Insecurity is a common problem among authors. How do you know whether the book is good enough yet? What if people hate it? New authors tend to compare their efforts against well-known writers and literary masterpieces, but keep in mind, even famous authors had their doubts. Here are some of them.
JG Ballard and The Wind from Nowhere
British New Wave SF writer J.G. Ballard, who wrote the (in)famous autoerotic novel, Crash, and the semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun, practically disowned The Wind from Nowhere, which was, in fact, his first novel – contrary to his claims that The Drowned World was his first. He had written it in about two weeks, and would later on dismiss it as “a piece of hack work.”
Kafka, it seemed, generally disliked his own work, to the point that he had asked his friend Max Brod to burn all pieces of unpublished work at some point. The Metamorphosis, one of his most popular works of fiction, was one of those rather disliked pieces, and Kafka would have had it burned gladly – but Max Brod thought otherwise, and today, as with many of Kafka’s other works, The Metamorphosis is still read.
Stephen King, bestselling – and arguably the most famous – horror writer, also wrote under a pseudonym – Richard Bachman. It was under this penname that he wrote the novel Rage, which was about a high school student who goes to school armed with a gun, kills some of the school’s faculty members, and holds his classmates hostage. The book was controversial because it was linked to four real-life shootings from 1988 to 1997 – shootings committed by teenagers who had all owned a copy of King’s Rage. King had asked his publisher to cease any printing of the book afterwards. Needless to say, Stephen King started distancing himself from the book, after the controversy it caused.
A. A. Milne
Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood are beloved childhood characters, and the creations of A.A. Milne. Pooh and friends became so popular and successful that, inevitably, Milne’s name was most often associated with these characters – so much so that Milne was frustrated that his children’s books were more famous than what was, presumably, his more serious body of work, which consisted of three novels, eighteen plays, and four screenplays. Additionally, his own son, Christopher Robin, was as critical of the books’ success as his father.
Author Ian Fleming was known for his work on one of the most popular spies of all time, James Bond. Though Fleming’s Bond novels were successful – among them 1952’s Casino Royale – there was one novel he hated: The Spy Who Loved Me, a Bond novel told from the perspective of a woman, which highlighted James Bond’s misogynistic tendencies.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The wildly popular Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the brain behind the equally wildly popular detective Sherlock Holmes, actually hated Holmes – but only after a time, when Holmes’s name became bigger than his own. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle disliked Holmes so much that he killed Holmes in one of his stories – but this, of course, caused uproar among Holmes’s loyal fans, and so the author had to bring the famous detective back to life.
Jeanette Winterson, Boating for Beginners
Jeanette Winterson, author of such books as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and The Stone Gods, disliked her work Boating for Beginners. It was supposed to be a comedy book, written while Winterson was waiting for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit to come out. Winterson acknowledged that it had been written because she, among other things, also needed money.
Ironically, author Anthony Burgess hated the work that he is best known for – A Clockwork Orange, which, so he claimed had been written in just three weeks. Burgess was frustrated by the fact that he was known only for Clockwork, and not for the many other works that he had written. Clockwork was, as he described, a “novel [he was] prepared to repudiate.”
Virgil, one of the most well-known names in classical Greco-Roman literature, wrote The Aeneid – which he disliked. Before his death, Virgil had asked his friends to destroy the manuscript, but a man called Augustus denied that request and had The Aeneid circulated.
STANISLAW LEM, THE ASTRONAUTS
Polish author and science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem had his first book, The Astronauts, published in 1951. Although the book was successful, the theme of the book – the communist utopia – was something Lem did not exactly appreciate, as it extolled communisms virtues. To be fair, this was Lem’s attempt to get past the censorship of the Communist regime at the time, but later on – as Lem published more – he began distancing himself from The Astronauts, claiming to be disgusted by that particular work.
HARLAN ELLISON, THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS
Science fiction writer and anthologist Harlan Ellison edited the award-winning anthology Dangerous Visions, to which big names like Phillip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov have contributed. A second anthology followed, and an announcement for a third, The Last Dangerous Visions, was made back in 1973 – but the book never materialized. While Ellison claims that he would still like the work to be published, he had also instructed his wife to burn all of his incomplete work when he dies.
Alan Moore – best known for his work on V for Vendetta and Watchmen, both critically-acclaimed graphic novels – disliked not so much his work, but the publishers who put out his work, DC Comics. Originally promising to Moore that he would own the copyright of both Watchmen and V once they went out of print, DC did not deliver. Nor, it seemed, did DC ever had a plan to let the books run out of print.
OCTAVIA BUTLER, Survivor
The only work by Butler that’s out of print, Survivor was disowned by Butler herself because she thought it revolved around the worst clichés in science fiction. She called it her Star Trek novel, and compared it to “offensive garbage.”
ANNIE PROULX. Brokeback Mountain
Annie Proulx wrote the short stories that inspired the similarly-titled film Brokeback Mountain. She dislikes her work, all because of the fanfiction that fans keep sending to her – smut-filled stories by people who want to “fix” the story she wrote. All told, it wasn’t because of what she wrote or how she wrote it – Proulx’s dislike really just stems from the fan reaction that her work provoked.
MARTIN AMIS, Invasion of the Space Invaders
While Invasion of the Space Invaders wasn’t a piece of fiction – it was, instead, a video-game guidebook that was also partly an account of arcade game addiction – it was disliked by Amis partly because of the very culture that his book revolved around. Amis never spoke about Invasion, and Martin Amis’s biographer forgot to mention it in the biography.
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT, The Little Women series
Alcott is best known for her classic work, Little Women, but the series of novels in which it belonged eventually became too long and too much for her that she, much like Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, got sick of writing about the same characters over and over again – to the point that she wanted to blow up one of the settings featured in her books.
AGATHA CHRISTIE, her character Hercule Poirot
Another case of an author getting very tired of her own character, Agatha Christie – one of the most widely published authors in the English language and, in extension, one of the most widely-read people – grew tired very quickly of her character, Detective Hercule Poirot. Christie thought him to be a self-centered man and killed him off in 1975. Very similar to Sherlock Holmes, right?
PETER BENCHLEY, Jaws
Benchley did not hate the work per se, but rather its massive impact on the public – people became deathly afraid of sharks because of the novel (and the 1975 film). In what might be seen as an attempt to remedy this, Benchley dedicated the rest of his career to shark protection and ocean conservation.
LEWIS CARROLL, Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll – real name Charles Dodgson – disliked his classic work because of how strangers stared at him and pointed at him whenever they found out that he was the one who wrote Alice. He hated it to the point that he wished he hadn’t written any Alice books in the first place.
P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins
While the version of Mary Poppins that just about everyone is familiar with is the one that features Dick van Dyke and Julie Andrews, it first existed as a book series by P.L. Travers. To Travers, the fact that it was the 1964 film that’s more popular than the actual book was lamentable – she hated the film and wished that Mary Poppins had stayed in the pages of her book, and had not been Disneyfied at all.
So don’t feel bad…
Write the best book you can.
Edit as much as you’re able.
Seek help if you must.