“It’s shit. Utter crap. I’m going to bin it and try something else.”
I’m paraphrasing here, but in his memoir-slash-how-to-book, On Writing, King talks about a feeling that overwhelms him at a certain point in each manuscript. A certainty that he has lost his way, that nobody would ever want to read what he just spent months hammering out at his keyboard. He reaches the point where it seems better to abandon the project and simply write something else.
His agent, bless him, recognises the signs and talks King around. As a result, Stephen King goes back to work and soon enough another bestseller graces the shelves of bookstores around the world.
There is something comforting in that, don’t you think? That somebody as seasoned and successful as Stephen King can lose faith in what he is writing. I say comforting, because if it can happen to Stephen King, it shouldn’t be surprising when it happens to us.
But not all of us have an agent to talk us around, to convince us our writing has merit, to tell us there is hope that our work will be published and people will enjoy reading it. Sometimes we need to find other ways to motivate ourselves.
James Scott Bell likes to design a cover for his work in progress, complete with a sassy blurb and some made-up puffery from famous authors saying what a thrilling read it is. He sticks the fake book cover on the wall above his desk, and looks at it when he feels as though he is running out of steam.
I’ve taken a different tack. I’ve got somebody else’s book cover up on the wall beside my desk.
“Somebody as seasoned and successful as Stephen King can lose faith in what he is writing.”
Ellie Marney and I did a course together a couple of years ago, run by the talented Melbourne author PD Martin. Long after the course was over, Ellie and I would meet for coffee and chew over plot points and character arcs in our respective manuscripts. When Ellie told me she’d got a book deal with Allen and Unwin I was over the moon.
The other day I went to see Ellie at her property out in the sticks. We sat in the shed-turned-writer’s-studio and talked about books and writing. It was freezing. The shed has no heating, no insulation, and there are gaps around the windows and the door. Every horizontal surface is stacked with books, and every vertical surface dotted with notes and articles and pieces of research.
Ellie showed me the cover proofs for Every Breath, and was gracious enough to autograph one for me. And that is what I’ve put up on my wall.
Because when I reach that point where I need motivation to keep writing, when I’m looking for something to inspire me, I can look at that cover and know that hard work pays off. I can think of Ellie, shivering in the pre-dawn darkness in her shed, stealing a couple of hours each morning before the family wakes up, and weaving magic out of nothing but words and her imagination.
And it gives me the kick in the pants I need to keep going.