The Road to Hell…and Back




It’s been about a month since I spent any substantial time working on Novel #2. Lots of excuses—dental surgery, friend died, working on some interviews, the book sucks, worried about Novel #1—but none of them are any good. My schedule for this book was three days a week, 800 words a day. Seems innocent enough. Here’s a little outline of the road to hell.

  1. It starts with me feeling lousy in the morning. For a few days I procrastinate and finally do my scheduled writing in the evening.
  2. Next, I miss a day entirely and make it up the next day, on the day I’m supposed to have the day off entirely from writing.
  3. Next, I miss a day and don’t make it up, feeling very guilty about it.
  4. Next, I miss another day and don’t make it up, but now I don’t feel so guilty about it.
  5. Next, remorselessly, I miss another and another and another day. Soon, it’s almost a month since I’ve written any of my 800 words a day.

And back:

  1. Friend calls, says she can’t write, the muse isn’t visiting.  I tell her to hell with the Muse visiting, you have to visit the Muse.
  2. Today is approaching, and I know I want to write this particular post about getting back on the wagon. I’ll feel like a terrible phony if I write about getting back to writing without getting back to writing.
  3. I open the file for the novel, and start reading, and realize I have no idea where I am in the plot.
  4. I write anyway, not caring whether it has any coherence or not. It’s more important to get the 800 words in.
  5. I do it, and it’s still pretty awful.
  6. I know it’s awful, but allow that there just might be some little thing that will make it into the next draft. That’s reward enough right now.
  7. I write this post, so that I can remember the arc of what happened.

For the future:

  1. Stick to my schedule whether I feel like it or not. It’s like what those money gurus tell you about saving money from your paycheck—pay yourself first; writing that book is my first obligation.
  2. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. What matters is 800 words.
  3. If I don’t do it, it won’t be done by anyone else. My years on this planet as a functioning human being are quite finite.
  4. If it doesn’t seem worthwhile, maybe it’s not. But it’s not like I’m doing anything better with the time.
  5.  Okay, maybe I’m fooling myself, it’s all worthless. True, but there’s nothing wrong with fooling myself, if it helps me keep going.
  6.  Whether I write or not, time is going to pass anyway. I can let it pass with a book, or without it. I’ll be happier if I have a book—even if it sucks.
  7. I remind myself about the magic of revision. I can’t revise unless there’s something to revise.
  8. When I see myself slipping down the ladder, get back to the very first rung again, back to the original schedule.

Hope this is helpful to someone out there—but selfishly, I hope this is useful to me!

6 thoughts on “The Road to Hell…and Back

  1. Jack, I know what it is like to sit down in front of a typewriter and try to fill up the pages. I spent ten months in 1969 trying to write a novel. It is hard. Very hard.
    You have to have an idea of what you want to say about life. You have to build characters that others might be interested in reading about. It is not about writing 800 words a day. It is about quality, not quantity. If you write one hundred words that someone else would like to read, that is better than eight hundred.Sitting down to write should be a pleasure, not a task. If you do not like what you are doing, of course it will turn out bad. Better to do something else with your time than feel guilty about writing you do not like. I think that writing should be a fulfilling experience rather than a chore. You are creating a wonderful blog. It seems to me that you find more joy in doing that. I enjoy what you share with others that way, and I am sure that others do as well. Please just do what makes you happy, not what makes you feel depressed. Love, Robert

    • Thanks, for your concern Robert, but really, I’m fine.

      I’m not depressed, just whiny.

      As a New York Jew, I consider the Right to Whine, a God-given Right. Somewhere in between the First and Fourth Amendment.

      It’s a pleasure to whine, actually.

      I could write a whole new post about this, but:

      Look, there are all kinds of writers out there. I am not one of those who can write brilliantly the first time. I mean Shakespeare did that, and I think I read that Stephen King has done it with some of his novels, but not me. For me, I have to grind out stuff and then revise and revise and revise. That’s just how it is for me, and I think for some others as well.

      I often don’t know what I’m writing until I write it. Writing for me is often a way of finding out what I’m thinking about. The greatest pleasure I get from writing is having the result surprise me.

      And the truth is—I’ve never really been someone who enjoys writing. What I enjoy is *having written.* I’m more proud of what I’ve written than just about any other creative endeavor I might have indulged in—but when it’s finished, not while I’m doing it.

      It’s kind of like going to the gym for some people: It’s no fun doing it, but you’re always happy afterwards that you did it. That’s me with writing.

      What I’m trying to do with this post is really to understand my own process, and *accept* the inevitable ups and downs in an undertaking that by its very nature is going to take an extended period of time. If I watch it, and don’t freak out too much over it , then, when I inevitably fall off the wagon at some point(s), I can get back on it again without too much neurosis.

      I kind of hope that others can understand that this is natural, a part of the process and that it is part of what writing means. At least for this one person. It’s basically gotten me pretty much through one novel, so I’m game for trying it again this way.

      I don’t claim to be any good at this; but it’s something I want to accomplish. It’s difficult enough to keep me interested over a long period of time in the endeavor, but also, I think, within my skill set if I am persistent. That to me is a reasonable fun life challenge. Even if it makes me whiny and mopey some days!

  2. Dear Jack, You got it right! Better to have something to revise than not to have anything at all to revise. Good Luck! Happy Thanksgiving! As always your biggest fan, Donna Elliott

  3. Jack, That was SOOO accurate and SOOO funny. I laughed so much that I scared the dog!!! ALL you said/have done is true to life. Is there really an easy way out? Nope!! I don’t think so. I say: sit down and write–that’s good advice– AND hope that the muse returns. She will–eventually! .–Your fan, Mar

  4. ps, Jack: Upon reading “The Road to Hell…And Back” a third time, it suddenly seemed a bit sad.I hope I did not offend you by finding it funny! But to me it was really funny because you described so accurately exactly what I have been going through: EVERY step you had taken on your “Road,” I had taken too. And I was laughing at myself!! Not a bad thing to do sometimes!! We are not alone after all!!

    • No problem, Marilyn. I definitely have a sense of humor about it! See my comments to Robert, above.To my way of thinking, dealing with not writing in a sane way is an important part of learning to write.

Leave a Reply