Tag Archives: writing

Books I’ve Failed to Write, Part 3: Untitled Terrible Book

Dear Blog,

When my first son J was a few months old, he would only nap for any length of time if he was on my body.

Becoming a mother was disorienting and lonely. I didn’t know any other mothers and I didn’t know then that I needed to – that a community of parents was the thing that would save my sanity. I thought I needed to write. I would put J in the wrap tied firmly to my torso, dance around my living room until he fell asleep, and then I would stand at the bookshelf I’d cleared for my computer and type madly, swaying, until he woke up and I had to figure out what to do with him again. As you can imagine, the book I wrote this way was terrible. It is the worst thing I’ve ever written. However, it did feature a main character that I still feel tremendously fond of, and I hope I will find a worthier story to put her in eventually. The plot was so stupid I don’t even want to describe it but it involved a group of teenagers who can dream things into reality (pretty sure that has already been done, too).

It is strange and sad to think of now, the way motherhood panicked me in the beginning. I was so anxious all the time – was he really OK? Was he happy? Did he like being my baby or was it terrible, having only unsteady, uncertain me as his safe harbor in the world? I felt changed in ways I hadn’t expected and didn’t understand. I wondered if maybe I had post-partum depression, but now that I have a better idea of what that is I think I was just freaked out. I had no idea how to spend the time with him and the days felt endless. Whenever I put him down he cried, so he lived in that wrap and we just walked around a lot.

It was a bleak six months until he learned to sit up and crawl and I made some new friends and everything was different and better for both of us. I wrote the book like writing it could keep me connected to whoever I was before he was born, but it didn’t work, and I still feel very little connection to whoever I was before he was born. Now that I know him better, I think he probably hated being a baby. He was probably bored out of his mind. I wish I’d understood him better, and I wish I’d understood myself better. I wouldn’t have written that stupid book.

The book’s badness is not particularly interesting or instructive. I never came up with a title for it. It wasn’t badly written but the story is unoriginal and unexciting. It doesn’t offer much, besides a few nice moments and the fun main character. Next week, I’ll post a snippet from it that I actually like.

Yours, wishing-I-coulda-just-chilled-out-and-napped-on-the-sofa-with-my-cute-baby-back-then,



On Failing To Write A Book

Dear Blog,

I have done a lot of things badly in my life. I don’t remember my brief soccer career when I was a tot, but my family tells me that the coach suggested I was not really a “team player.” At age ten, I frightened off a prospective piano teacher by duct-taping the keyboard shut when he came to visit and sullenly producing a hammer and a set of screwdrivers when he asked where my piano books were. I can’t sing. I was kicked out of my jazz dance class for mutiny (or something like that – jazz dance coincided with my pirate obsession and if you got on my shit list I’d give you The Black Spot). I got average-to-terrible grades in school depending on the year. I was in the math-for-dummies class. There was a time when I was a good runner but my knees couldn’t match my stamina. In high school I was a pothead but couldn’t roll a decent joint. I can’t draw. I can’t mix cocktails. I am barely computer-literate. I still can’t cook except from a recipe. I am a bad driver. I was a bad waitress. I am a passable but not very good parent. The list goes on.

The point here is not just that I am terrible at most things. What I’m getting at is that I am moderately good at one thing. My interests and talents are narrow. Very narrow. It comes down to stories. I love stories – reading them, watching them, writing them. That’s about it.

When I began my first novel, it never occurred to me that I might not be able to pull it off. This was, after all, The One Thing I Could Do. It was a few years before I had to concede that the novel I’d written was, in fact, a failure. By the time I came to that conclusion I had moved on to YA fantasy and was having a wonderful time, so it was sort of a relief, choosing not to attempt another rewrite. I thought “finding my genre” was the answer. Then I failed to write another book. And another. And then a couple of books were published, and I wrote some things I am proud of and excited about, and I started to feel like I had this writing thing worked out. So, if you were writing this story, you’d probably decide this was a good moment for your hubris-filled protagonist to fall on her ass again, right?


This summer I had more time to write than I’ve had in years. We were staying with my family in Vancouver, the weather was lovely and cool, and the adult-to-child ratio was suddenly such that I had time to write in silence and solitude every day. No dinosaurs shouting “Heeeeeelp Mommyyyy,” no lego towers collapsing, no sudden shrieks of rage or distress. I was excited because I’d just finished a big revision and I was going to start something NEW for the first time in a long time. I figured I could pound a draft out over the summer. I had about twenty pages of notes / outlining done and on July 18th, I started to write. Chapter One.  Every night for three weeks, Rin has been setting herself on fire.

Almost immediately, I knew it wasn’t working. I figured it was because I’d been revising and rewriting other projects for so long. I’m in perfectionist mode, overthinking the mechanics of it, overthinking everything, and nothing kills a first draft like perfectionism. Just write the thing, I told myself. So I wrote a few chapters, and they were no good. That’s nothing unusual. I write terrible stuff all the time. I deleted the chapters and started over. I wrote six chapters this time, trying to move forwards, but as one day of crap writing followed on the next, I had to admit this approach wasn’t working. I deleted everything, started over again. I wrote, doggedly, and deleted, and wrote, and deleted, and so it went, for the rest of the summer. Then we came home, and I still can’t figure out if the problem is the idea, or me, or what.


I have a four year old and a two year old, which means I don’t have tons of free time for writing and really hardly any quiet, focused time. What that means, mainly, is that I can’t slog endlessly at something if I’m not feeling the love. It has to be fun. So I threw in the towel on my awesome idea, hoping I’ll figure out how to write it another time, maybe next summer, and moved on to something else (there is always something else, thankfully). So far, it’s going OK. I think.

But I realized, when I Officially Gave Up on the book I’d spent my summer failing to write, that my failure-to-success ratio is kind of alarming. For every book I finish that actually works as a novel, I have either failed to write a book or written a bad / unpublishable book. I am not sure what it means that I consistently fail at the one thing I consider myself good at, but I had the idea for a blog series about it. I thought I’d call it “Books I’ve Failed To Write,” talk about each failure, maybe what went wrong and why in cases where I think I know the answer, and if I’m feeling brave enough, offer a brief excerpt. (I don’t think brave is quite the word I’m looking for there…). Next week: my first attempt at a novel and What Went Wrong.

Lest I sound too negative here, let me assure you, blog, that I am generally a glass-half-full-of-readable-books kind of author. I might dwell on my failure rate when I am in the middle of failing to write something, but there is still nothing else I do with anything like the same success rate (if success in this case = complete book that I like and which other people might also enjoy, I’m not talking sales here, people!), and it would take a lot more than hundreds of terrible pages or the pinching of self-doubt and disappointment to outweigh the exhilaration of a story clicking and the words being the right words and the moment she slips over the wall and you know who she is and you know where she’s going and you know how it’s going to pay off.

Yours, mostly-at-peace-with-failing-at-the-only-thing-I’m-any-good-at,



Dear Blog,

Maybe this is true for most people (but I’ve never conducted a poll) – when I think about my childhood, what I remember best is the intensity of play. We were faeries, witches, pirates, spies, explorers, we swung from the trees and hid behind rocks and faced terrible dangers with swords aloft, tearing around the neighborhood backyards or round the park down the lane. Everything else – suppertime, bedtime, school, homework – was just an interruption of this play. When I was playing, I was free and happy. As I got older my parents found the degree to which I lived in my head a bit worrisome, wondering if I was really taking in the world around me. (I wasn’t). And I remember how frustrating, how infuriating, how terrible it was to have to stick colored bits of paper on another piece of paper, or sing some stupid song while clapping, or practice handwriting, or read aloud about otters in french, denied the bright outdoors and the thrilling world of goblins and centaurs and fiendish enchanters I could enter if only the grownups would leave me be.

Sad to say, I haven’t changed much. I still want most of all to be left to the stories in my head, and The Rest Of Life still sometimes feels like an interruption. This gives me a lot of empathy for my children’s passionate play, but also means we are at cross-purposes a great deal of the time. Because I’m not very good at the whole “accepting reality” thing, I often think how life would be so different if we had a backyard. They could go out and play and I could write. As it is, we have to take turns. Every now and then we end up on parallel tracks and they are playing with their dragons and I am playing with mine and we are all entirely content, but it’s a tricky balance and ultimately, parenting requires a level of practicality and selflessness that I am not very good at.

My kids are four and two now and they are all about dragons and dinosaurs. The older one concocts an exciting world of danger and derring-do and the little one doesn’t quite get it but he gets the thrill of it and runs around after his brother, mostly saying and doing whatever he is told to say and do, just like my younger brother did with me. My whole heart is with them on the absolute importance of play, and yet my role now is inevitably that of the Horrible Big Fun-Killer. You have to eat your lunch first, I say. You are filthy, you need a bath, I say. We can’t go outside yet, I need ten more minutes, I say. It’s bedtime, it’s time to go, it’s time to stop, hurry up, slow down, put that stick down before you hurt somebody, that isn’t our yard, stop it, come here, don’t touch that, don’t you dare throw that, I’m going to count to three, one two three get over here right now we are going HOME you are in big trouble mister. That’s me.

And I wish that I wasn’t always saying no. I wish that one day I could just say yes to everything. Yes, you can have a real sword. Yes, you can jump off the roof with the wings you’ve made out of a cardboard box. Yes, we can have ice-cream for breakfast, jump on Daddy at 6am, drive cars on the stove-top while I’m making coffee, play with matches, take everything out of the trash and put it in the bathtub to see which things float, go to the park naked, knock on the neighbor’s door and roar like lions when they open up, put rocks through their mailbox, swing large sticks near our friends’ heads, go barefoot all day, pretend that guy over there is a t-rex and kill him, pee on that anthill, ride our bikes in the street, get permanent tattoos, cut down that tree with scissors, have chocolate chips for supper, pour all the bathwater onto the bathroom floor, keep on playing, just keep on playing, and never, ever go to bed, yes we can do that, yes, go for it, yes.

Yours, fun-killingly,