Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I Hate Myself for Loving Me

"...there's a hormone secreted into the bloodstream of most writers that makes them hate thier own work while they are doing it, or immediately after."

--Francis Ford Coppola, "Letter to the Reader", Zoetrope magazine.

That is so true.

End of post.

No, no, of course that isn't the end of the post, because you all know I am far, far too long-winded to just throw a quote at you and run away. Although that would be funny, if you picture it literally. I run up, throw a slip of paper at you, and tear off. (Reminds me of the time my husband and I got into a water fight. I had control of the hose, so he ran around to the back yard. I waited, hose at the ready, but almost dropped it when he suddenly appeared, running at me with a look of maniacal glee on his face, holding a plastic grocery bag full of water. Which he flung at me. And which we both watched fall to the ground with a splat about three feet shy of me.

I tried to turn the hose on him but I was laughing too hard to squeeze the trigger thing on the sprayhead.)

Anyway. Do we writers hate our work?

I do. Actually, it's a lot more complex than that. I love my ideas, absolutely adore them. That period where the story starts to gel in my mind is the most exciting time in the world.

Then I get started, and I love that first chapter or two, or even three or four if I've planned a lot of great stuff to open the story (which of course I should.) And I'm so, so sure this will be THE book.

Then I get to about chapter five and my enthusiasm wanes. I still love the book, but it's starting to feel a little more like work. I'm just not doing the job the way I hoped. The story isn't as strong as I hoped, it isn't flowing as well, I'm having to make decisions, or my characters are deciding they don't want to do what I planned for them to do. They glare at me with their obstinate little faces twisted in disdain while I beg them to argue, or go for a drive, or have a discussion they don't feel ready to have. Sheesh, I think. My own characters hate me.

And it's right around chapter 14 or so that I decide they should hate me. I hate me. I hate this stupid book. What was I thinking?

But somewhere, somehwere deep down I think, I was so sure! So I keep plugging, hating the idea, hating the book, hating myself for failing the idea that I know realize sucks, but not badly enough to deserve my terrible treatment of it.

And finally I finish the book, and I set it aside, convinced it's the worst piece of trash ever written. I remain convinced for six weeks or a month, when I reread and decide it stinks, but maybe not as bad as I thought, and maybe with a little editing...

And then I start submitting it, all the while certain it stinks.

And if it goes somewhere, or if it doesn't, I will re-read it six months later or nine months later (this seems to be about the right time) and decide it's actually pretty good!

So here's my question. Do we hate our books just because they're ours? Is hating our work part of how we grow as writers?

See, I see people all the time (usually with the word "nitwit" posted above their letters to Miss Snark) who are convinced their work is stellar. Excellent. They are going to turn the literary world on its ear.

Their work is usually unintelligible.

But then, there are also literary geniuses, award winners, who harbor the same convictions. Their work does turn the literary world on its ear.

The rest of us plod along.

Do you need ego to be both truly great or truly terrible?

And since, let's face it, no matter how uch I hate my work, some part of still thinks it's good enough to be published, am I a big faker?

How is it possible to love and hate your work at the same time?



Robyn said...

I wrote this story thinking, "Damn, I'm good!" Then it went into revisions and I'd see things I missed before; Yeah, That's Believeable moments; and a few What the Heck Was I Smoking? passages.

I think you need a balance of both confidence in your story (or else you'd never write it)and a healthy dose of Worst Crap Ever Written to keep you open to editorial possibilities.

Anonymous said...

Great post, December.

I hate my work, and that hate is justified. -V95

Anonymous said...

It's absolutely possible to love and hate your work at the same time. Completely. Because it's not just the final product to you, it's the fear that it's not going to be long enough, remember what the first draft looked like, and a million other things that you know that no one else does. So even when it's good, it can be unloved. I burntout on Moon Madness, but I also want to keep working on it. I told myself no because I know I'm tired of the characters.

It doesn't help that we compare ourselves to other people way too much. As writers we sort of have to to know where we fit into the publishing picture (and because as writers we're expected to be experts on what is out there now and then, as well as being able to write well. I'm about two years behind on my "book life" because time spent reading is time not spent writing and writing is what get me published, builds my visibility.... you know how it goes. I cannot count how many people have said "Have you read this [just been out a month] book?" "No." "But you're the writer? How did I read something before you?"

pacatrue said...


End of comment.

I think it does take some ego to be a writer for a long time. After all, you have to think that the junk which falls out of your mind is somewhat interesting to keep getting rejected and rejected and rejected and rejected and accepted! and rejected and...

But the way you described your experience is exactly how I feel about my writing. It takes distance to see anything good about your own writing sometimes.

bunnygirl said...

I go through love and hate over and over again with each novel I write. I question the judgment of anyone who has never gone through a hate phase.

BernardL said...

You have to have ego to be a writer, D. Otherwise, you'd never get anything submitted. I really like most everything I write; but it could turn to love quick, if the stuff sold a few million copies. :)

Serena Joy said...

Yep, I often hate what I write. I love it as I'm writing it, but then by the third or fourth read-through, I think it's hideous. I leave it alone for a long time, then go over it again and, voila, I'm thinking, "Hey, this isn't so bad." Sometimes I blame it on the phases of the moon, other times on evil forces and death rays.

Scary Monster said...

Me not be "a writer" so me feelings be somewhat tepid on the subject. Doing anything creative frustrates me due to the fact that me just can't do in the "real world", what me imagines me doing or making in me mind. The finished product just ain't as good as me thought it would be.


littlebirdblue said...

Do we hate our books just because they're ours? Is hating our work part of how we grow as writers?

I think of it as struggling to gain the ability to forgive our inner eight-grader.

You know; the sixth grade you were still passing as a kid and didn't have to care about social stuff, and by highschool, you had your sh*t figured out at least to some degree, like who could stand to sit with you at lunch and the fact that you could actually find books with sex in them.

But the eighth grade...ugh. That's the year nothing could make you feel beautiful or smart or useful, and nobody was beautiful or smart or useful to you.

Just watch Welcome to the Dollhouse to understand what I'm talking about.

Tempest Knight said...

I don't think it's a love/hate relationship in as much as I'm a living perfectionist. So I never consider my stories totally finished. That's why it takes me soooo long to finish any story. Even when my friends force me to submit them after convincing me that the stories are fine the way they are, I just keep thinking there's something I could have done/written to make them better.

Rhonda Jones said...

Drop me a line at and I'll send you a copy of the Hugh Laurie pic. It's very House, all scowly and yummy. And naked. Don't forget naked.


kis said...

Heh. I'm at chapter 14 right now, literally and figuratively. I've written the climax (story-wise, not sex-wise, wink wink), everyone who needs to die is dead and every one who needs to stay alive is stumbling home all covered in blood. And I hate it. Not only do I hate it, I hate all that came before it, because that's what led me here. Those scenes that I envisioned lying awake at night, that had me so enchanted I couldn't sleep...they thrill me now about as much as a pelvic exam.

Denoument sucks the big, purple, vein-streaked bone. The only thing that's going to make it remotely tolerable is the obligatory hot scene I need to, ahem, insert before the end.

Writing is like dating. The first while, well hey, he's hot and charming and well-behaved and even his flaws seem adorable. You're eager to invest yourself emotionally. Then, six months or a year down the line the shine of new love wears off, and suddenly you realize you're about to move in with a barely-employed, emotionally stunted commitment-phobe who's waaaayyy too close to his mom. All those flaws that seemed so endearing before, now just make you want to smash his face.

So you take a break. Go read something--it's not cheating, honestly. Even move on to a different project. Doesn't mean you don't care anymore. You'll get back to him when you feel the chemistry begin to seep back.

It's like that song. I can't quit you, babe. But I think I'll put you down for a while...

December Quinn said...

Wow, that's a great point, Robyn. Does our self-hatred make us easier to work with in the long run? :-)

I'm sure your work isn't crap!

Nonsense, V95. It's not justified AT ALL.

December Quinn said...

Because it's not just the final product to you, it's the fear that it's not going to be long enough, remember what the first draft looked like, and a million other things that you know that no one else does.

This is so, so true, Michele! I keep thinking of bits of my last book that stink, and it's hard to remember that I took those bits out, it's rewritten and it lost 12,000 words in the process so I should stop thinking it's this rambling, repetitive yuckie.

And yes, the comparing...ugh.

Is it ego, or masochism, paca? That's what I worry about. Maybe my self-hatred led me to choose a profession where I'm constantly told I'm not good enough.

December Quinn said...

True, Bunnygirl. I admit, when I hear a writer talking about how fantastic their book is, I automatically think they're amateurs and their book probably sucks.

Lol, Bernard. Yes, I have noticed that when a book sells it suddenly rises in my estimation! But see my above worries about ego vs. masochism.

Scary Montster, that's exactly what writing feels like. Don't tell me you're not a writer--not only have I spent time on your blog, but people who can condense a long point the way you did have born communicators.

December Quinn said...

Heh, lbl, that's an excellent way to look at it! Very clever indeed.

I will put that movie on my list.

Oh, Tempest, I am so feeling that one. I still want to edit released work. I'll wake up one night and realize somebody should have said X, or done Y, instead, or that a line of dialogue didn't work or a metaphor could have been cleaner...

Wheee, Rhonda! Heeeheheee!

December Quinn said...

As always, kis, you said exactly what I meant. Yes, all those scenes I was so excited about seem so bleh. My charming characters are irritating or dumb, my sexy characters are sleazy and rude, my smart characters intolerably stupid.

I should take more breaks. Good idea.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Joan Jett rocks. She is the hottest titless dyke on the planet. Did I say that out loud? -V95

Bernita said...

This is sooo bloody familiar. You've hit the pattern exactly.
Maybe it's the familiarity with the story that breeds contempt.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oh, damn. It's too early for such deep thoughts...

Excellent post, December. You really have nailed it. We have such a love-hate relationship with our writing, and it's not in the least logical. It's sheerly maddening!

Oh, damn. This really is a lot to think about. I'm going to have to digest and come back with more -- I'm sure I have some sort of opinion here! Really, I do...

Gah. Writers are so weird. :-) I loves ya.

S. W. Vaughn said...

P.S. My keyboard is damp. I can't get the image of you running up and throwing a piece of paper at me out of my head, or the hose and plastic bag thing! LOL

December Quinn said...

Yeah, Joan Jett rocks, V95!! I saw her live about twelve years ago...she was absolutely stunning (and TINY!) in person and we all swore she looked right at us, which made us all gooey and warm.

That's entirely possible, Bernita. I think it's that we always see the story through the cracked lens of what we wanted it to be but couldn't get there.

December Quinn said...

Digest away, SW, can't wait to hear your collected thoughts.

And yes, it's still funny. I mean, he looked like the Joker, with that open-mouthed grin. He was really gonna get me, oh yes he was...

Anonymous said...

I have truely come to hate one of my stories. There's something wrong with it and I can't figure out what. Though I have put it away for months at a time, it's still crap.

Too bad, 'cause at one point I really did love it. Now, like kis said all I want to do is smash it in the face. Hm. Maybe I should. A little reconstructive surgery to repair the shattered mandible and broken teeth might be just what it needs.

On the other hand it could come out looking like a botched face lift.

Anonymous said...

And now I can't get that song out of my head.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, Joan Jett rocks, V95!! I saw her live about twelve years ago...she was absolutely stunning (and TINY!) in person and we all swore she looked right at us, which made us all gooey and warm."

Yup. I saw her last year and she is still the same way. She makes you feel like she's singing to you in a private audience. -V95

Arin Rhys said...

I always end up hating my work out of frustration because I see it all so clear in my head and its just so difficult to make it translate.