By: Joelle Charbonneau
Yesterday on twitter, I was having a discussion with a friend who’s writing a novel. She was about ready to chuck the book and start over with a new idea because she thought the book sucked. NOOOOOOOO!!!!! I jumped up and down, set my hair on fire (no, not literally, but you get the idea) and told her not to. Why? Because every writer thinks their story is worthless at some point in the process. We all think the book is boring and that the characters are completely unbelievable. Yep….we all think we are the world’s worst writer and that we should just stop writing now and save ourselves and the entire reading population the agony of continuing with our current project.
We all suck.
We all think we can’t write.
We all want to give up.
Writing isn’t a magical experience. No one sprinkles an author with fairy dust or waves a wand, which makes all the words on the page crackle with excitement. (Although, if anyone ever discovers that fairy dust exists, feel free to send some my way!) Every writer has a different process and voice. But the one thing that is the same is that we are all plagued by self-doubt. And there’s only one way to combat it. You have to refuse to give in. You tune out the voices that tell you not to continue the story and you sit down and write. You add words to the page. You push and pull and drag your characters forward even when you want to cry with frustration because you think your writing is crap. Because chances are it is better than you think. And even if it is crap—well, you can fix it later. But only after you’ve written the entire story and reached the magical land of THE END.
I wish I could offer some sort of potion you could drink to make the middle-of-the book-author-doubts disappear. Since I wasn’t all that great at chemistry, the only thing I can do is offer a few thoughts about what to do or not do in order to keep moving forward.
1) Remind yourself that EVERY author thinks they are the world’s worst writer when they are writing a book. And not just a book…EVERY book. We all think we suck every time and that someone is going to finally figure it out and kick us to the curb.
2) Safeguard your work until you are ready to get other opinions. Don’t show your pages to people while you are in the period of self-doubt. Nothing they tell you—positive or negative—will help. Trust me. If you are in the down spiral of doubt, you will assume all positive comments are offered because someone is just being nice and the negatives are the reader’s way of telling you to give up now before you embarrass yourself further. Yep…the doubts will get worse no matter what the feedback. Giving your pages to someone else during this phase is your subconscious’s way of looking for a reason to give up. And you aren’t going to give up…are you?
3) Repeat this phrase—“I will get to THE END.” Now say it again. One more time. Write it on a sticky note and tape it to your computer. Make a promise that you will give yourself a fabulous reward if you reach the final words of your story and stick to the pledge that you can’t have whatever that thing is until you get there. You will get to the end, but only if you keep moving the story forward.
4) Find me on Twitter or Facebook. Tell me when you are struggling and I’ll do my best to push you back in front of the keyboard. When you are done at the end of the day, I will cheer. We can all use a cheering section! Let me be yours.
5) Celebrate every day that you don’t give into the “I am the world’s worst writer” doubt. Because you know what—each time you defy that internal critic and put words on the page you are proving that you are something very important. You are a writer. And, whether the words are good or bad, writers write. And we get to The End. Because every story needs an end…and if you’re like me, no matter how much you think it sucks, you really want to know how your story will turn out.
Excellent post, Joelle. As one who has had the very same struggles as your friend--up to now, I've been an excellent book starter--just this summer, I made a decision that speaks directly to #3 on your list: Get To The End. The absolute number one thing I have done is a simple pledge to myself: Write every day. I set myself a goal of 500 words, but the one time I didn't make that count, *I still wrote.* Yes, my unbroken streak of 500+ words was broken, but my streak of writing every day was not. I am now 42 into my Consecutive Days Streak and it starts to take on a life of its own. If you can get a week's worth of consecutive days, then you can start thinking in terms of weeks. You pass that 10-day mark and it's an achievement. Next is two weeks. Then three. Then a month! I put up a paper calendar in my office and X off the days as I go. Visually, it's a great reminder of progress.
Also, I do these things: print your week's progress only once during the week. I tried the daily printing, but slipping a few pages on the printed stack of papers that is your manuscript isn't very descriptive. You print off a week's worth? You see the difference.
Your #3 is my primary driver now. Get to The End. I also am, at this precarious stage of my writing career, a firm believer in #2. My wife has already asked me when she can read my novel-in-progress or the short stories I finished in June. Later is my response. Maybe the fall. I want no outside influence at all.
I could go on, but I'll stop there. Get To The End. No Matter What. And then? Party Like Crazy! :-)
Number 3 is the key. I had issues with large projects until it occurred to me what single characteristic all great writers had in common, whether it was Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Vonnegut, Rushdie, you name it: they finished.
Woody Allen once said 80% of success is just showing. In writing, that means finishing the book. Writers are often terrible judges of their own work, if only because they are the only person who knows what they wanted the book to be; everyone else takes the book at face value.
Dana: I think you just hit the nail on the head with your statement: "Writers are often terrible judges of their own work, if only because they are the only person who knows what they wanted the book to be; everyone else takes the book at face value." It's so obvious, I never actually considered it before. Yet again, the scales come off the eyes...
I don't think I've ever commented here but this post is wonderful and seemed to go up just when I needed it. Yeah—there always seems to be a point in the process where it all seems to suck and you'd rather be doing something else.
I'm saving this post to share with other writers. Thank you.
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