The one where I come down with a nasty condition called itsapileofpapitis

Earlier this week, my wonderful writing friend and fellow Yorkshire Rose Writer, Sharon Booth, wrote a blog post about a serious condition from which she suffers, I suffer, and many other writers also suffer: comparisonitis. It’s the feeling of inadequacy brought on by constantly comparing ourselves to other writers. You can read her honest and entertaining post here.

But this got me thinking about the other ailment from which I’m suffering really badly at the moment: itsapileofpapitis. A bit like comparisonitis, it’s a really nasty bug that can creep up on you and floor you completely. Man flu? It’s got nothing on this little beast.

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It can overcome a writer at any point but here are the three main parts of the writing process where a writer is likely to be struck down with it.

  1. The very start
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Time to bang your head against a wall!

You have this idea. This great idea. It might have come to you in the shower, in the middle of the night, when you heard an item on the news, listened to the lyrics of a song, or overheard a snippet of conversation. Ooh, exciting! The creative juices start flowing. This could be it. This could have mileage. This could be a bestseller.

And then itsapileofpapitis strikes. Out of nowhere, it punches you square on the jaw and shouts: Are you mad? That’s the most stupid idea I’ve ever heard! It’s flawed. There’s not a full story in that. Go on, write it, I dare you to waste your time…

And that’s it. The doubts have set in. You convince yourself it was a rubbish idea and either abandon it or bravely attempt to write it, but it’s like wading through treacle because those nagging doubts are there and you can’t stop listening to them.

 

  1. Somewhere mid-flow

It’s going well. You’ve got a plot, you’ve got some characters, the dialogue is flowing, the
setting is coming alive when … oh my goodness … it hits you. A hideous dose of itsapileofpapitis. You look at what you’ve written, hold your head in your hands and sigh loudly. And that little voice starts again: What a pile of pap! It’s all over the shop. Full of plot holes.Your 5-year old/the dog/next door’s guinea pig could have written something better than that. You might as well give up. Stop writing right now. Seriously, stop.

And that’s it. But this time you’re stuck. You have already invested time, effort and perhaps a few tears in creating half/a third/quarter of a book. You believed in it enough to have got this far. But do you have the courage to go further? Will you be able to work through itsapileofpapitis and come out the other side? Or will your work languish on your computer, unloved; just a series of words that nobody will ever read?

 

  1. At the very end

This is perhaps the most dangerous form of this condition and it’s the one that takes the most out of us. You’ve typed ‘The End’. You smile, you sit back in your chair, and you silently congratulate yourself. You did it! You wrote your 1st, 8th, 97thbook. Wow! That’s some achievement. You know the hard work starts now because you’re about to embark on some major proofreading and editing but, for now, relax and enjoy this moment because you have finished writing a book. Amazing.

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Is this what those voices of doubt look like?

Then the edits start and … argh! Itsapileofpapitis takes its hold with the tightest of grips and that voice of doubt pierces your very soul: You’re kidding me, right? That’s your book? That’s what you’ve spent the last 6 months/year/10 years writing? Oh. My. God! Don’t give up the day job. It’s the biggest dollop of pap I have ever read. In fact, I didn’t even make it to the end before Zzzzzz. You’re never going to publish that/try to get it published are you? Ha ha ha. That’s hilarious. Get ready for rejection / one-star reviews. You’re finished as a writer. So much for improving with age and experience.

And that’s it. Those doubts, those worries, those fears smother you and you have to ask yourself some serious questions:

Is this genuinely a dollop of pap that should never see the light of day?

Is it actually boring?

Are there seriously lots of plot holes?

Is there really no character arc?

Have I honestly created one-dimensional stereotypical characters?

OR … and this is very likely the case … am I just tired/too close to it/having an understandable and quite human meltdown?

 

So what do you do when you’re still struck down with itsapileofpapitis?

I don’t think there’s anything you can really do except keep believing in yourself. If you put your heart and soul into this and can say it really is the best you can do, then I’d say it’s just the condition getting you down and you should do your best to quieten those doubts.

lock-44463_640I never used to suffer from itsapileofpapitis. I was really proud of my first book but I think that was me being a bit naïve about what lay ahead. At that point, the fact that I’d finished writing a whole book was pretty astonishing and I was very happy with what I’d done. And it was really well received. It received great feedback on the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, got two publishing deals and started to gather lots of four and five star reviews on Amazon. But that in itself opened up my susceptibility to itsapileofpapitis because, with each subsequent book, doubts started to creep in: Was it as good as Searching for Steven?

What becomes really weird the more books you release is that you want readers to say of your newest one: It’s amazing, my new favourite! Yet this then brings in the doubts again. Does that mean they didn’t really like the previous one and they were just being nice? Ha ha ha. Can’t win, eh?

 

So why am I bringing this up today?

Because I’ve come down with a bad case of itsapileofpapitis. I finished my tenth book, Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, in September. At the RNA’s Conference, I received positive comments from four publishers but I decided not to submit it to one of them and it didn’t lead to anything with the others. So the doubts started which is ridiculous because I had something like 35 rejections before Searching for Stevengot two publishing deals. I have only actually had three rejections for Wish…so far but it’s still been enough to floor me with itsapileofpapitis.

I knew that I wanted to give Wish… one last read-through before indie publishing it in spring (assuming it hadn’t found a publisher home by then). On hearing that a new publisher would be looking for submissions from today, I decided to do that this week and, oh my goodness, I had three doses of itsapileofpapitis in the space of a few days:

Doubting the premise as soon as I started reading it

Doubting it was a gripping tale somewhere in the middle

Doubting it would do anywhere near as well as the others near the end

paper-3111146_640Then I read the last chapter and, even though I’ve read it so many times before, it made me smile, it made me cry, and it made me sigh in that way I sigh when I’ve reached the end of a really enjoyable book and feel satisfied with the ending. The story made me feel things.

And I reminded myself that the feedback I’d had from publishers was that it was a great story, great characters, great setting and that I could write … it just wasn’t for them.

And I reminded myself that my beta readers have unanimously said it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and they loved it (whilst trying not to question what’s wrong with my other books!)

So itsapileofpapitis can do one. I refuse to let it bring me down and I refuse to listen to it … although if I do start getting one-star reviews for it, maybe I’ll change my mind!

 

Have you ever suffered from this? I’d love to hear from you, particularly if you have ways of getting round it.

Have an amazing week. My plan is to return to a WIP I’ve been dithering with for the past few months because … you’ve guessed it … I’ve been hit with a serious case of itsapileofpapitis about it!

Jessica xx

The reasons for the early Christmas prep … whinge time!

I posted earlier this week about my procrastination for my writing and promised I’d explain why I think I’m doing this. So here’s the explanation. Frustratingly, I started writing this post immediately after the 3rd Dec one but I’ve somehow lost it. I must have closed it down without saving it. Grr.

Let’s crack on. Here’s are several things that have happened that have led to my crisis of confidence:

P10507461) My NWS report earlier this year. I submitted novel 2, ‘Getting Over Gary’, and my reader didn’t have many positive things to say about it. She kept saying there were lots of positive things … but somehow managed to emit them from my report. She kept referring to it as a “draft” but I actually felt like it was pretty much there. Thankfully my incredibly supportive fellow-Write Romantic, Jo Bartlett, had beta-read Gary. I asked her to look over the report and she was really encouraging in allaying my concerns

2 ) I started to edit Gary as there were a couple of points that my reader had made that I decided to act upon. I’d loved the book before submitting it but began to really doubt it was good enough as a follow-up to Steven. One of the points that plagued me were that my heroine of book 1, Sarah, and her best friend, Elise (the heroine of book 2) weren’t different enough. I write in 1st person and have given myself a bit of a challenge. Book 1 is told completely from Sarah’s POV but book 2 is Elise’s story and mainly told from her POV but it also continues with Sarah’s story and includes chapters told from her POV. By book 3, we have Sarah’s, Elise’s and Clare’s (new heroine) POVs. I began to realise that my reader was right and I wasn’t really sure what to do about it. Jo came up with a great suggestion of expanding on some aspects of Elise’s personality that I’d touched upon in book 1 but hadn’t made much of in book 2. If I built on this, I’d get my difference but it meant quite a bit of work and I struggled with it.

I then got the amazing news of a publishing deal. Then another. In the two-offers excitement, I pretty much wrote off September, not writing anything. Early October was then devoted to getting ready for the launch of our anthology, late October was a holiday, then I returned to start NaNo …

_MG_69113) I failed NaNo. Last year I “won” it, finishing Gary and starting on book 3, ‘Discovering David’. I wanted to use the 50k word goal to finish David after which I’d turn to Gary again and try to finally resolve the issues in that. The thing is, I started NaNo knowing the plot of David wasn’t perfect. I had a big event happen near the start and I realised earlier in the year that I needed this happen much closer to the end to ensure my heroine, Clare, had a good character arc. This meant a lot of re-plotting. I took my notebook away on holiday with a plan to re-plot it then but I just didn’t find the time to look at it on a family holiday.

I decided to just crack on with writing the chapters I’d mapped out (as I’d still need them) then re-order things later. I managed about 20k words which was probably about 17k more than I’d have done without NaNo but I lost my confidence and let myself get distracted my the whole Christmas preparation thing I talked about in my last post.

4) Our anthology, ‘Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart’ came out at the start of November which was very exciting. But, on the day it was launched, I had a bit of a panic attack. We’d discussed as a group whose short story would feature first in the anthology. It was decided that mine would because (a) I’d been the one to pull the stories together and my husband had typeset them and (b) My story is called ‘Not Just Another Winter’s Tale’ which fit well with the title of the anthology. Very exciting. Very flattering. Actually, very scary and that fear hit me big time when I went onto Amazon to look at our book and registered that the “look inside” would mean potential readers got to sample most of my story. Only my story. Nobody else’s story. Just mine. Which meant that some people might make the decision not to buy because they didn’t like my work. Huge pressure. Of course, the logical side in me is telling me that I have no way of ever knowing whether someone chose not to buy because of the sample but my Doubting Thomas tells me they could well have done

P10506875) The reviews for ‘Winter Tales’ started coming in. Some of the group had made contact with book reviewers and provided them with advance pdfs so a few reviews came in pretty quickly. It was amazing to get 4 and 5-star reviews from these individuals with hundreds or thousands of followers and I basked in the collective glory of the anthology. But I was also hit with doubts. One thing I hadn’t been prepared for was any of the reviewers specifically naming stories as their favourites. The first reviewer picked four stories as her favourites (not mine) and the second one said she preferred the non-traditional romance stories (also not mine). Ridiculous isn’t it but this really threw me. I certainly hadn’t expected to have my story named as a favourite but it hadn’t entered my head that others would be picked out either. Which took me back to point 4

6) I’m feeling really down about work at the moment. This time last year, I’d been out of work for several months and had just secured a job with the company I currently work for. A month or so back, my team received some information that indicated that we could find our roles at risk. Several other pieces of data came to light that suggested this would definitely be the case and, whilst I’ve been now told my role isn’t at risk, there will definitely be a restructure in the new year and I have no idea what my role will look like. I saw a promotion opportunity internally recently and, as I’ve taken a big step down in salary and level to work locally and avoid a huge commute each day, I knew I could do this job. The recruiting manager knew I could do this job too but she felt that I’d be wasted in the role because I’m good at and passionate about what I do at the moment. So the promotion isn’t open to me and I just have to hope that whatever restructuring happens in the new year finally provides clarity on my role and a pay rise. Not going to hold my breath, though 😦

So there you have it. The job situation is having a huge effect on my confidence but I’d be lying if I said it was the whole thing. I think the bigger concern is around writing books 2 and 3. I’m exceptionally proud of Steven. I was proud of Gary until I submitted to the NWS and I was very happy with the story for book 3 until I started writing it. Musicians often cite “that difficult second album” and I think I’m suffering from the difficult second and third book. I’m also doubting my story in the anthology and am doubting I have what it takes to be anything other than a “one-book wonder”. And I’m not even that yet because it won’t be released until next year!

On the positive side, I’ve had wobbles before and got over them. I’m also meeting my writing pals Alys and Sharon tomorrow who should help to slap me and cheer me up. Jo has reminded me that I’ve got a three-book deal but, whilst amazing, my publishers haven’t seen Gary or David yet. What if they don’t like them. She suggested I could send Gary over for a look but I don’t know if I dare, especially when I know it’s not quite there.

I think what I need to do for now is just focus on Christmas, try to relax, stop panicking about the writing and crack on with it when I get my work confidence back as that is definitely on my mind.

Right, going to stop moaning now. Before I go, though, I’ll just point out that our heating broke down overnight on Thursday and we can’t get anyone out until Monday. We had our first frost today and it’s freezing so I’m feeling extra sorry for myself today. I’m writing this in my PJs AND a onesie, thick socks, and the lounge fire on (thank goodness for an electric fire), trying to get some heat into my bones. I think this is probably making the writing doubts even worse!

Thanks for listening xx