Because creative guardians don’t exist, and because your friends will destroy you

So, I’m sorry I’ve been so absent for a while. I decided to concentrate all my efforts on finally finishing my novel. Convinced I didn’t have too much left to do, I set myself a deadline of February to get the novel to a point of (near) completion. It’s now March, and I’m still a very long way away.

As is the case with all things creative, that ‘finishing point’ never seems to actually occur. In my mind, I’m not too far from completion, but this thought merely stems from the fact that I’m a lot further on from where I started.

Sometimes I find working on my novel extremely frustrating, especially when the light at the end of the tunnel just seems to get further and further away. When I get stuck it’s hard to ignore the endless stream of doubts flooding my mind, telling me to give up and sack the whole thing off as a bad job. When your faced with doubts elsewhere in life (having a rough time at work/in a relationship etc.) it’s customary to call on the advice of your friends and talk the whole thing through until you can be a bit more objective about it.

For years, I’ve been convinced that writing a novel works in much the same way; when you get bogged down with your words, when you’re at the point of hovering over a trash can in an abandoned car park with your manuscript in one hand, a lighter in the other, you should be able to call on someone for help instead – some kind of creative guardian, for example, who will read your work in progress and tell you exactly what needs changing.

But this person doesn’t exist, or at least not for unpublished, losers aspiring writers such as myself. It’s only now, when I’m inching ever closer to the end of my first novel, that I’ve finally realised that the only person you can rely on to advise you, is you. You have to be your own mentor. The words of wisdom about which characters should be killed off in a freak nuclear disaster, and which chapters should go straight to the recycle bin, come from you. And what’s even more frustrating about conceding to trust your own opinion is that your opinion on your own work doesn’t form while you’re writing. It casually rocks in a few weeks/months/years later.

That’s right, you can be objective about your work after you’ve locked it in a drawer and got addicted to Street Fighter IV. Then, three months later, when you finally decide it’s time for the big read through, old, objective, logical you will be ripping out one chunk of your novel after another until there’s almost nothing left. And then you start the whole process of drafting new chapters all over again. It’s a little bit of a slow job, I realise, but other than a professional editor, who else are you going to trust to give you good honest (and useful) feedback?

Some of my friends and family have offered to step up but this has proved problematical, and usually prompts one of the following reactions:

1. They say, “Yup. I liked it…” and then never mention it again… This is possibly because a) they didn’t like it and don’t want to hurt your feelings b) they did like it but don’t really want to discuss it in any depth c) they didn’t read it.

2. They give you a lot of feed back. A lot. More than you were anticipating. Not all of it good, which is fine so long as this criticism isn’t coming from someone you a) live with b) sleep with c) are friends with d) know is illiterate.

The bottom line is; it isn’t easy to take criticism from a friend. And that isn’t just with writing. Ever had someone “make a suggestion” while you’re cooking them dinner? Ever had someone say “well, if I was doing that I would [insert lengthy description of doing something here]…”? On the inside, you know they’re only trying to help, however, the mere fact they’re even suggesting that they know more than you do causes an instant bruise to the ego and makes you want to punch them in the face.

Trust me, I know. I’ve not only (frequently) been on the receiving end of such ‘friendly’ advice, but I’ve also been the smug twat dolling it out too. A while ago, a friend gave me a first draft to read through so I could let him “know what I thought”. Within minutes of reading, I was zealously marking it like some kind of power-corrupt school teacher. Merely being asked for your opinion makes your ego flick into hyperdrive, and you end up acting like a complete dick, or in this case handing someone their work with snarky annotations all over the typeface.

There’s nothing worse that getting something like this back from your ‘friend’ after they’ve looked at your work:

Editing Hell



Before I go, I should mention that I was bitten by the zombie rabbit (it hurt) thanks to my recent online bud, and man of writery wisdom Steven Chapman.


In order to keep the zombie blogging virus award (type-thing) going, award winners  suggest other blogs on their site. As you might have already noticed, links to my favourite blogs and sites are on the right-hand side of the screen under the title “Jo and the Love for Other Bloggers”. To save me the ball-ache of typing it all out again, may I suggest you peruse the side bar, and give my zombie-bitees a visit.

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Comments: 12

  1. Suniverse March 10, 2011 at 5:56 pm Reply

    First! NERD!

    I'd be your critiquing partner, but I'd just keep telling you how awesome you were. And that would be . . . bad? What?

    And, oh MAN, have I been that red pencil bitch before. "No, no, NO. Let me fix that. GOD. What's wrong with you?"

    Also, thanks for the Zombie Rabbit Award. It's what I've always wanted.

    Seriously, though. Let's trade manuscripts. It's got to be less painful than reading my own writing and going, "Oh, you idiot. That's embarrassing."

  2. Steven Chapman March 10, 2011 at 7:43 pm Reply

    Creative guardians do exist!

    They just live in dense woodland which is underground, deep down a long tunnel of beasties and booby traps, guarded by dinosaurs and lasers and laser-dinosaurs. Hence them not coming out to play much.

    Also they’re invisible.

    If you are ever lucky enough to have the honour of meeting one you find they generally get called in by the mums pretty sharpish because its dinner time or bath time (they’re a sensitive lot those guardians), so you don’t really get your money’s worth…yes, they also charge.

    Like you said, I think you just have to depend on yourself…which can be VERY depressing at times but strangely comforting at others.

    You just have to accept there is no such thing as ‘finishing a novel’ Even the über writers who earn millions from it will still want to go back and polish everything they ever wrote. If they say they don’t they’re lying!

    And to be fair I would have red penned the ‘you’re a geek’ comment as well!

    Oh and another thing!

    "man of writery wisdom"…what have you been smoking??

  3. alexis March 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm Reply

    I give you a thumbs up because at least you can let your friends read your stuff. No one reads mine but me!

  4. alonewithcats March 11, 2011 at 10:50 pm Reply

    I hear you saying that you want a creative guardian, but what I think you really want is a cat.

  5. Simone March 13, 2011 at 7:47 am Reply

    people can say great things about my writing or terrible things, but in the end – i'm my worst critic. but then i remember i write because when i don't i feel as though my soul is slowly being sucked out of my body and all i want to do is hurt people. everyone is going to have an opinion, and as a writer i think it's important to be open to suggestions, but in the end you have to go with what *feels* right in your gut. i'm looking very forward to reading your novel – no pressure to finish because i love reading about your process. John Steinbeck wrote about his process in his "Journal of a Novel"… so take comfort in that.

    p.s. people who use red pens either 1) haven't been laid in a while or 2) have never been laid.

  6. kyknoord March 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm Reply

    How about this? I'll send you some of the mindless technical reports that I have to edit. It probably won't help you, but it'll get them off my desk.

  7. Jojiebean March 15, 2011 at 11:26 am Reply

    I'm so glad you get me re being a red pen bitch. Seriously, it's like you can't help yourself. "What's that? You're asking me for *my* opinion? But that's suggests you think I know something about anything… Well, better not disappoint. I'll prove I know more than you do."

    No wonder I don't have any friends…

  8. Jojiebean March 15, 2011 at 11:29 am Reply

    Creative guadians kind of sound like they live in some kind of LOTR-esque place. In which case, I'm no longer interested in trying to find one.

    I think you're right though, it's never going to be at a point where I'll think; "I'm 100% pleased with how I wrote that. There is not one thing I want to change. I'm awesome."

    PS. Sadly, nothing :(

  9. Jojiebean March 15, 2011 at 11:30 am Reply

    Ah, but this is exactly the problem Alexis, I don't let my friends read my stuff for exactly this reason. I think sometimes it bodes well to be private.

  10. Jojiebean March 15, 2011 at 11:31 am Reply

    True! In fact, they could probably double up. A cat mentor. I like it.

  11. Jojiebean March 15, 2011 at 11:38 am Reply

    I think it goes without saying that you'll always be your own worst critic. If not, then what's the point? In truth, no-one could ever write a comment that's more harsh than something I would come up with myself. I'm a bitch with editing, especially to myself.

    I agree, suggestions are important to take on board, even if they're soul crushing at first. But at the end of the day, no one knows for sure what's definitely going to work and what definitely isn't. And if you, the author, feel you know then that's ultimately what you have to go with.

    I may well take a look at the steinbeck book, so thanks for the suggestion, and your support!!

    PS. 1) yup, that would be me 2) ditto.

  12. Jojiebean March 15, 2011 at 11:38 am Reply

    Ooooh, swapsies??

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