I had a horrible dream the other night and when I say horrible I mean the kind of horrible that leaves you in tears when you wake up. That bad. What it was about? Well, it was about an editor I’d approached in waking reality to help make “The Lamiastriga” her best self. In that dream, this editor emailed me politely declining my request, saying — still politely — that the manuscript was so badly written she would have to effectively write a new one and that was more than she was willing to do.
Up to that point, the worst of my nightmares had had to do with members of my family and horrible things happening to them, which I’d say was pretty regular. This was a whole new category of nightmare, a nightmare about my writing. I woke up almost in tears and spent the better part of that day in the throes of that pseudo-depression that’s so much like running a fever of about 37.5 degrees. You know the one? The kind that’s not too high to render you incapable of doing anything but lying in bed and possibly hallucinating but high enough to make you feel oddly uncomfortable in your own body. So that’s how I was feeling after that stupid nightmare because, I remember thinking in the dream, if that’s horrible after all the revisions and the editing, and the proofreading, then I obviously have no place in the writing world. I did give it my best, after all, and I thought it had come out pretty decent if I say so myself.
Needless to say, I expected the editor, due to email me that day, of course, to politely decline my business though not because the book was horribly written (I knew with my waking mind it wasn’t, not technically) but because it was boring and she couldn’t work on a boring book, which I could relate to. Boring is what I’m most afraid of. Boring is the one thing that cannot be fixed. Boring is my top horror when writing is concerned and no matter how many times I tell myself no book ever has been interesting to all of its readers it doesn’t help.
So where did this fear of boring come from? Well, there was this one beta-reader, an acquaintance of mine, who said she’d had to force herself to finish “The Lamiastriga”. Of course, there were another two who gulped it in one sitting and immediately asked for more but,also of course, it was that third one who sparked this nightmare. She never said the book was boring, by the way. She just said she had trouble finishing it, which naturally told me Boring! I mean, what else could give a reader trouble finishing a book? Oh, and she didn’t like Anna, the protagonist. That one I hadn’t seen coming.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t have particularly great expectations about this book when I first started writing it. But as the first draft became second, and the second third and fourth, I realized it could actually turn out to be a pretty good piece of fiction. When I started editing I got this feeling it wasn’t just a series of things happening to a number of people. It actually had deeper themes. This made me feel pretty good about myself and my literary baby, so good it gave me momentum to start a sequel despite the boring fear. I even almost finished it before I hit another idea and got off course.
So, I’d say I had reasonable expectations about “The Lamiastriga”, not too great and not too small, when I started sending it out to agents. And then two of these agents responded by saying the story simply didn’t excite them enough to want to represent it. Fair enough, I thought at the time, at least they were kind enough to take the time to respond and one even encouraged me to continue submitting, reminding me that it was all very subjective. But you know — or hopefully you don’t — how some things scrape and grate on your mind and eventually plunge you into that “Oh, what’s the point anyway” state that’s sometimes so hard to get out of.
Over the last few months my expectations about Anna’s story devolved from reasonable to almost non-existent. Where once I’d boldly dreamed about the thousands of people who would come to love her and her story now I gloomily thought how I’d end up self-publishing it, which is perfectly fine if you know how to market your work but I don’t and I’m stupid and nobody will read it and Anna will quickly fade into oblivion, and I will never finish that sequel because oh, what’s the point anyway?
I had ungreated my expectations to a point where I didn’t really have any. And then this editor I told you about in the beginning wrote back to me after editing the first 5,000 words of the book. And she said the manuscript was “lovely and clean” and she said she’d be happy to edit it, and you know what she didn’t say? She didn’t say it was boring. Оf course, that’s business for her and she wouldn’t have a lot of work if she was overly picky and choosy but she’s also rather busy and she could have refused to work on my book if she’d thought it would be a drag on her time.
My expectations are still on the not-too-great side, to be honest. I do love my characters and I happen to find what happens to them interesting. I also like these — yes, I’ll say it again with the appropriately serious tone — deeper themes. But I keep my enthusiasm at bay and it’s a very narrow bay. I don’t think any author is the best judge of their own book anyway because, well, subjective. And whatever an author thinks about their book, if the readers love it or hate it, who is the author to argue? all we could do is keep our fingers crossed those loving it will be more than those hating it or, worse, finding it boring.