The doctor and Galactica will both have to come on DVD now.
I downloaded the Ecclestone doctor with Rose when it showed on BBC. Meanwhile they show it on german tv now, but burn it on a sunday afternoon position, where i do visit friends or walk outside, but not follow a series.
Galactica the first season was great.....and they never announces the next...one day i noticed that they showed it somewhere wednesday midnight. I cant watch it there and i missed too much to record what was left
greygirlbeast
May. 11th, 2008 06:55 am (UTC)

It's late, and my brain is fuzzy. But thanks. I'm trying.
loki1978de
May. 11th, 2008 07:09 am (UTC)
And for me it is early and my brain is fuzzy too.
You really should be in bed. Although i will then miss you on SL.....my time zone makes the city so empty
furrylittleprob
May. 11th, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC)
All the stress spiraling around you right now would be enough to daunt anyone, particularly the move. (Our last move was only 6 miles across town, but was nonetheless so traumatic that four years on we're *still* not fully unpacked.)

...I know that this novel has to be at least twice as good as Daughter of Hounds...

I admit I don't understand what you mean by this or why, but it seems (in my ignorance) a very dangerous attitude to take. You can only do the best you can with this story at this time. That's all anyone can expect of you.

I do know this - you are good enough. The move will soon be over. You will start to recover. You will write The Red Tree, however long it takes you, to the best of your ability, and it will be More Than Good Enough. As always.

I wish you & Spooky well.
michael_b_lee
May. 11th, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
My desire may be exceeding my reach.

Perhaps, but the best artists are ever reaching, stretching their skills to the utmost. Better to struggle, and perhaps fail, than subside into complacency and never grow. Or so I believe, at least.

For what it's worth, I just finished Daughter of Hounds yesterday, and I wanted to tell you how much I loved it. If I ever manage to write half so well as you, I will consider myself fortunate indeed.

I understand your doubts about The Red Tree, but I also have complete faith that you'll pull it off.
alumiere
May. 13th, 2008 12:10 am (UTC)
i'm not much of a writer
so i'm not sure how to put this into the correct words... but your writing amazes me (and i came to your work just recently after finding your lj i think thru docbrite's) and like everyone else here i know the new book will be what it needs to be and well worth reading

i understand the self doubt though - every creative person i know, myself included, hits that wall (and quite often these days) - all you can do is keep working at it
( 25 comments — Have your say! )