Let’s start with a confession: I’ve been discouraged lately. Not just because I wrecked my car, or because I have awful PMS, or because my job has me encountering poop more often than a proctologist moonlighting as a zookeeper. It’s the socially-conditioned things that have me down–assumptions I and many others hold about what it takes to be a successful writer. I suspect I’m not the only one who flounders amid these sorts of defeatist attitudes. That’s why I’m about to br-br-break ’em down.
I spent all of yesterday writing a horror story that I just might hate. It’s partly the subject matter (a bereaved young woman finds herself rotting alive after wishing she could trade places with her dead brother), partly its basis in personal experience (a death in my family), and partly the fact that I hate just about everything I write.
Though there exist certain weirdos who wax rhapsodic about the jewels that flow ceaselessly from the nib, the bulk of writers feel at least some dissatisfaction with their work. Indeed, there’s some consensus that you haven’t “made it” until everything you write makes you want to barf. If you’re at that point, you’re in good company. Welcome to the hallowed ranks of…
1. Stephen King, Pet Sematary
Even horror writers have a sticking point. Stephen King’s was apparently reanimated toddlers.
During a teaching stint in Maine, King lived with his family along a busy highway where many household pets met their end. So many animals had gone squish, in fact, that the neighborhood kids had taken it upon themselves to establish a burial ground for the furry departed. From this kernel grew Pet Sematary, the tale of a man who resurrects first his cat and then his son by burying them in an ancient Indian graveyard.
The completed story badly upset its creator, who hid it in a drawer for five years before reluctantly submitting it to a publisher. King believed he had pushed the subject beyond the limits of reasonable good taste and still cites Pet Sematary as the most troubling entry in his body of work.
2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes
If your patience for Holmes has been worn thin by his rabid following on Tumblr, spare a thought for poor Mr. Conan Doyle. His antipathy for Sherlock Holmes ran deeper than that of Moriarty and Moran combined, yet try as he might, he couldn’t escape the guy.
“I think of slaying Holmes…” he wrote to his mother in 1891, “and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.” Those better things, incidentally, were his more serious historical novels, which few people now remember. Conan Doyle sent Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls, the Sherlockians of the world shat a collective brick, and the ensuing uproar caused the author to bring Holmes back ten years later.
“Lol jk not dead!” Holmes declared, mumbling something about Japanese wrestling. Meanwhile, Sir Arthur sobbed softly in the distance.
3. Ian Fleming, The Spy Who Loved Me
“Man,” said Ian Fleming. “Everyone thinks James Bond is soooo cool. Let’s see how they like a James Bond book with hardly any James Bond!”
They didn’t. The Spy Who Loved Me, which centers on the romantic travails and near-rape of one Vivienne Michel, went down like a cement laxative. Fleming’s apparent intention was to expose Bond as a misogynist and dispel some of the cool mystique surrounding the fictional spy. It didn’t quite come off, and critics tore the thing to shreds.
Fleming later sought to bury the book. No one tried to stop him. The film version of the novel uses exactly zero plot points from the original, which is pretty damning when you consider how many silly elements made it into those movies.
4. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess’ story of ultra-violence and the old in-out in-out, has always been more than a malenky bit controversial. Its graphic depictions of delinquency, rape, and wanton destruction fascinate some and repel others. Thanks largely to the movie version, the book’s author can be counted among the latter.
At the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film, our wayward protagonist, Alex, is cured of chemically-induced aversion to violence and given a job to compensate him for his suffering. He gleefully contemplates the acts of physical and sexual violence he will perpetrate now that he’s back to normal. This stands in marked contrast to the original ending of Burgess’ novel, which depicts Alex outgrowing his violent ways and longing for fatherhood.
Burgess considered the movie little more than a glorification of violence and lamented his unavoidable association with it. Tough luck, droog.
5. Kafka, More or Less Everything He Ever Wrote
As he stood on death’s doorstep, Franz Kafka looked back at his body of work and decided he just wasn’t feeling it. He wrote a letter to a close friend, read posthumously, that asked him to burn virtually all of his writing. His friend responded with a curt: “Dude, no,” and got it all published instead.
What we have of Kafka’s work comes to us courtesy of that one traitorous guy. Thank you, sir, for being such a divine frenemy.