When You Hate the Book You’re Writing, Series Introduction

It’s riveting. It’s exciting. If I wanted to, I probably could make it read like a thriller. Yet, here’s a conversation I have at least once a week.

A friend says, “How’s your memoir coming along?”

“Which one?” I ask, hoping this friend is asking about the other one, the one I’m writing that I don’t hate. But it’s seldom that one.

“The one about your hidden inheritance.”

“My Mother’s Money?” I ask in a tone designed to discourage further probing.

“Yeah.”

“I hate it.”

“Why? I can’t wait to read what comes next. It’s very suspenseful.”

“Well, yes. It’s a good story. But I hate writing it,” I reply.

“But, why?”

Why, indeed.

It’s probably a persistent peril of memoir writing—the fact that you, the writer, already know the (sordid) story, and how it turns out. You’ve lived it. And it’s strangely both upsetting and boring to relive it through your work.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I hate the memoir I’m writing, I got more immediate responses than for anything else I’ve ever tweeted. One published writer even said hating her story is one of the reasons she won’t write her memoir.

It’s seems that disgust with the manuscript-in-progress is a predictable phase (along with doubt) we must endure in the course of writing. (Afterward, along comes profound embarrassment at the book’s flaws, no matter how much acclaim it garners.)

But, this is different. This isn’t a question of quality. This is trial by memory—more like, “How many times do I have to think about this lousy, although ultimately enriching, experience?” with a little bit of “Maybe I should just tell people what happened and not write about it” thrown in.

Now I’m in the research phase of the memoir. I’m going through my journals, emails, and accordion files to remind myself of the sequence of events: When did this lawyer tell me he never got paid for work he did for my siblings and me just after our mother died? When did that lawyer call me out of the blue to offer to help us get another portion of our inheritance money—at a steep percentage for himself. I’m looking at real drudgery.

So how do I get past this ennui?

I’ve got a few strategies to kick myself beyond my bad attitude. I’ll share them in a later post on this subject. See When You Hate the Book You’re Writing, Part 2, to read what another writer says about hating her book.

If you’re hating your manuscript, whatever it is, and wherever you are in the process, please share your troubles and triumphs in the comments!

Find out more about My Mother’s Money: A Memoir of Suspense.

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17 thoughts on “When You Hate the Book You’re Writing, Series Introduction

  1. Interesting post. Seems you need a break, a fresh perspective. Maybe if you begin working on a part of it not-yet-written, you won’t be so turned off? I go through it, but my drudgery is in not being able to get to the parts I really want to. I am stifled by (and drowning in) my inability to stop revising the first part, and therefore never move on to the “fun stuff.” Ugh!

  2. Think of it as an acting role or yourself as a director or choreographer of a play or performance. Lifting yourself up and out of it may be enough to stimulate flow. Would “speaking it” get your juices flowing? Crazy ideas – you can tell I’m not a writer!!

  3. I agree w/ Darah. But I have soooo been here, except I write fiction. One day I love it and the next day I think its completely horrible. I think this is something all writers experience. Once I step away from it and get a fresh perspective, I usually feel a lot better about what I’m writing.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Christine, my friend. I like the idea of pretending it’s a role (happening to someone else). That might actually take the sting out of it, so it’s not so upsetting to write.

  5. Your idea of working on a different part of the memoir is good. I’m making a timeline of events, and though it still makes me angry, I am making progress, which is the goal.

    I know what you mean about revising and revising what you’ve already written. I wish someone would take my opening chapters off my computer so I wouldn’t be tempted. But I’ve got to deliver new chapters to my memoir-writing partner in a couple of weeks, so that stimulates me to write forward.

    Good luck w/ what I know is going ot be a fabulous memoir. (And I’m eager to read your next chapters.)

  6. I finished my memoir in early 2009 and sent out three query letters, the last of which I received a personal reply that, among other things, suggested I work on my platform. Part of doing that involved defining what my book was about, something I hadn’t properly done in the query. I’d rattle on for twenty minutes to my wife telling her it was about this and about that and then this happened causing that, blah blah blah. She kept at me asking, “No, really. What’s it about,” because she knew I was dodging the real story. It took some time and a lot of soul-searching, but ultimately I figured it out.

    I don’t know if this in any way applies to you, but sometimes the frustration is because we know there’s some deeper truth lurking and we don’t want to face it.

  7. I’ve had a similar problem with my memoir-in-progress. I took almost my entire pregnancy off from writing it and now I feel rejuvenated to begin again and to rework some of it. Earlier this year, I decided to write a few personal essays and that really helped me get back into the groove of things.

  8. I have a motto that gets me through: Bad writing is better than no writing. I remember that when I’m mired in bad writing — which is where I am right now as I begin crafting my second novel. Bad writing can be fixed. No writing is no writing and goes nowhere. Plus, as my friends tell me, it’s probably not as bad as I think — we writers are our own harshest critics. 🙂

  9. Thanks Stacy. Taking a break can be a good idea.

    Are your personal essays online? I’d love to see them, since I enjoy writing and reading personal essays. I really relate to the form.

  10. I suspect you’re right Richard. I do know that I keep making discoveries as I write the (difficult) memoir.

    So, where are you on your journey to get your memoir published. It must be good, if you got an actual response to your query. BTW: Have you strengthened your platform?

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. See you back on Twitter!

  11. Hi Lynette
    To ‘hate it’ is to hate your life. Do you hate your life? Even though certain aspects have not been resolved/sorted, you have to think about the riches in your life at present and picture/imagine that someone, somewhere will benefit from what you have to say, or can relate to what you have encountered, but they dealt with it in a different way and could give you a solution to that part of the problem so you can move on to the next.

    It is a very difficult journey, but the fact that you are writing, researching and causing yourself ‘pain’, it is very close to your heart and to hate it more or stop will only increase that ‘pain’.

    Try and divorce yourself from the facts and imagine that you are the ‘Ghost Writer’. For me personally, this was how I got through writing about ‘Shoy’.

    Take care
    Aandi

  12. Diana (Aandi), what an excellent way to look that this—that it’s part of my life and avoiding it might only bring more discomfort! Pretending to be the ghost writer is so smart. Thanks!

  13. Hi,
    My name is Michael and I’m looking for some advice. I can be contacted at msbassin@gmail.com. I’m writing a memoir called “I Am Not A Spy: An American Jew’s Odyssey Through the Arab World and Israeli Army,” about my experiences living as an openly Jewish student in the Arab world and later experiences as a combat Arabic translator in the Israeli army. I told myself that I’d lock myself up in my room for 6 months and work on this full time to “get ‘er done” so to speak. So I worked on it for 3 months straight, writing 1000 polished words a day 6 days a week. I’ve finished over half the book and have received tremendously positive responses by my team of professional editors and writers that is reading over my work. Unfortunately, 9 chapters and 220 pages of manuscript later, I started to hate what I was doing. I got to a really interesting part of the book with some great material but the thought of actually writing it started to make me sick. I found myself getting frustrated very easily and I was unwilling to “work with my story” the same way I was willing to with previous chapters. I started really trying to force it, to play through the pain, but it didn’t work either. I started getting really stressed out by it, as well as stir-crazy from sitting on my couch non-stop writing, that I just couldn’t go on. I had to put it down. Other writers I’m in touch with told me to step back for awhile, to let it sit and go back to it when I “feel inspired” again. It’s just that, since I devoted a specific time period to writing it, it’s been very difficult for me to disengage from writing. Does anyone have any tips for how to get over my “burnout” and continue writing the book that it really had been a pleasure to write? “Forcing” it didn’t work and neither did “writing it even if it’s bad.” It’s like my creative juices are all dried up and I don’t know what to do to get them back.

    If anyone can recommend anything please get in touch with me. For now, without any better ideas, I decided to put it aside for a week or two and do my best to disengage. I’m trying to do that but it’s not easy.

    I’ve never posted on something like this before. I just didn’t know what else to do to “get back on track.”

    Michael
    msbassin@gmail.com

  14. Hi, Michael. I’ll think over your dilemma and share with other writers to see what they come up with. For now, I do think stepping back is the best way to go. It’s possible for writers to be drained after so much effort that they need even more than a week or two to recover their forces.

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