By Barbara D'Amato
The story goes like this:
Your first book comes out. The critics say, “Not bad, but shows some of the problems of the beginner.”
Your second book comes out and the critics say, “Not up to his usual standard.”
Is it any wonder writers have deep doubts as they write? One of my first books was set in a retirement community in New Mexico. One critic said, “She certainly knows New Mexico, but the plot line was weak.” Another said, “Great puzzle plot, but she is not familiar with New Mexico.” Most of us have had this kind of thing happen, haven’t we?
Everybody is entitled to criticize you. It’s like standing naked at the corner of Adams and State Street and letting people jeer. Except it lasts longer. And—cliché alert—the worst critic is yourself.
I start with some glowing, golden idea of what the new novel is going to be—fast-paced but rich [maybe not possible to be both], characters so rounded they practically jump off the page and hit me, deep social consciousness but a light touch of wit. Well, it never comes out quite like that.
In twenty years I’ve met only one author who liked her books when she was in the middle of writing them. She was Mary Shura Craig, who wrote children’s’ books under the name Mary Francis Shura, espionage under the name M. S. Craig, and mysteries under the name Mary Craig. I would meet her at an MWA dinner and she would say, “I’m about halfway through with the most wonderful story.” I would just stare at her in amazement. When mine are half done they are recalcitrant, sagging, stupid, and will never come to an end. I’m pushing a chain uphill. And why did I think this was a good idea for a book, anyway?
Probably one of the best moments in life is the Aha! When you get the idea that will not only solve a plot problem but be a vivid, effective scene. But the worst is to be stuck. The more you reread the thing, the less fresh it seems.
And there are all those critics out there waiting to attack you.
This is some scary job.