Ah, Mondays. They are becoming one of my favorite days of the week.
Because Monday means it’s time to start writing again. And that brings me to today’s topic: loving your writing.
Now when I say loving your writing, I’m not talking about the kind of overly-indulgent love. You aren’t taking your writing on a date or smooch it in the back of your red Camaro in the moonlight. I’m also not talking about the smug arrogance of being so satisfied that you can’t even see the flaws of what you’ve written.
We’re talking about being okay with what you write in terms of not letting that harsh inner critic tear down every sentence you try to put down.
It’s coming to be too common to meet a fellow writer and immediately hear them talk down about what they’ve written. Phrases like, “I don’t like it…”, “I hate A/B/C…”, “It’s stupid…”
Stuff like this makes me scratch my head. Sure, I have moments of not feeling good about my writing, times when I doubt anyone will ever like what I’ve written, and times when I get sick of looking at the project I’m working on it and want to do something else.
But that’s the thing, it’s a moment.
Moments of not feeling good are normal and an unavoidable part of the writing process. After all, you just birthed a literary baby, and it’s natural to not want him or her to get kicked around by the one-star review bullies.
But the problem comes when one lets this moment of doubt stretch into days, weeks, or long enough that fear and doubt become a habit.
If you’re struggling with crippling doubt, here’s some things that you might want to consider:
1.) Are you writing a first draft?
If so, you really shouldn’t be worrying about what other people think at this stage anyway. People can’t form an opinion on a book that doesn’t exist in the world yet. And really, something that I’ve learned while working on my own novel is that you shouldn’t be giving people copies of your first draft anyway.
Complete or not.
Although the people helping you mean well, there are lots of things missing from a first draft. A lot of things that won’t be consistent. Lots of clunk and junk that doesn’t make sense.
First drafts can be so far from the final product that they might not even look alike. So in a way, it’s not fair to ask someone else to read a first draft unless they’re just that curious.
2.) Do you spend a lot of time practicing your craft?
Notice I said practicing and not reading books on it.
It’s stupid easy to pick up a writing book and read it from cover to cover. But you can bet your left booty cheek that it’s hard to roll up your sleeves and apply it immediately.
And the reason why I say this is because I noticed that the more serious I became about improving my writing skills and the more practice I put myself through, the anxiety about my writing being bad gave up and left me alone.
When you practice a lot, you quickly learn the limits of what you can and can’t do with your writing. And when you get to the place where you can gauge your ability more accurately, it helps a lot to not freak out so much about the stuff you’re working on.
3.) Do you actually know what your strengths and weaknesses are, or have you assumed that you know?
If you are the only person who has seen your work, you should probably slow down a little.
We as writers assume the worst thing about our writing when in reality we know very little about it. I’ve heard people name things as weaknesses that they had no problems with. I’ve also heard people name things as strengths that they didn’t do well.
This is why it’s important we get someone else’s eyes on our work first before we send it out.
But also some of us who worry about being bad at writing have very skewed views of what good and bad writing is.
Writing tends to tip toward the bad side when it’s clear that the writer didn’t care to develop their characters, fix typos, cut cliches, make settings beyond blank whitespace rooms to nowhere, stilted dialogue, issues with character motivations, and do basic things that a story should do. If people are commenting on this, as in a lot of these aspects, and very often across multiple things that you write, then yes, it probably is that bad.
But things that are that bad are usually things that haven’t been edited, and the writers haven’t cared to have them edited. If your book has been to see a good editor, you probably don’t have this problem.
But here’s the thing…
If you do have a particular strength or weakness, don’t just throw your hands up and say “Oh whatever”.
Fix that shit.
Work on it so that those weaknesses become your strength.
Description, interiority, and organization used to be some of my biggest weaknesses. The setting bit fell away when I started putting in hard practice on it. The interiority and organization part are falling away too because of revision.
And this is also why having someone look at a first draft isn’t recommended. We do bizarre things in first draft that we would strike out immediately in a revision. They are not accurate.
4.) Are you writing what you love?
My poetry teacher would hammer this phrase to death. And I understand his sentiment exactly.
Consider the old Robert Frost saying: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”
If you write things that you don’t enjoy writing, how can you expect a reader to sit down and want to read it? If it’s a pain to write, it will be a pain to read.
But that also means that if it’s a joy to write, it’ll be a joy to read.
And usually the thing that kind of confuses me is that not only will someone often say that they hate their writing, but they will continue to write the thing that they hate: fueling the hate cycle. Which makes no sense. Because there are two things a person can do to fix that.
A) Write something else.
I understand that this one is not always possible, but I tend to get this response from people who can write something else and for some reason think that they must suffer through this project that they don’t like.
Unless someone has a gun to your head, is paying you, or you have some kind of legal agreement with them, you don’t have to inflict pain on yourself by sticking to that project.
Some projects aren’t meant to see the light of day. And some aren’t meant to see the light of day at the specific time that you’re forcing them to.
I’ve had to abandon tons of ideas and piles of manuscripts. I didn’t like it, but I’m hella glad I got rid of those. Those were genuinely terrible. And I can’t believe that people actually read them.
But because I did I’m now writing something I’m so happy to work on that I’ll jump out of bed at 2 in the morning to write it. Every. Single. Day.
B) Tweak the story into something that you enjoy.
If for some reason, you can’t do something else, (and even if you can do something else), you should consider trying different things to make the story interesting again. Rework characters, add depth to the story world, revisit the old ideas that got you interested, add random interest grabbing events, make something explode.
You get the idea.
But make sure it’s really broke before you toss it out.
But most importantly…
Do try to remember that getting published isn’t a destination, it’s just another stop on the journey.
There will never be the perfection that you want, especially if this is your first book. There will always be more to learn, and that being able to learn and improve is a wonderful thing.
Because it means that there’s no limits to what you can do. 🙂