The Dreaded Moment of Suck

This piece, by Alison Janssen, originally appeared on the Hey, There’s A Dead Guy In The Living Room blog on 3/29/09. In it, Ms. Janssen talks about that dreaded moment of self-doubt many authors and, apparently, editors sometimes feel when looking back over a finished manuscript: the (hopefully) fleeting moment when you’re absolutely certain the work is horrible and you’re a fraud.

During the lifespan of a Bleak House book, I may read the same text seven or eight times. Sometimes a time or two more, sometimes a time or two less. (It depends upon my working relationship with the author and the way we work through revisions.)

Suffice it to say: I read each title *intensely* before it’s bound between hard covers and made available for mass consumption.

And over the course of those months, at some point after my initial acquisitions read but before my final check-all-tiny-last-minute-changes review, I experience a moment while reading when I think,

"Oh god. This book is terrible. Is this book terrible?!"


I know! I’m almost ashamed to admit this. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I think any Bleak House book is less than stellar. Obviously, right? What would that say about the company? Our authors? Heck, my own professional skill set?

But I want to talk about this because I sometimes hear authors address a similar feeling, and I find it fascinating. I hear them talk about the moment of self-doubt which seizes them — wholly unfairly — and convinces them that the ms they’re slaving over is utter crap. Some authors I’ve heard speak to this say the feeling creeps up just after they reach the halfway point of their first draft, when they’ve set everything up, invested a ton,and know pretty well where it’s all going, but still have to get it there.

That makes sense to me — having focused so much on a ms, worked mostly in solitude, and being essentially past the point of no return, I can believe that it’s easy to doubt yourself. No matter how many previous titles you’ve published, no matter how many bestseller lists you may be on. Bestseller status doesn’t fill blank pages for you.

My experience with a ms is much different from the author’s, of course. My work is not creation, but refinement. I still, however, spend a lot of time with the mss. And I certainly feel a sense of ownership when I usher a book from query through publication.

I want to be proud of the work that I do, and I want to be praised. (That’s natural, yeah?) I want Bleak House to be renowned for publishing great crime fiction. And I believe in what we do, and the titles and author in which we invent.

But, just like the authors I discussed above, I encounter that moment — when I’ve been shut up so long with a ms, trying to brainstorm a solution to some little character flaw, or soothe some plot hiccup, or elegantly replace some overused (but totally awesome) word. The dreaded moment of suck. 

Read the rest of the post on the Hey, There’s A Dead Guy In The Living Room blog.