I wish I could always write positive things, but today I'm going to write about when I'm not at my best. I know many of my readers could care less about my whining and excuses, so I'll let you know in advance. I do not write this post for you, but for those who may have, or currently are experiencing these same issues. Perhaps you could learn what NOT to do, or how to recover.
Also, I'll go ahead and report that I feel like I'm currently in a good spot again. I'm back to writing. I have a plan. I'm pushing forward. So, what you're about to read is in the past, and this is my post-mortem.
As I've mentioned at least twice in the past week, I came to a complete standstill in my writing for months. There were no excuses, no tests, no busies at work, no nothing. Yet there were struggles and depression. The main cause? There's no way around it ... it was mainly coming from working on my book Escape From the Planet Justice (which is now called just plain Justice).
I had finished my 4th draft of Justice years ago, and I set it aside for a long time. Then mid-2014, I decided to self-publish the book. After all, I had already sent it to all the major publishers, and received several rejections and a couple of ignores. What did I have to lose? Get the book ready, put it out there for people to buy. No gatekeepers -- just my book standing on its own, letting the people decide if it was worth buying.
It was a great plan. Get the 4th draft critiqued, make final revisions, get a professional editor, publish it, and sell it. Little did I know that I was going to get stuck at Step 1.
First I went to the online critique service Critters.org. It is probably the best critique service out there for science fiction. (One day I'll give a fuller review.) Up through mid-2014, I had been critiquing several short stories and even a couple of novels. I think I did three total, and those critiques were awesome. I was honest, and I provided what I thought would be the most useful feedback, along with detailed suggestions.
I posted Justice, hoping to get the same treatment in return. I put up the first chapter for everyone to read, and sent details for those wanting to critique the full book. I received four critiques of the first chapter, and just one person -- yes, ONE -- took up the task of critiquing the whole book. That guy, John, read the whole thing in like a day, and he gave me a page-long critique, which provided good overall suggestions, but no details on any specific passages.
Overall, I felt jipped. Not by John, who critiqued the whole novel, but by the lack of other independent critiques that are necessary in order to identify what the real problems are. Critters.org had let me down.
That's when I decided to turn to my friends. They could critique my novel.
But first, the Critter.org experience wasn't a complete waste. All those critiquers agreed on one thing: I needed to add something to the beginning, something short to build the world and set the stage, instead of just barging into the action. So I added something: two new chapters at the beginning, plus a major edit on the old-first-now-third chapter.
And then I went to facebook and asked who wanted to do a critique. I got two handfuls of volunteers.
Only three of them critiqued the first three chapters. I sent follow-up emails to try to get feedback from my other friends, but they were all ignored.
Out of the three, one of the friends had already critiqued the 3rd draft, so I only gave her three chapters. She says she'll critique future revisions once I'm done.
One of the others stopped at three chapters and wouldn't provide any more feedback.
The last of the three, Will, who had originally gotten me started down the path of serious writing, made it as far as Chapter 7 and then he went ballistic on me. He picked up that Chapters 4 and beyond were written earlier, and he went on about how much of a cardinal sin it was to send a critiquer such a mish-mash of writing and about how pissed off he was. He made me wish I had sent him just the old stuff without the insert at the beginning. Since he had already helped with the 2nd draft, I let him off the hook for the rest of the book.
Other than that, Will gave a very valuable critique on those first seven chapters.
Then I realized that was it. Critters.org let me down. My friends let me down. My perfect plan to self-pulish this book came to a total standstill.
And here comes the big kicker. What did I do next? I did the wrong thing. I asked myself, "Why did I get so few critiques on this novel? How can I progress without a full critique?" My answer to myself: "It must be total crap. They must have started reading it, got bored, and set it aside. There must have been a good reason why nobody wanted to publish it earlier."
I didn't have any other projects planned to work on, so I just came to a complete stop. Did the world really need another second-rate science fiction author?
Even though I wasn't writing, I still had this urge. Stories were still wanting to come out of me. I had to do something to fix this. That's when I decided to hire a life coach. We discussed different options. One choice would have been to set aside Justice and move on to something else, but I realized I needed to conquer this book. If I could get it ready for publishing, and actually get it out on the market, then I could do anything with my other works.
I decided to give it one more try. First I read through all the critiques I did get, and I realized the answers I sought were in there, even if my friends hadn't done the whole thing.
So, I got over my whining, self-pitying, and self-loathing, and went to work. The first three chapters went rather smoothly. I had to rewrite some sections to help the flow. And then when I hit the fourth chapter, I hit me why Will (and possibly others) got so pissed off. The older writing was terrible. Well, "terrible" is too strong a word, but it was still a dozen cringes per page. I saw why Will hated the protagonist so much. And it wasn't too difficult to fix the problems.
Chapter 4 ended up suffering some major rewrites.
When I stopped for Christmas, I made it as far as the beginning of Chapter 5. Starting next week, I'll be back in business, shooting for one chapter a week. Then I'll be done in about four months. Next I'll send it to a professional editor, shooting for a release in 2017.
It's a plan.