The Depressed Novelist’s Complaint,
or How I Learned to Love the Gray
By Jane Yolen
Having just finished a major Holocaust novel for young adults,* I find myself at loose ends while waiting for editorial feedback. I’m not new at the writing game. My first book was published in 1963, my first novel (for middle-grade readers) in 1967. I’ve written over 60 novels since then, for children, young adults, adults.
But every single time I finish a novel, I’m struck with three thoughts:
1. I’m depressed. A kind of post-natal droop. I wonder if it’s good enough. I want it to be the novel, the one that changes the world, that brings about peace, wins major awards, sets my name in the books of great novel writers. Or at last I hope I haven’t embarrassed myself, my editor, my publisher.
2. I have no distance from the book. Ask me what it’s about, I’ll tell you it’s about 98,000 words. It’s about the Holocaust. It’s about Hansel in Gretel only not. (Though the wicked witch, a Mengele-type doctor, gets pushed into the oven at the end.) It’s about time I finished it. It’s about me.
3. I itch to get back to work—on the revisions of this book or a new one. I can’t decide which though, in the end, my beta readers and then my editor will decide that for me, depending upon how soon they get back to me, and how many questions I have to answer with the editorial-directed revision.
So, if it’s this painful, why continue? Read the above carefully. Nowhere do I say it’s painful. In fact, I’m never more alive than when writing something that could be significant (though rarely is). That I fail means I have another chance. If I’m perfect, there is no room for growing. And, at 77, I am all about growing! Consider the alternative.
*The book is HOUSE OF CANDY, due out from Philomel/Penguin Books in Fall 2017 or Spring 2018.
Jane Yolen, sometimes called America’s Hans Christian Andersen (she cops to Hans Jewish Andersen) has published almost 360 books between 1963 and 2016. They have brought her many awards (one of which set her good coat on fire) and honorary doctorates from six institutions, among them Smith College and the University of Massachusetts. She was the first writer to win an Arts & Humanities Award from New England Public Radio and was one of this year’s Massachusetts Unsung Heroines.