The Doctor Is … In

You’ve been there, I know. Those moments of extreme manuscript fatigue. You just want … to stop. I get these emails. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. :)

You: I will never finish this book. And it doesn’t matter, because it’s no good! In fact it’s crap! The writing’s crap! The plot’s crap! The dialogue’s crap! I think I’m just gonna stop this writing torture and take up knitting. Gaaah!

Me: I understand. I do. Come over here and sit by me, sweetie. (Pats couch.)

You: I’m really struggling with the last couple chapters of [name of YA novel].

Me: Mmm-hmmm.

You: My other books had such purpose. Child abuse. Single mom. Teen bullying. They have messages. But [name of YA novel] doesn’t. At least, not yet. I guess if I had to stretch for it I’d say it’s to help teens believe in themselves, to find what they’re good at and use their abilities no matter what’s in style or how dangerous it is. But is that enough? After my other books this one feels so trite. (sighs)

Me: Yes, it is enough! First, some of us are weary to death of issue-driven fiction. We just want to be entertained. And entertainment is enough. All it really has to be is a great story. I’ll repeat that: All it really has to be is a great story. Second, what is the message of Harry Potter?

You: Uh—

Me: It’s that anyone can be a hero, even the least of us. Even the orphan, even the chubby kid, even the “mixed-race” kid, even the poor kid, even the loner. Short and simple.

You: Oh … kay.

Me: That was my editor answer, but let me tell you one more story. My first husband’s youngest child is a girl genius (no joke). Likes to read. Some years ago I was working on some YA that was very, very dark. I disliked it, frankly, but my personal preferences don’t matter, really, when I’m editing. The elements of a good story and good writing are what they are. But there was something about it that concerned me, and I asked her if she’d read it for me. I said, “It’s dark.” And she looked at me and smiled, like I’d missed something obvious, and said, “Some of us like the dark stuff, Jamie.” Honestly, it was a revelation.

You: So I should just finish it and see …?

Me: Yes. My point is, there’s a novel for everyone. Don’t overthink this. Write the story that’s asking to be written.

You: But it’s so hard to push on. I sit at the desk and nothing comes. Am I just sick of it? Is that normal?

Me: Yes, and yes. It’s OK. You’ll move past it in the natural flow of events. The Boy—a professional musician and a music educator—told me at some point in between his undergrad and starting grad school that he was sick of his instrument and he might not go on with it. I quietly freaked out and then called his professor (with whom I have a friendship) and repeated this, and he just laughed. “They all say that, Mama,” he said. “Don’t worry.” He was right, they do all say it and some of them mean it, but the Boy didn’t, and you don’t either. I know you’re just floating a trial balloon. (We humans have to role-play. That’s why reading fiction is so good for us.) You will be reenergized at some point.

You: Is there anything I can do to get to that point sooner?

Me: I’m a fan of the “look away” method. Stop thinking about it, take a break, set it aside. When I’m writing blog posts, if I realize I’m not making headway, I stop working on it and work on something else instead. (Something that doesn’t feel so much like work.) I have articles that get set aside for weeks, months. I know you have other writing projects to work on. It would be even better, though, to walk away from the desk entirely. Julia Cameron advocates taking Artist Dates to refill your creative well. But just take a break.

You: I think you’ve helped me. Thank you.

Me: Oh, no, thank you. I enjoy these little chats we have. :)

Tweet: I sit at the desk and nothing comes. Am I just sick of it? Is that normal?
Tweet: Stuck? It’s OK. You’ll move past it in the natural flow of events.
Tweet: Don’t overthink it. Write the story that’s asking to be written.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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  1. Nat says:

    I so needed this today, Jamie. I’ve spent the last two years editing a novel that I’ve completely lost the fire for, and it’s wonderful to be reminded that it’s NORMAL and it might even be OKAY. Thank you for this!!

  2. LOVE this. Thank you.

  3. Jamie, this post is like a “Dear Abby” for writers. I love it. If you ever publish a “Dear Editor” book—I want it.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

  4. Sacha Black says:

    This made me giggle. I had to have some stern conversations with myself a little like this actually. Several times too, it took 292 days to finish a draft and boy did I feel every one of them I lost count of this mental conversation!!

    I also would like the doctor to prescribe a dose of reality… all first drafts are sh*t. true story. So get on with it, it won’t be the masterpiece you’re after until the 900th draft anyway! :p

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