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Falling in Love with an Unwritten Book

Falling in love means swooning, but also falls and hesitations. I’d forgotten the shakiness and second thoughts, being giddy one moment, then the next wishing that someone was around who could tell me if the new book I’m working on is as good as it seems one moment, or when my confidence shifts, as awful. What is going on?

Intimacy seems not so far from loneliness as I get to know these layers of stories, a process which must happen in one quiet room. Before I’m certain of whether this is flirtation or true love, it’s way too soon to introduce even a chapter to my critique group or inquisitive relatives. We have to work things out ourselves through the getting-to-know-you stage. It’s usually best to even avoid confessions over drinks. While friends may tolerate tales of flesh-and-blood romance for their drama, there’s not much to say about a new relationship with pages, especially since many of us are superstitious, perhaps another word for anxious, and don’t like to reveal details that may turn on us tomorrow. We might just grunt,  “Eh, chapter one. Erghh, chapter two,” and our friends with their own creative trials may nod and say, “I know.”

Writing a brand new novel is exciting, but when it’s not, doubts prickle my skin. I set down ideas and clipped scenes wishing for guides who could tell me if a single one is good. I try to skip past scales and just record the middle hunks of dialogue, blurry action, and a bit of fairy tale dust in the haphazard ways these come. Trying to never mind whether any of this will stay for the long haul, some mornings I manage to revel in the brand new shine of each detail. But by noon, I may find it just plain hard to pay attention to the vast unknown, where new ideas enter slowly and without signs of any kind. Are my ideas upscale, or do they belong in the bargain bin or worse?

We may yearn to spend all our time with a new beau, but this is where I have to break my human-book analogy. Spending time with a fresh off the fingertips manuscript makes the rest of the world seem so very attractive. I wish the phone would ring, consider organizing my files, and wonder if it’s time to check on the status of old work. Sometimes the last isn’t entirely procrastination. Most of us aren’t starting from a vacuum. Other manuscripts and books came before, and as they make their way into or out of the world our dismay or pleasure about this can color our feelings about the new. Counselors advise taking plenty of time between an old and  new relationship, but. I like to start a new book when the last isn’t entirely finished, winking at chapters which will be there to greet me instead of a silence between old and new. But this does mean we have to be careful that judgments on the old don’t spill over to the new.

So I’m back to asking if what I’m writing is perfect enough for me? Can it be worth spending the next year or two or three with, when I’m so riddled with doubt? Wait. Those hesitations are familiar. This is writing, something I know from every day, and not just part that’s starting out. Maybe this is a book after all.


I love this entry (especially since I'm just at that tentative starting-point on a new book, too). Thank you for sharing it.
Thanks, Stephanie. I think you know better than most of us how it feels to have one book arriving, while another is leaving, while another who you thought had left is crying for some attention. Good luck with all!
This is so familiar. And I change my mind every day about the quality of what I'm writing.


There are no certainties in this life. Which is a more politically correct way of saying everyone has doubts. I watched a programme yesterday on Ian Rankin. It followed him writing his last novel and what was fascinating considering the fact he’s written some thirty novels was how much doubt featured as a part of his process, the first appearing—as seems to be regularly the case with him—once he reached page sixty-five but even right into his third and (for him) final draft the doubts lingered. Although he never said as much I think his general philosophy was to simply accept that doubt never goes away; there is no such a thing as the perfect novel and, of course, the more distance there is between you and the writing the more you’ll find to find fault with. I look at my first two novels and have just resigned myself to the fact that a different man to me wrote them and that was the best he could do. Doubt can cripple you but being crippled isn’t the worst thing in the world; just look at the cripples who took part in the Olympics last year. I’m sure Ian Rankin would love to write a book without that thorn in his side but he’s simply acknowledged that that’s a part of his process.

There are plenty of things we can doubt. I don’t doubt my ability to write another novel. I’ve written five so why should a sixth be any problem? I do, however, doubt my ability to write a… worthy is the word that jumps to my mind… a worthy novel. Just getting fifty- or sixty-thousand words down isn’t hard—seriously, I can do that in a couple of months—but fifty- or sixty-thousand words that I care about, that mean something to me, well, that’s a different thing entirely.

I’ve never been one to jump into a new project too quickly. I’m rather jealous of those writers who… I suppose the word for it would be chain-writing… who type ‘The End’, make a cup of coffee and sit down to begin ‘Chapter One’ but then I’m never going to be six feet tall no matter how much I wish it. I think the worst thing any writer can do is compare him or herself to any other writer and that’s probably the worst thing about the Internet for me. I see all these other, younger, brighter, faster writers and they make me feel inadequate; doubts don’t always originate internally.

Re: Doubts

Thanks for commenting. You make some excellent points, and I agree that comparisons are dangerous. Good luck with novel number six. May it be the one that's entirely worthy.