Monday, December 3, 2012

The Agony of Writing

The Agony of Defeat guy from ABC's Wide World of Sports
The Agony of Writing
By Brad R. Cook

Writing is the hardest business I know. We might not have to go to school for decades like doctors, or pass some test just to start writing like lawyers, but few careers tear apart a person emotionally as writing does.

First comes the stress. Trying to remember every rule the English teachers passed on, keeping track of all the little grammar rules, plot points, subplots and more. Heck, just trying to find the time is a challenge. I envy songwriters; they can finish in an afternoon or maybe a day or two, but a novel takes months, maybe years. Time spent stressing about everything from point of view, voice, pacing, to the question that dogs all of us - is it any good?

That doesn’t even begin to approach what it does to a writer’s brittle exterior. Writing a book is an emotionally taxing endeavor. It’s like baking a cake for a year or more never knowing if it will actually turn out the way you originally intended. (they rarely do.)

Beyond the book, there is even more stress, doubt, and unknowns. Will I get an agent? Do I need an agent? Will this manuscript ever see the light of day? Is it award-winning, a bestseller, and should I even keep writing if it’s not? These are just a few of the questions that spin endlessly through the mind of every writer I know.

That is the one thing on our side – we are all in the same boat suffering from the same addiction or disease – a need to write. Writers, seek each other out, we live such solitary existences in front of a computer that would much rather be on Facebook or Twitter. But put two or more writers in a room together and the electricity starts to flow. Take solace in the fact that we are going through the same emotional pain. Need advice, look to any of the masters, they went through it too.

Every rejected book brings questions. You know the book is good, but something, maybe even something beyond your control has stopped this book’s journey. It can be maddening, to rewrite or start anew?

But even an accepted book brings a mountain of stress. Is there enough promotion? Do I have to blog tour? Will anyone buy it? Will the rest of the series even see the light of day? Is this a good cover? If I don’t make the Times am I even a success?

To top it off, writing a great book is no guarantee of success. What is – no one knows.

The pain of realizing your first novel, with years poured into, will never make it to the shelf is followed by the acceptance of having to write another book. This can lead though to having written a couple of manuscripts and wondering if anything you write will ever make it to the printer. It’s a never-ending cycle until that one novel makes it, and then… come a whole new set of worries.

All of it, though, leads to the really big question - with people reading less comes the knowledge that we are in a waning industry with an uncertain future.

After reading this you might be rethinking your chosen career, but I’ll let you in on three little secrets – It’s hard, so that only the best make it. You are a better writer than you think. Your next book will always be better!

Sounds crazy but it’s true. The reasons agents and publishers are so picky is that they have to wade through thousands of horrid works created by anyone who, “had a great idea for a novel,” but not the dedication to learn the craft. Then hundreds of really good manuscripts that aren’t quite right for a menagerie of reasons. Finally, they find a diamond in the pile and that is the one that makes it. This ensures that our movies, video games, and culture are the best they can be. Many people might argue that last point, but just think about how bad it could be… Sparkling Zombies at war with Werebears… actually that doesn’t sound that bad…hmmm. *takes a break to jot down some notes*

You are better than you think you are – how do I know, because we are always hardest on ourselves, and we’re impossible to please. Writers are horrible bosses to themselves, critical to a fault and rarely sounding any praise. If you’ve spent time in workshops, webinars, critique groups, or any of the many opportunities out there, then you know what to do. It’s just a matter of putting everything you’ve learned into a single book.

The next book will always better – this is especially true for new writers. The first book is where you make all your mistakes, the second will still have some issues, but after that the quality starts to rise. Each new book benefits from the combined mistakes and experiences of the previous ones. The only real mistake is clinging to a novel and not moving on to write an even greater one.

Note: You should always Revise, Submit, and Repeat. But once you’ve exhausted your avenues, try writing a better novel. You’ll be surprised – it gets easier, it gets better, and it starts to sound like a real author wrote it.

We’re writers. None of us are alone. Thousands of people are going through the very same thing – just watch Twitter on any given day.

If you can learn to love rejection, disappointment, stress, anxiety, anticipation, and crushed egos it will help you on the road to publication – but we didn’t even cover what happens when the reviews come in… AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Let us know your horror story or crushing blow in the comments.


Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit or follow me on Twitter @bradrcook
St. Louis Reflections


  1. I need to master dialect, it is my weakest skill.

    On another note, forget the sparkling zombies but I could go for a good werebear story. That reminds me, I started Shardik years ago after devouring Watership Down but got distracted and had to return it. I need to finish that one. He is one of the guardians of the beam after all.

  2. All very true. And when your book attracts some attention and begins to get good reviews--some even unsolicited, by people you've never even met!-- that's the first payoff. Then you know you must've done something right. And when your book starts to sell and you get proceeds of your own sales and a royalty check, as you say, AAAAAAAAAH. Still waiting for a big one, though.

  3. I definitely suffer from the am I good enough syndrome. I constantly wonder if what I write will grab an agent and/or editors attention. But I think it's that struggle that always makes us strive for better. If we are always happy with what we write we would never improve it. We all have our strengths (and weaknesses) but if we can play to those strengths and work on the weaknesses I think we will all be better off for it :)