Over the weekend I finally finished the first draft of the book on which this blog is based, and emailed the last two files to my editor, Peter Archer, at Adams Media. My mood instantly went from dour and grumpy to euphoric and exhausted. I went to bed at 10:00 on Sunday night and slept the sleep of the just until 6:30 or so, and I would have slept later except I had to pee. It was my first guilt-free night’s sleep in months, but it didn’t last long.

Over the course of the day yesterday I started getting nervous. This is normal for me, by the way. This is when I decide the book is awful, I suck, they’re going to hate it and make me totally re-do it, or maybe they’ll just kill it and the whole thing will have been a colossal waste of time. I went to bed last night basically a basket case and have been grumpy all morning.

Writing is hard. It’s terrible, actually. I hate it, and constantly question why I do it. It causes me psychological torment, but still I keep going back for more. I can’t help myself. And I have no idea why.

Is it just that I can’t remember not doing it? I don’t have anything to prove—or do I? I haven’t really written “the one I want them to remember me for.” That might be what makes me hurt myself by writing—and it hurts. It’s awful.

I’ve spoken with a number of authors about their process and time and again this same sentiment comes up. Most of the time we’re suffering the tortures of the damned to try to get a sentence out, hating every second, certain we’re not good enough, wondering why we even bother. Hollywood writers do this all the time—watch Adaptation or Hamlet 2 for two great examples of this. These are movies written by writers, and they’re riddled with self-loathing and misguided self-indulgence.

The opening monologue of Adaptation makes me squirm. It’s as though Charlie Kaufman was somehow recording my thoughts. I’m also old, fat, bald, and incompetent. I have no idea what I’m doing and it’s absurd to even think it’s remotely possible to write a book. Who would even be stupid enough to try this? Everyone who reads it is going to hate it, because I suck.

For you aspiring authors out there, this is what you have to look forward to: crippling bipolar disorder punctuated by suicidal lows and unchecked enthusiasm to do it all over again. I’ve spent a few months at a time here and there on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Some writers become alcoholics or drug addicts. Some actually do kill themselves. I’ve yet to meet one who is entirely happy, but then happy people are annoying, aren’t they? What the hell do they have to be so happy about?

Ignorance is bliss.

I expect this period of insanity to pass in a couple days, and when the notes come back from Peter I’ll dig in to the revisions and end up with something we’re both proud of. But I’ll suffer in the meantime, like I’ve suffered all along.

If you finish a book, avoid hanging yourself, and have the balls to start another one, you’re a writer.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Congrats on finishing, Phil!

  2. Nubriema says:

    Congrats from me as well, and good luck for living through the next few days and revision. I’m quite sure it’ll be better than you think at this point of excessive self-criticism. 🙂

    Also, I think you got the craft of writing pretty much summarized here – it’s a balance of hate and love. I mean, I’m no professional, but I’ve been inventing stories and writing my whole life, sometimes more, sometimes less intensively, and I think that everyone writing more or less seriously – published or not – knows this game of up and down. – Like, you can’t live with or without it, to quote U2.

    But then again, I guess, if it wouldn’t be like that, it just wouldn’t be the same being a writer – the rollercoaster-feeling’s probably what makes writing a craft, an art, a plague, a pleasure, and, above all, a passion.

    Cheer up, I’m sure the high is gonna come back soon! 🙂

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