Silencing Self-Doubt: Apple of my Eye by Claire Allan
By now, I should be an old hand at this book writing carry-on. After all, as I sat down to write Apple of My Eye, I was penning what would become my tenth published novel.
I knew I was in the lucky position that I had a book contract in place, and my editor liked the premise. The pressure of getting through the elusive acquisitions meeting was off.
At the time there was a buzz building for my last book, Her Name Was Rose and everything was, on paper, lovely and positive in my writing career.
So why then was I paralysed with self-doubt about this latest book – perhaps more so than any other book I’ve written?
I told myself that like the cliché of the difficult second album, this was my difficult second book. Yes, it was technically my tenth published novel, and actually I’d written two others as yet unpublished, but it was my second thriller. The second in my foray into a new genre.
I worried that Her Name Was Rose been a fluke. A one off visit to my twisted mind. I was terribly concerned about maintaining the darker voice I had found with Rose and that the result of any new efforts would be a load of unreadable rubbish. I was terrified I would squander the chance I’d been given with the amazing publishing team at Harper Collins.
I found myself craving the comfortable familiarity of writing women’s fiction again. I’d written eight of those and while each one had presented its challenges I definitely felt more in my comfort zone slipping into the familiar voices of gentle, character led dramas with a sprinkling of romance.
At least once a day I contemplated a “So sorry to have wasted your time but I can’t do this” email to my publishers, and my poor writing pals heard chapter and verse of my worries.
The book was drafted, and redrafted, and redrafted again – I think in the end there were five different beginnings written before I finally landed on the one that felt like it could actually have what it took for me to run with that story and take it in a twisted direction.
But at the heart of Apple of My Eye, there are two key relationships – that between a husband and wife, and that between a mother and daughter and I had to remind myself frequently as I wrote that pacing a crime thriller is a whole different ballgame to pacing women’s fiction.
Through the editing process I didn’t so much have to kill my darlings as massacre them. Thousands of words were cut (I think somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000) and as an experienced writer I couldn’t help but think I’d done it all wrong.
But here’s the thing, the only way for me to escape the paralysing fear of creating something outside my comfort zone was, to borrow a phrase from the musical Hamilton, “write my way out” of it.
The extra words may not have made it to the final draft but they were not wasted words. It’s true what they say that nothing is ever wasted in writing.
Those words – mostly huge swathes of conversations between key characters – gave me an insight in who my characters really were. How they reacted. How they felt. They gave me a back story for them which made them into these fully rounded individuals on the page.
They made the book a lot stronger, even if they didn’t make it into a book.
I also had to remind myself, time and time again, a first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. The three Irish bestsellers behind The Inspiration Project, aka Carmel Harrington, Hazel Gaynor and Catherine Ryan Howard, refer to it as the ‘vomit draft’, a great spilling of words onto the page. The late, great Terry Pratchett said the first draft is just the writer telling the story to themselves.
Once I freed myself from the expectation the book had to be perfect, once I accepted that the extra words were just knowledge for me as the writer and puppet master to use, I found myself comfortably (ish, there were still days when Maltesers were the only acceptable form of sustenance) back in control of the book.
Yes, it took me up to ten published novels to give myself permission to just write without the weight of expectation on my shoulders.
For any writer, that should be the only way to silence the voices telling you that it’s not good enough in your head. Believe that your creative voice is taking you on a journey that will end up with a finished product to be proud of.
It’s okay to doubt the writing. It’s okay to doubt yourself. It’s okay to spend an entire day on Twitter wondering if all the other writers you are following feel the same or if they all have this magical confidence button you missed out on.
(From a quick Twitter chat, it seems most writers do have these awful doubt filled moments, for the record).
The one thing it’s not okay to do, is to stop writing.
Write your way out of it. You can worry about the difficult third (11th) book later.
(c) Claire Allan
Claire Allan is an international bestselling author from Derry in Northern Ireland. A former journalist, she published eight women’s fiction novels with Irish publishing house, Poolbeg Press before switching to writing domestic noir.
About Apple of my Eye:
Just how far is a mother willing to go?
When a mysterious note arrives for seven months pregnant nurse Eliana Hughes, she begins to doubt every aspect of her life – from her mixed feelings about motherhood to her marriage to Martin, who has become distant in recent months.
As the person behind the note escalates their campaign to out Eli’s husband as a cheat, she finds herself unable to trust even her own instincts, and as pressure builds, she makes a mistake that jeopardises her entire future.
Elsewhere, someone is watching. Someone who desperately wants a baby to call their own and will go to any lengths to become a mother – and stay a mother…
‘A brilliantly paced, intriguingly plotted and thoroughly enjoyable story. One of the best psych thrillers I’ve read this year.’ LIZ NUGENT
Order your copy online here.