Difficult books happen to everyone. Sometimes books that are difficult to you aren’t difficult to anyone else. I.e., a book feels difficult to you because you are touching on emotions that were evoked by some terrible incident in your past and therefore catch you on the raw. Or you write about some concept that’s particularly scary/intense/hot to you, particularly.
You might not ever find out why a book is being “difficult” to you – sometimes what it’s touching has been so thoroughly repressed or so thoroughly disguised in the book, that you can’t see it, and will never be able to. Someone else who knows you well might see it. Your best friend or (argh) your kid might say “well, of course you’re having trouble writing this. It’s all about fields in the spring, which is full of rabbits, and you remember you have that fear of rabbits due to the incident of the carnivorous rabbits when you were six.” (No, I don’t have a fear of rabbits, but this might apply to, say, Jimmy Carter, who knows? [Politics? Not really. Don’t expect me to like anyone who shot his neighbor’s cat. Or any cat.])
The thing is, it’s worth fighting to the end of a difficult book, because when you write those, you do tend to invest them with an intensity that makes them WAY more interesting. Remember, what you’re selling your reader is emotion and catharsis, not words. The more feeling, the more they’ll like the book.
So, how do you figure out if a book is difficult – as opposed to boring –
1 – You’re writing and, without transition, you find yourself in the kitchen, cleaning the sink trap or something equally distasteful.
2 – You keep thinking “I need to go back and rewrite it from the beginning – and then find yourself scrubbing toilets.
3 – when you get near the end, you either get ill or discover about a thousand emergencies.
4- You can’t stop thinking of the book – or dreaming of it – but you can’t seem to close it.
5 – When you take it to your writers’ group it starts arguments. Half the people hate it, half love it, no one is indifferent.
And 6 – When you finish the book you are suffused with a sort of awe and KNOW it’s good. You also know it’s still scary.
Anyway – these are worth finishing – A Few Good Men, my last difficult book should now be available for pre-order. It is also, I think, the best thing I’ve ever written.
Of course, as hard as Noah’s Boy is proving to close, I think it might be very, very good.
Now stop rotating the cat, and go write.