When To Light Your Book On Fire

Let me start by saying that the time is not now. Hold on the gasoline. Put down the lighter. (Or matches, whichever is your preference) We’ve all been there. It comes at different times for different people in different books. You might make it all the way to the end of the first draft before you decide a book is garbage. You may get half way through before you bust out the grill lighter. Hell, you might decide after one chapter that this entire endeavor was stupid, and you should light all books on fire because if you can’t do it, then by god, nobody can.


This is not an appropriate solution.

This is not an appropriate solution.


Everyone gets to this point, or at least everyone who is being honest with themselves. Maybe there’s a gal or a guy out there who knows with absolute certainty that they are an amazing writer, and they’ve never doubted their work once. Maybe this unicorn of a person has been right on the money every time, and they’ve never put a pen to paper and created something other than a masterpiece. I really doubt it though. Self-doubt comes with the territory in any artistic endeavor. You slave over something mentally, pour a lot of yourself into it, take the hours upon hours to work on it, and then you loathe it.

Here’s the thing: You can’t tell much of anything from a first draft, especially if you’re in the middle of it. I know it might hurt to hear this, but a first draft and a rough draft are the exact same thing. For Darker Shadows Lie Below, I ended up re-writing two thirds of the book in the second and third drafts. Some writers redo the entire thing after the first draft. Sometimes all you need is a few tweaks in edits, and sometimes you need a lot. Hell, there are occasions where you don’t need much at all. After a little time you come back to read what you wrote only to find that you really like it; and if you like it, someone else out there probably will too.

Don’t quit. Don’t burn your book. The absolute worst thing that can happen with it is a learning experience. You finish, you hate it, and you come out better prepared to write the next one. That’s the trick, isn’t it? Unless you aim to just be a one and done writer, there is always the next book. Finish what you’re on, and don’t get too caught up in the self-loathing. A little bit can be motivating, but too much of it is literary kryptonite. It saps your will to work, it takes the joy from it, and it makes your writing insecure. (Which is to say bland)

I don’t know if you’re a good writer. Maybe you just scribble out four letter words in crayon on a coloring book. Maybe you’re the next Hemingway. What I do know is that if you don’t finish, the rest of us will never find out.

Keep writing.

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