Sophomore Book: Risk, Fear and Simian Interference

Taking risks has never been a problem for me.  I was the kid who tried to swing over the top of the swingset bar.  I was the teenager who hitchhiked to my Irish host family’s house one night late after the Dublin buses stopped running.  I moved across the country at nineteen with a baby on my hip, three thousand miles from anything familiar, when all my worldly possessions fit in one half of a two-car garage – including the car.  I’ve rolled the knucklebones on everything from college to jobs to amateur plumbing, and most of the time I come up sevens.  Call me brave, call me stupid – but if something takes guts, I’m a good person to call.

When it comes to my second book, my problem is not risk.  It’s not fear.  My problem is the suck monkey.

Maybe some of you are familiar with the suck monkey.  It’s that heavy weight that latches onto your back when you’re trying to write, winds its sharp little claws around your collarbone and whispers in your ear how much you suuuuuuuck.

This draft?  This one you’re trying to plow through?  It’s never going to amount to anything.  You’re going to hit 25k and shut down.  Those characters?  Wooden.  That thing you’re trying to pass off as a plot?  A joke.  And that dialogue?  Seriously?  You weren’t planning to show this miserable pile to anyone, were you?

The suck monkey is insidious because it doesn’t ever say anything you haven’t already told yourself.  All it does is echo back your own ridiculous, overblown insecurities.  And one thing that resonated with me about Natalie’s Monday post was this idea of expectations.

You’re no longer a blank slate.  Your name is now attached to a genre and a style and maybe even a series.  The suck monkey feeds on that too.  The suck monkey wants you to know that now you have that much further to fall, that many more people to disappoint if you’re not gushing genius onto the page every time you sit down for those guaranteed fifteen minutes.

The suck monkey can’t be shaken off.  It can’t be bribed or cajoled or flattered or wrenched off by force.  It has to get down – or at least shut up – of its own volition.

Here’s how I get the suck monkey shut up: I confront it.  I pet its matted, nasty fur and admit that yes, every word appearing on the page now does in fact suck.  It’s made brick by brick of suck and mortared together with pure, unadulterated suck.  And right now?  That’s okay.  It might suck now.  It might suck tomorrow.  But it ain’t gonna suck forever.

Mortared with mortar. Not with suck.

This confuses the suck monkey.  It makes the suck monkey feel visible.  The suck monkey doesn’t like light shined on the head games it’s trying to play with me.  It doesn’t like being called into the open.  It needs quiet to make me believe.

And I can’t believe if I’m not quiet.



Filed under Writing

11 responses to “Sophomore Book: Risk, Fear and Simian Interference

  1. Between this post, J, and one I read last week about breaking up with a long-term project because the relationship/topic just isn’t going to work, I’m feeling sucked dry. I worry about the feasibility of my WIP. But, your advice–that I must confront the monkey on my back and my tortured prose, putting the monkey back in its cage and assuring myself that the prose WILL improve. Thanks!


    • J. Anderson Coats

      I recently trunked about two hundred pages – two different projects – and now I’m at 50 pages and counting on something that I really, really like. It’s hard to say goodbye to something that seemed so shiny once, but better in the long run. It may not be feasible now, but things change.


  2. L.B. Schulman

    You are too good a writer to suck. So just cross that off your list of diversions to writing and go do it! (Ha. Don’t throw my advice back at me one day.) Seriously, just your posts make me wanna go out and buy all your books, even those not written yet.


    • J. Anderson Coats

      Aww, thanks. I don’t have the luxury of diversions – one hour of writing time per day sharpens you like you wouldn’t believe.


  3. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Thanks, J., for reminding all of us that suckage is not only okay, it’s part of the process.

    Now I look the suck monkey in the face, shrug, and say, “I know, this scene sucks. For now.” He doesn’t have much to say after that–he just mutters and ambles away, no doubt concocting the next suckage attack. I’ll be ready for him. 🙂


    • J. Anderson Coats

      This is true. The suck monkey rarely stays away for long. The trick isn’t getting rid of him – that’s not possible – it’s managing him.


  4. I think you’ve got a great strategy in place for dealing with that Suck Monkey, J. But if that doesn’t work, I would suggest putting a jeweled collar on the little beast, buy him a hat and a cup, and get yourself a hurdy gurdy. That will confuse the little monster. And maybe it will give him something to do so he doesn’t come visit me during the revision process, which is when I see the most of him.


  5. Michelle Ray

    That’s hilarious and true. The being attached to a style and genre and expectations really resonate with me. That dastardly little monkey hangs out on my shoulder quite a lot. Thanks for the laugh.


  6. Pingback: My Beauty, and My Beasts | EMU's Debuts

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