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.
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.
- The very start
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.
- 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?
- 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.
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.
I 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
Then 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!