I hate this book

by Tess Gerritsen

I have not been out of my house in days.  If not for my husband delivering nourishment to the refrigerator, I would have starved weeks ago.  My neighbors think I’m the crazy recluse next door, probably destined to turn into one of those weird cat ladies shuffling around in a bathrobe and slippers, muttering to myself.  Except I don’t own a cat.  But I do shuffle around muttering to myself because this is the very worst time of year for me, the time of year when I don’t answer my phone or my mail, when I turn into Greta Garbo and moan, “why can’t I just be left alone?”

It’s deadline time.  

It’s also called the I hate this book stage.  I’ve heard that some authors (I don’t know any of them personally) completely bypass this stage.  They rocket through the process of writing a novel with overwhelming passion and joy and they think their story, at every stage, is grand and a work of genius.  I suspect those people are merely psychotic.  Or maybe I’m the psychotic one, to put myself through this with every single book.

And it does happen with every single book.  It’s utterly predictable.  I will start off with an idea I love.  And then, somewhere between the first and second draft, I will start to hate the whole damn project.  By then, my publisher has a cover design in the works and riveting flap copy written, both of which seem so much better than the story they’re actually supposed to sell.  But no one knows it yet, except me.  And I’m afraid to tell my team how much I hate the story, because then they’ll worry that it really is as horrid as I think it is.

My literary agent, though, takes my misery in stride because she has heard it all before.  At some stage in the writing, she says, almost all her authors have whined, “I hate this story and I hate these characters.”  That, she says,  means the book’s done and it’s time to send it in.  

My husband has heard it all before, too.  “You said this the last time, so just finish the thing already,” he says.  Such an understanding man.  

If you are writing your very first novel, this stage will terrify you.  It will make you question your talent, cause you to surrender, make you wonder if you shouldn’t toss this deformed monster in the closet and start a different novel instead.  My advice?  Don’t.  Stick with it.  Fix it.  Shuffle around scenes, re-write dialogue.  

That’s what I’m doing now.  Fixing things.  Feeling alternately optimistic and hopeless.  Unlike the newbie novelist, I have the advantage of knowing this stage is perfectly predictable.  I also know that I’ve forged through this every time before.  Twenty-two books later, I have to believe I can do it again.  

24 thoughts on “I hate this book

  1. Zoë Sharp

    I hear your pain, Tess – I think every writer goes through this, and those who say they don't are possibly telling porkies. Maybe even to themselves.

    It's just 'difficult twenty-second-book syndrome'

    Good luck, keep the faith!

  2. Grace

    Thanks for this post! I am at the stage where I want to bury my manuscript and move on. You're words inspire me to stay with it. If it happens to a writer of your caliber then, sorry, it gives me comfort and hope.

  3. Ruth Harris

    Stephen King must have been going through this stage when he famously threw away the manuscript of CARRIE. Fortunately–for him and everyone else–his wife rescued it & we all know the end of THAT story.

    The Hate Stage: comes with the territory. Head down, ass to chair, nose to grindstone…we all know the illness; we all know the Rx.

    Great post, Tess!

  4. Spencer Seidel

    Yes! This is inevitable and everyone goes through it. Anyone who says they don't is lying. For this reason, I keep a framed phrase on my desk that reads: Just write the damn book. On the margins, I write the names of my manuscripts and the dates I finished major revisions. This remind me that I've been in that bad place before and gotten out alive. It has really helped me at times.

  5. billie

    Interesting post and comments – I'm neither a liar nor psychotic, have written 6 books, and truly, I don't go through an "I hate this book" phase. There are brief periods of fatigue when I hit the sticky places, but they pass, and I have a busy life so don't really have the time to dwell on them. By the time I come back to the work, the solution has generally come to me.

    There are probably a number of reasons: I'm not working on someone else's deadline. I trust my process (which has proved six times that what I write as a first draft is never the final draft, and the "middle" draft tends to get messier before it gets better) and I enjoy all the parts of writing – even the messy parts.

    We don't all operate the same way when we write. One particular process doesn't render "better" writing – we all do what we have to do to get our stories on the page.

    All that said, I hope you get through this phase yet again – with your track record, I am pretty sure you will! 🙂

  6. Alafair Burke

    Thank you, Tess, for your willingness to let other writers know that you still have those moments of panic and insecurity all of these many awesome books later. We take comfort in your pain, not because we're mean or anything, because it's so nice to know we're not alone.

  7. Debbie

    My MS is that deranged monster and I'm hoping that the , "I hate this book" means it really is finished but somehow…I doubt it! I don't actually hate it though, just the editing process. The knowledge that I don't actually know what I'm doing and between the sheer ignorance and the knowledge that there are several passes that I could do even now to improve it, make me want to hide. I have Lucasitis and I'm sure if I just edit some more, I won't be completely humiliated when somebody reads it. It's too long to ever be published so I'm working on something that I know can't be birthed. And damn it, that's how it feels…I just can't stop pushing!

  8. Cornelia Read

    Ah, Tess… I would send you my current draft so you could realize what a goddamn genius you are by comparison to me, but I'd hate to induce nausea in anyone, especially a writer whom I so greatly admire.

  9. Eika

    Oh, god, yes.

    Though I, newbie that I am, believe that setting it aside for a month when you've reached the 'set it on fire absolute loathing' point can also be beneficial. If, you know, you have time.

  10. Ellen Byerrum

    Tess, I loved the post. It's actually a comfort to know that most writers go through this phase. I call it the 75 percent point, because that's usually when I decide it's rotten through and through. I know to expect it and work through. But I am always surprised at how hard writing a book is, and it never gets easier. And it should.

  11. Jake Nantz

    The one thing you have over the newbie writer though, Tess, is this:

    You know, in some small part of your brain, that gets scared away by the big evil second-guesser-monster, that it will ultimately be a great book, and not total crap. When the newbie asks the question (or more like makes the statement), "This is complete and utter dreck!" the real thing is…they have to believe there's a good chance that they're right.

    So yeah, terrifying. Still, we all have read your stuff, and we all know your writing rocks, so I gotta go with your husband on this one (it's okay, I'm the blunt one…just ask Louise, she'll tell you):

    You've hit this before, and they all turned out phenomenal, so write it and it'll rock too!

  12. Allison Davis

    Bless you Tess, this is a perfect post for someone who hasn't published a novel yet (me). There's an analogy in the law, when the young litigator asks the seasoned trial lawyer, "when does it get easier? When do the butterflies go away." And the seasoned trial lawyer looks at her and says, "I'll let you know." Process. Can't live with it, can't live without it.

  13. Allison Brennan

    I constantly fear my current book won't be as good as my last. But my greatest fear is that I'll never get better, that in fact, my writing will get worse, but no one will tell me, just quietly ridicule me behind my back and post anonymous one-star reviews everywhere.

  14. Reine

    Tess, I love that I discovered you here, and I am looking forward to reading more. So glad that you are willing to discuss this part of the process… as accomplished as you are. Damn.

  15. toni mcgee causey

    Oh, yes. The "And then they ALL DIED, THE EFFING END" stage of the book. The point at which a nice, coincidental explosion takes out everyone and you don't have to wrap anything up because they're all dead, muuuuuuuuuaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaa (drool drool, whine, where's my scotch?) Um, yes, I may have been at that stage for a few weeks now. I completely empathize.

  16. Pamela Speak

    I mostly know how you feel, sort of, I write, love it, hate it, throw it to the ground with a sob and never continue. I'll take your words to heart and try to push through with my current project.

    I really love your novels and I'm so glad you don't give up and throw them away, they are the first books ever to frighten me into having my boyfriend escort me to the bathroom at night in case murderers are hanging out on my landing. I won't say I don't frighten easily but a book has never affected me the same way…every time I read them (I've re-read The Surgeon at least four times and each time it scares me but I adore it).

    Thank you for creating such wonderful characters and novels and for giving me something to look forward to with each new novel.

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