Welcome to the Nuthouse

I’ve said before that writers are nuts.  Recent events in my writing career have done nothing to change that opinion.

I’ve written about the neuroses before, back when I was struggling to break in … the compulsive mailbox/e-mail checking, the obsessiveness over underlining vs. italics or whether there should be one space or two after the period, the emotional mood swings that bounce up and down like a ferret on pixie stix, and so on.  But these illnesses can be managed!  They don’t last forever … do they?

Fast forward a bit.  I’ve now got three books in print with a major publisher, and I’ve just finished book two in a new series.  I’m … not confident.  I wrote five drafts of this book, and I just can’t tell anymore if it’s brilliant or if it’s utter trash and I’ve lost whatever skill I once thought I had.  I handed it over to my beta readers and tried not to think about it for a while.

I failed, but I did try.  I tried not to stalk my readers, either.  Remember the Simpsons kids in the back seat chanting, “Are we there yet?  Are we there yet?  Are we there yet?”  That could be me on my computer, e-mailing, “Have you read it yet?”  But I was strong, and I fought the lure of the e-mail*.

And then a month or so later, one of my readers made a passing comment on her blog about reading the manuscript, calling it “fun”.  Hallelujah!  The book is fun!  But wait … how far has she read?  Is it only the first chapter that’s fun?  Maybe the whole thing turns to crap starting on page 20.  What does “fun” mean, anyway?  Is that better or worse than being a “good read” or a “strong story”?  I know she’s busy with her own deadlines, but I could send her a quick e-mail asking for clarification, and–

No!  Stay good, Jim.  Be strong.  Don’t let the voices win.

So to all of my fellow writers, particularly those who are farther along in this journey, do we ever stop being nuts?  Or do we simply move from one neurosis to the next, a neverending superhighway of crazy?  Any tips for managing it?  I married a counselor, which helps some.

The most effective thing I’ve found is to dive into the next story.   How can I freak out about the last book when I’m freaking out about how to write this one?  But I’d love to hear what the rest of you do to stay sane.

—–
*Am I cheating if I know that beta reader will probably read this blog entry?

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There are 8 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Adam Heine

    Yes, I understand. Writing the next story is the only way I’ve found to emulate sanity, but every time I get a new rejection, or a new comment on the finished novel or a short story, the demon monkeys come and pull me back in their cage.

  2. 2. Steve

    I was never fond of pixie sticks. Either we’re all gluttons for punishment or we really really like writing. :-)

  3. 3. Alma Alexander

    “So to all of my fellow writers, particularly those who are farther along in this journey, do we ever stop being nuts?”

    No.

    At first you start the nuts of “can I do this? Can I finish this? Can I sell this? Will this get published?”

    And then you graduate to the nuts of “How is it selling?”

    And then you graduate to the nuts of “Will I ever do it again?”

    And then you start something new and you slide right back to the original nuts, and off we go again.

    So, in one short word,the answer is no. THis comes with the territory…

  4. 4. sylvia_rachel

    Well, I’m still in the very early stages, and still very much nuts. Based on my ethnographic observations of other writers through their LiveJournal posts, however, I’d have to say that the being nuts does not seem to go away. People I regard as total gurus of all writerly stuff routinely astonish me by angsting about, well, a lot of the same kind of stuff I angst about.

    My favourite summary of this is Patricia Bray’s: “Sanity. It’s for people who aren’t writers.” (And, yes, she said I could quote that ;^).)

  5. 5. Gustavo

    Argh!

    I’m a little further behind on the journey (OK, a lot, but who’s counting), and I was hoping the nuttiness would go away.

    Another dream dashed by harsh reality.

  6. 6. Bran Fan

    Beta readers blogging about my work that they are critiquing for me. That sounds like hell.

  7. 7. Kelly McCullough

    You and I are remarkably close to the same point in our careers, so I can’t say anything in terms of what happens next, but I’m afraid it’s probably a steady state thing. At every stage so far it’s absolutely been a case of same game, bigger stakes and when I talk to my mentors they tell me that part never really changes.

    The crazy things is more, I think, tied to individual temperament than the writing. In my case it’s been pretty calm, but I’m generally a calm sort and writing makes me happy.

    So here’s my theory. If a person wigged out about their writing when they were getting started at putting things on the page, or when they first sent things out, or at whatever point, they’ll probably wig out about it at the mirrored points later in their career as well. If they weren’t a wig out type in the early stages they probably won’t be a wig out type as they move further along the writing road.

  8. 8. cindy

    i used to be the most emotionally stable
    person until i decided to pursue a writing
    career–now i’m a neurotic mess.

    i am going to make a HAPPY WRITER PILL.
    it will be pastel colored. and taste good.

Author Information

Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.

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