It’s happened to me. I’ll bet it’s happened to you. We spend hours immersed in plot, chapter, character—only to find, the next day, that what we’ve done is crap. How does that happen?

The words lay flat and false on the page. Whole passages are without the energy that you were convinced were there. The characters are mannered and overblown. The plot is Swiss cheese, full of holes…or just plain cheesy. The build of ideas is as ordered and logical as a kindergarten kid with ADD.

All the promise of yesterday—the notes that were so motivating, so inspiring, all the sense you thought you’d made—gone. You came to the chair ready to write, full of energy and love for the idea. The next morning, you find yourself seduced and abandoned: The chapter only wanted you for your body, not for your heart or soul or head.

What is that Bizarro-World creative alchemy that turns gold into garbage? You did the right things, you thought the right thoughts—wha’ happened? Where is the judgment that we have worked so long and hard to develop? Why didn’t the mental crap alarm go off? Where is the skill and the instinct that should have revealed crap-in-progress?

As writers, we feel obliged, sometimes, to follow an idea to its end. Even in our hard-eyed moments of editing with a scalpel, we can go astray; can convince ourselves that taste prevailed in ideas that taste never touched.

In the Newtonian Law of Creative Motion, writing in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by some external force. That force should have been the energy of our experience. Where’d it go?

I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. I’ve been in that place where an extraordinary editor (Dick Marek, or my wonderful ex-agent Henry Morrison) points out a hole, a possibility, a lapse. But shouldn’t we be able to count on ourselves for more by now? Shouldn’t the light of day reveal something other than a pile that resembles what the cow left behind in the pasture?

I am less self-flagellating, some days, than others. I have “Did I really do that?” moments of looking at the work and smiling. On some days, I have balance and the steady will to move forward.

Other days, all I can do is shake my head. And move backward toward redemption. And hope to do better. Next time.

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