Doing the Stupid Book Over (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

I'm staring down the barrel of a do-over, and I'm scared to death.

Let me give you a little peek into the past year of my writing life. I'm not proud of it, and I would like to tell you once and for all that it's not the baby's fault. (I get this a lot. Oh, Courtney. I know you're busy with the baby, but please write another book when you get a chance. Do people say this to other people with jobs? Oh, I know you're busy with the baby, but please deliver the mail when you get a chance. Please perform open heart surgery when you get a chance. Please teach my child when you get a chance. I know people are trying to be nice. It just makes me feel like they don't take what I do seriously if I should only do it "when I get a chance.")

The thing is, I did write another book. And then I wrote it again. And then I shelved it because it seemed like I was never going to get it right and maybe it was a dumb idea anyway and probably it wouldn't sell. It's one of those. I wrote the first lines of this stupid book three years ago.

By this time last year, I had accumulated three rejections (I know, that's not a lot), all of which were saying the same thing, so I figured there might be something to it and maybe I should stop submitting and fix it.

So last February, I overhauled the book and turned it into an entirely new book, which really really really sucked, and not just because it was a first draft.

And then I quit.

I decided I would just start on a new book, maybe a companion to The Last Sister, not because that's what I wanted to write but because I figured maybe people would like it and I could get it published. I know, how noble of me.

But in the research for that, I stumbled on a new story I wanted to tell. So for Spring and Summer and Fall, I researched that and now is the Winter of our discontent because I can't for the life of me figure out how to write it. 

Meanwhile, I did other writing. I did my work-for-hire, which is satisfying because I get to make my own hours and use all my degrees and make a little money, and really, can one ask for more in this current  economic climate? I wrote an essay about the first dog of my adult life, Hildy, which is included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog coming out in February. I wrote a Christmas short story featuring two of the characters from The Last Sister, which you can get for free here. I read close to seventy books, which I know because I kept track because I wanted to rub it in the faces of all the people who said I wouldn't have time to read once I had a baby. (Threaten my reading and writing, and I get mean really fast. Because I get scared and being scared makes me mean and in case it's not clear by now, I scare easy.)

But I didn't write novels. Because I was scared I would fail. I was scared whatever I wrote would be a waste of time. I was scared I would accidentally somehow offend people and scared that one wrong move would end my career. I was scared of the market, scared there's really no place for me in it.

Last weekend, I was grumbling about how I still didn't know how to write this next book I've been ruminating on since last spring, slamming utensils into drawers as I unloaded the dishwasher.
"Nothing is right," I grumbled. "Nothing feels right when I'm not writing, and I don't know what to do."

"Maybe you should go back to [Stupid Book]," said my husband. "I think that's what you want to work on. Maybe that's why you're not getting anywhere with anything else."

"I have it on my iPad for rereading," I growled."But it's stupid and there's nothing special about it and it won't get published."

"Well, make it not stupid," he said. Oh-so-helpfully. (This is really how his mind works.)

So I guess I am giving Stupid Book a do-over this February, too. The first step is rereading both the original Stupid Book and Stupid Book Round 2.

I am terrified of opening that file and reading it, but maybe there's enough distance between us now and maybe it's not as bad as I think. Ha. It totally is. But I'm going to read it anyway, and maybe something good will come of it.

Encouragement appreciated because, again, I'm scared to death.


  1. I hear you, Courtney. God, I hear you. I rewrote a stupid book last year too. And now I am rewriting another stupid book. I'm like you-- as much as I angst and doubt and resist, at some point I realize that I feel better when I write--stupid as the books I write tend to be. Strangely, the moment I begin the day's writing, the stupidity and futility of what I'm doing magically falls away. And I am reminded yet again that maybe the story's not so stupid after all and regardless, fiddling around with words might not be such a stupid way to spend my life.

  2. P.S. That was supposed to be encouraging:)

    1. Haha, thanks, Jody! It's good to know I'm not alone. You are so right that just getting started and doing the work is so much better than sitting around worrying about it. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Boy do get where you're at! If it makes you feel any better, I have three stupid books stashed away with a self-promise to pull them out down the road and unstupid them. Thanks for the honesty and good luck. (as for taking care of a little one and having energy left over, my wife takes care of our first granddaughter 5 days a week and is ready for bed right after supper.)

    1. "Unstupid them"...I like that! I can empathize with your wife--I'm lucky to have most mornings free for work now that baby is a toddler and in school.

  4. "Make it not stupid." It's not as unhelpful as it seemed at the moment. Simplistic, maybe. But he's right. Whatever's wrong with it, whatever you hate about it, whatever is making it stupid, that's what you have to change. That's what you have to look for and listen for and feel for when you are rereading. Deep down, you know this. And you can do it.

    Good luck! Can't wait to read Stupid Book when it's Not-So-Stupid-Anymore.

    1. Oh, I know! That's what's so frustrating about that advice--it's exactly what I need to do, and it's such a simple answer to such a complex problem. Thank you, as always, Maryanne! If I can make it not stupid, you will be one of the first to read it, I hope.

  5. This has helped me IMMENSELY lately: Talk the story before you write it. Tell it to your husband, and tell him exactly why you're not happy with it, and exactly what you'd like to do. He may have some additional (maddeningly simple) suggestions. More likely scenario: You'll realize what you need to do when you talk about it. It's happened for me--more than once lately and more than often.

    1. Thanks, Holly. I often notice I figure things out on long car trips when I have nothing else to do but talk about it.


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