S.G. Browne

When Writers Hate Their Words

Let’s talk about hate…

Every person has probably hated something in their lives.

A person. A job. The Los Angeles Dodgers.

But unless you’re a writer, you probably don’t understand the roller coaster ride of self-loathing that occurs during the process of writing a novel.

We hate our novels early on and wonder why we’re even bothering. We hate our novels halfway through and bemoan the time we’ve wasted. We’re filled with animosity when we reach the third act and realize what we’ve written to this point is all crap. And when we’ve finished the novel. we can’t imagine that anyone would want to read it, let alone buy it. During edits, we find ourselves standing over an 80,000-word corpse panting and gasping while holding a blood-stained pen in our hands.

That analogy worked better before computers came along.

At least during edits and copy edits, we understand that there’s still time to fix the steaming heap of fecal matter which we’ve produced and maybe, just maybe, we can turn it into something that doesn’t smell so awful.

But by the time we reach the first-pass pages, or first-pass galleys, that’s when we have to live with what we’ve written.

First-pass pages are the formatted and type-set pages from which the novel will be printed, which means any edits are supposed to be cosmetic: missed typos or inaccurate syntax; maybe a few tweaks here and there to fix wording or clarity. But at this point, we’re not moving chapters or scenes around or adding or removing significant content. At least we’re not supposed to, since any changes to the first-pass pages can lead to extra expense.

So when we realize how much we hate our novel while we’re reading the first-pass galleys, we realize there’s nothing we can do and that we’re stuck with each other. It’s kind of like being in a bad marriage that we can’t get out of.

In any case, you get the idea: Writers, at multiple points during the process of writing and editing their manuscripts, will hate what they’ve written. With a passion.

I remember talking to my editor for the first time about Lucky Bastard (this is after Simon & Schuster purchased the manuscript) and prefacing my conversation with: “Just so you know, I’m at that stage where I hate my novel…” Then I asked her why she bought the novel because I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to read it.

Such is the relationship between a writer and his or her words.

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Filed under: The Writing Life — S.G. Browne @ 8:31 am