The Super Bowl Sucks

I’m sure my title would enrage die-hard football fans, but chances are they’re not reading this anyway.  They’re too busy watching eight full hours of pregame coverage.  For the record, I don’t hate football, I’m just totally apathetic to it.  In fact, unless the athletes are punching and kicking each other, I don’t care about sports in general.

I’d rather talk books.

Months ago, I started working on a novel.  Not actually writing one, but "working on" one.  Brainstorming.  Researching.  Outlining.  Yada.  Yada.  Yada.

It didn’t pan out.  The story just wasn’t there.

So I started over.  Brainstorming.  Researching.  Yada.  Yada.  Yada.

"This is it," I told myself.  "This is the one."  I had a strong enough hold on the story to give a few chapters a try.  20 pages…then 30…then 40…then

Skriiiket My flash drive farted.  I lost it all.

Obscenities followed.  Loud ones.  Nasty ones.  I could’ve made Joe R. Lansdale blush.  My monitor almost made a trip through the window.

Two days later, I started again.  Punching the keys with heat, with anger, with brute determination.

"This time it’ll work." 

I had a character I identified with.  I had a "big idea" plot.  I had a cool ending in mind.
I had…

A load of shite.

Plain and simple, I was trying too hard.  I wanted something that would catch an editor’s eye.  I wanted to sell a book.  Problem is, every time I sat at the computer, my shoulders slumped.  I was not having fun, and it showed.  The pace slowed.  Two pages a day turned into two paragraphs.  My mind wandered.  I wanted to work on something else, something new.

I’ve walked this road before.  My hard drive is littered with the first five chapters of a dozen novels.  Was I falling into my old pattern, grasping for the shiny new object?  The question left me feeling like an unprofessional hack.  Worse than a hack, a wannabe. 

I saw my future.  Ten years from now at Thriller Fest, I’m telling novelists about the short stories I had published in 2006.  Then I’m drinking too much, spilling beer on my silver jumpsuit, dying later in a horrible jet pack accident (because it’s the future, get it?).

So what could I do?  Give up on the idea?  Or push on through?  I want to be a writer, don’t I?  And writing isn’t always fun.  But then again, how do you keep working on something when you’ve lost your confidence in it?

A few days ago, I made my decision.  Out with the old, in with the new.

But this time, there’s a difference.  I don’t care anymore.  I don’t care about catching an editor’s eye.  I don’t care about the big idea.  I only care about the words on the screen. The book will be fast and furious with over the top characters and bloody, violent fight scenes.  In short, I’m writing the book I want to read.  And if someone else wants to come along for the ride, that’s just gravy.

So what do you think?  Did I make the right decision, or am I taking the easy way out?  How can you tell when I project’s not working?  How do you know you’re not just facing another roadblock–a simple challenge to be overcome? 

18 thoughts on “The Super Bowl Sucks

  1. B.G. Ritts

    For the record, I don’t think the Super Bowl sucks. I’m really looking forward to enjoying it and the commercials this year – my team’s not there so I can just sit back and watch instead of worrying if they’ll win. I even tuned in to the Super Bowl Commercials special Friday night and voted for my favorite, which won – again.

    I read your whole post too, and even though I’m not a writer, I think writing the book you’d want to read sounds like the right approach. And if it’s like you described, I’ll want to read it to.

    Reply
  2. Guyot

    You are taking the hard way out, imho. The easy way would be to keep sitting around writing two paragraphs a day, lying to yourself and to your friends and family.

    From my recent experience (and stories from others) the hardest thing to commit to doing is writing the book you want to read.

    In this day of so much hype surrounding authors (did you read that blowjob of a post someone at The ‘Rati gave Marcis Sakey???), so many blogs about how to join the club, so many conferences to go and sit on panels and spew our self-gratifying words of wisdom to the unenlightened… writing for yourself and not the marketplace is nearly impossible.

    But think where Gischler or Huston would be if they had tried to write a book for the marketplace? Or Duane Swizzle Stick over in Philly. Or any of a number of other published scribes.

    One thing I noticed at LCC this weekend was how the majority of the “pre-published” (sic) people would talk about their book in terms of how popular it could be, or how it’s perfect for the currrent marketplace, or how their book is the next Child or Eisler or blah, blah, blah.

    I was not surprised that these people had been turned down by so many agents and publishers.

    Yes, you can think about the market when you’re writing, and make decisions based on what people say is or isn’t right or wrong for getting a pub deal, and heck, you may even finish that manuscript.

    But I will bet you my pilot fees that the book would be crap. Or at the very least, crap compared to what you could have done writing from within – with no thought of anything outside your story and characters.

    And as far as “How do you know when you’re just facing another road block…”

    You know. Look at your post, Mike. Look at how you felt sitting at the computer. A writer ALWAYS knows when it’s a road block versus a bad idea, or bad execution. Sometimes we just don’t like to admit it.

    Reply
  3. JT Ellison

    I must agree with G, Mike. If you aren’t writing something YOU as a writer would enjoy reading, it’s going to end up being a huge, hard strain of a job.

    Write with passion, write with joy. Write, ultimately, for you.Tap your inner demons and let them spill blood onto the page. Make each character a tiny piece of your soul. Those are the books that sell in the long run, and you’ll be happier with the effort.

    On a different note, I LOVE football, and can’t wait for 5:00. I have magazine to get me through the pre-game, a couple of books I need to finish, then it’s Football Time In Tennessee.

    Go Colts!

    Reply
  4. Lisa

    I’m never quite sure whether you guys want commentary from we the great unwashed — the complete (and as yet unpublished) strangers who read your blogs — but for whatever they’re worth, here are my thoughts, having finally (and just last night) overridden three months of stalling and terror that I’ve lied to friends and loved ones about as “not knowing how to write this scene.” The idea is never the problem. The confidence is, ’cause the wall is a hard place to be. I spent three years considering an idea that will probably make a good novel someday, and it’s lurking in my hard drive, but until I’m ready to write that book, I’m writing this one. And who knows — on most days I’m pretty sure it sucks, and even if it gets published, that no one but my mother will ever read it. But it’s the story I want to tell right now, even when I spend lots of time trying to avoid writing it. Tell your story. The rest is out of your control anyway. Good luck.

    Reply
  5. billie

    I think by letting go of all those concerns and committing yourself to writing the book YOU want to read, you will tap into the real stuff and get to a much better book in the end.

    It feels to me in some ways like walking a tightrope. I think we as writers have to be aware, in some peripheral but realistic way, of the market and the readers and the odds.

    But then we also have to set that aside while doing the actual writing piece, b/c I think that stuff can kill creativity and good work.

    The bottom line for me is just what you said at the end – make the writing itself, the process and the pages, amazing for YOU. Anything beyond that – publication, awards won, bestsellerdom, movie options – any of that will be icing on the cake.

    billie

    Reply
  6. JT Ellison

    Lisa, I’m so glad you spoke up. I hope that all the newbies out there (NOT unwashed) will chime in and let us know if we’re reaching you, addressing YOUR needs.

    My theory with those difficult issues is… what’s the worst that will happen? Will the scene come to life and eat you? No. All you can do is try. Sometimes it works,a sometimes it doesn’t. But major kudos for hitting that point and making it happen!

    Reply
  7. Guyot

    Well, since Jay-Tee brought it up…

    Despite the fact that I’d love to see Manning and Harrison finally get the rings they deserve, and despite the fact that my 4-year-old son will be cheering for the “Shoelaces” – see, that thing on their helmets isn’t a horseshoe, it’s a shoelace… at least to my son – I find myself leaning toward Bears.

    Maybe it’s because I dearly love Chicago? Maybe it’s because I had an unnatural attraction to Walter Payton? Maybe it’s because I still remember what Irsay did to the city of Baltimore?

    Regradless, I love this Super Bowl because whoever wins I will be happy so long as it’s a great game.

    Reply
  8. Mike MacLean

    So I guess I’m all alone on my island of Super Bowl apathy. At least you guys gave me some nuggets to think about it terms of writing.

    Keith,

    Somehow you manage to be totally inspirational and yet still smash my dreams against a big mossy rock. All in one sentence! That’s talent.

    Paul, J.T.

    Thanks for the assist. You guys said exactly what I wanted to hear, which in this case is also what I needed to hear.

    Billie,

    I’ve been walking that tightrope in my head. And you’re right, it kills creativity.

    Lisa,

    How do you define unpublished? If we’re talking novels, then I’m right there with you. To some degree, I respect every published author out there. It’s a tough business. That being said, they don’t corner the market on creativity. Your advice is both appreciated and welcome. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

    Reply
  9. Keith

    Mike, I know you’re kidding, but I can’t tell how much. I certainly never mean to smash any dreams–or even bump against them–but your reply does make me want to ask:

    Are you dreaming of huge monetary success?

    Others will have different views, but to quote George Thorogood:

    Who do you love? Y

    ou can love the book, or you can love the thought of being a multimillionaire on Leno. Pick one.

    If you pick Leno, I got nothing for you. Go talk to Konrath or somebody. If you pick the book, I got one bulletproof piece of advice:

    Finish.

    If the only way you can finish is to love what you’re writing, then write what you love. Unfinished marketing tactics are of no use. Finished manuscripts, you can do something with. Writing what you love is, therefore, a marketing decision. It’s how you complete a product. After that, it either sells or it doesn’t. But dreams don’t sell. Manuscripts do. Do what it takes to finish one.

    Or I could be full of it.

    (And I couldn’t care less about the Super Bowl either.)

    Reply
  10. Deb Kristy

    Michael, in my humble (but washed) opinion you certainly made the right choice. Who cares what the reasons behind it are? The first book I wrote that was what I REALLY wanted to write, that I didn’t worry about the market, or a fantasy editor, or my mother-in-law, was the first book I sold. Also, ahem, the only book I’ve sold so far.

    Now stick with it.

    Reply
  11. Lisa

    Mike,Having been encouraged to comment by JT (for which I offer well-washed thanks), by unpublished I do mean novels. I’ve got some nonfiction magazine stuff, but no fiction. (Yet, right? Oh wait, it’s all about the craft.) In the meantime, I offer greetings from the east coast non-Superbowl set — I think it’s still going on, but I don’t actually know, or care. Like you, I’d rather talk about books. It’s much more fun to talk about them then write them, don’t you think? At any rate. The beauty of this strange medium is its ability to connect complete strangers who are in the same boat. Keep bailing — and rest assured that there’s someone in the small state of Delaware bailing right along side you. Mine’s the boat with the spurting hole in the keel, but I’ve got my thumb in there… And thank you.

    Reply
  12. Mike MacLean

    Keith,

    I was totally joking, and I thank you for your advice. Your comments (including the one made on my other post) are to the point and honest, and I appreciate them.

    As to your advice, like I said, I’ve made my choice to write the book I want to write.

    But can’t I dream of making millions, just for a little while?

    Reply
  13. louiseure

    Lisa wrote: “The idea is never the problem. The confidence is, ’cause the wall is a hard place to be.” Spoken like a real writer, my dear, whether published or unpublished.

    Sure, I know that confidence Jones. But truly, does every idea deserve to become a novel? When do we know that the idea isn’t unique enough … big enough … deep enough … complex or surprising enough?

    In any case Mike, I’m glad you’re writing from the heart. That’s the only filling station we’ve got on this road trip.

    Reply
  14. Alex Sokoloff

    Late to the party (still in Seattle!) but I wanted to say to Lisa, we LOVE it when other people comment. Do you know how sick we’d get of each other if it were just us sitting around yakking all the time? I mean, G with his nonsense about a writer always knowing…

    (That’s not really true, is it?)

    Louise already quoted your very quotable quote, so I’ll just say – Hear, hear!!

    Mike, it does sound like you did the right thing.

    Reply

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