Self doubt absolutely sucks.
When one is a writer and is suddenly struck with that paralysing notion of “OMG WHAT IF EVERYTHING I’VE EVER WRITTEN IS AWFUL?” it’s rather hard to bounce out of it. Have you been there, done that? Me too, my friend, me too.
So. How do we climb out of the “I suck at writing and everything is woeful” hole? What is the golden secret?!
Lucky for you (pfft, I’m joking, lucky for me) I have gathered a conglomeration of writers to discuss these doldrums. I turned my highly powerful puppy-dog-eyes on these fabulous fiends, and they’ve contributed to my post. I’m quite excited to do another collaboration post after the gloriousness that was my 2015 YA book predictions! SO ENJOY. That was a requirement by the way, decreed by your queen. [Me.]
CAIT @ PAPER FURY
I’m going to be super short and sweet I’m always so sweet because everyone below is amazing and sums up my thoughts so well. Doubt sucks, but an important thing to remember is: EVERYONE GOES THROUGH THIS! You’re not alone! Also keep in mind:
- If you think you suck, then it means you have excellent taste in art and want to improve. That’s GREAT.
- Taking a break or hiatus from your novel is not a bad thing.
- Don’t compare yourself to published authors. They aren’t working on their books alone! They’ve got hoards of professional input and (trust me) it changes everything.
- Remind yourself why you’re working on this project/novel. Plaster a big sign on your bedroom wall, do WHATEVER IT TAKES, but just keep the reason you’re passionate about your book on your mind.
- Definitely eat chocolate. Like, totally ignore the rest of my list, and just eat chocolate. It’ll work.
Literally the BEST thing to do when you’re feeling down about your writing is to take. A. Step. BACK. Because, if you’re all like me, and you’re constantly hovering between those states of this-is-the-best-thing-ever to why-did-I-even-want-to-be-a-
This is a tricky topic for multiple reasons. First off, because all writers deal with writer’s block and self-doubt. There’s no avoiding it, I’m afraid. You will encounter it at some point in your life. Second of all, because there’s no one way to deal with it. We’re all unique and handle our writing troubles differently. But hopefully I can at least give you some ideas on how to tackle this gloominess.
Do you other writers ever just look at this beautiful, heartbreaking, mindblowing, complicated world, and think – I’m supposed to turn that into WORDS? It’s kind of ironic that something so glorious as our planet and the people who inhabit it could make me feel so depressed about my ability to write, but it does. I wonder: How will I ever become skillful enough? How have my favorite authors become skillful enough? WHERE IS THE MAGIC POTION?
You all know, obviously, that there is a magic potion and it is called Practice, but it’s still so easy to get overwhelmed, especially with the idea that all those fabulous authors out there write better than you. (They’re so good, how will I ever get published, I might as well stop writing.) (Bad idea.) The greatest cure I’ve found for this kind of writerly jealousy and despair was an old post by Maggie Stiefvater wherein she shares with us an old excerpt of her childhood writing. Because if I know that MAGGIE used to write that mediocrely, it makes me feel a heck of a lot more confident about my own writing.
Another thing I do to help me when I’m feeling down about my writing is – short stories! The awesome thing about short stories it that they’re short. (No, duh.) You can jot a couple pages down and feel accomplished, and they help get your mind off your current larger project. It’s especially nice to write a short story in a different genre then your main project.
Firstly, I must have some sort of cake (or brownie, I’m not picky) and it must be chocolate. I then proceed to have a carefully constructed ritual of sobbing while eating said cake. Let it never be said writers cannot multi-task!
Then I begin the deconstructing: why am I feeling down about my writing? Am I comparing it to other people’s? If so, I tell myself to GET IT TOGETHER. Not everybody writes the same way and that’s the beauty of being a writer. You get to share your unique voice and ideas with the world. The entire selling point is that it’s something different. So be proud of that. Don’t try and emulate someone else, because then you lose the magic.
If I’m just feeling like my writing isn’t up to standard in general, then I’ve probably lost my mojo/love for the story (this is an incredibly technical term, obviously. Mojo, from the Latin: to be unable to form coherent sentences or thoughts, causing one to eat much cake). The best fix I have for this is going back over and reading my story. From the beginning. I put myself into the mind-set of the reader and just binge. While I’m reading I edit (always useful), but it’s mostly SUPER helpful in inspiring me. I get so many new ideas and start to see my characters in a new light and, really, it just refreshes the story for me. It helps rekindle my love for it and remember why I started writing it in the first place. And that then puts my writerly gears back in action.
Aaand a third and final tip: FORGET ABOUT IT. I don’t mean abandon it entirely. I mean forget about it for a week. Or two. Or a month. Put it off your radar and kick back and relax. It’s not going anywhere and you’ll be surprised how much taking a break will inspire an awesome comeback. Sometimes we get stressed and worry if we don’t write then the world might end and someone will forbid us from ever eating chocolate again. But it’s not true. The world will keep going and taking a break will make you and your story come alive again.
Failing that, return to step one.
We’ve all been there. WHO WROTE THIS AWFUL MESS OF WORDS AND GIBBERISH? That’s when you realize: Oh. I did. When this happens, what’s a writer to do?
1.) Take a step back. Let your writing simmer for a while. When you come back, you may have fresh perspective. And if you don’t, that’s when you get to edit your writing and hack it to pieces.
2.) Kill your darlings. Or, in this case, your not-so-darlings. If you can pinpoint what it is that’s making you go EW about your writing, then fix it, that will probably help you get your face out of permanent cringe mode.
3.) CONFIDENCE IS KEY. Find a piece of writing you do like. Read that. Remember: you. are. awesome. Even if you think some of your writing isn’t awesome, there’s always the next novel. The next sentence. The next word. Believe it or not, you can write awesome things. You’ve got this.
Here’s the thing – every writer is going to be down about their writing, at some point. Nobody ever cruises along on a surface of perfection, Nobody writes 10,000 words every day, and nobody leans back in their chair and thinks, “Yep. That’s it. I won’t change a thing.” Personally, I go through phases. I write steadily in the grand scheme of things, but I’ll have a few days or even a week where I feel dry, and the most I can manage is a sentence or two here and there. (Nothing makes you feel more pathetic, as a writer.)
Fortunately, I’ve learned some helpful tricks over the years.
- It’s okay. You don’t have to write every day. You can take a break and read a book or watch a show or go for a hike or draw a picture. It’s good to take a break from things now and then, even if it’s only a small one.
- Try reading books or watching movies/TV shows in the same genre as what you’re writing, if you lack inspiration. This is a trick that always helps me.
- Turn off the music. I have a dozen tailored playlists on iTunes, but sometimes when I’m really stuck, I just need to turn the music off.
- Look at why you’re stuck. One of the main reasons I get stuck is because I’ve written something wrong – a character’s name or personality, a plotline that doesn’t need to be in there. Somehow, my subconscious knows that I’m doing something wrong, and it shuts down on me. Look back over things.
- Get a second opinion. I have close friends who read what I write and are enormously helpful with this kind of thing – find someone you trust and have them read what you’ve written. Hear them out.
And in the end, curling up with Netflix and a cup of coffee is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. You can write tomorrow.
I’m sure many of you have experienced the dreaded feeling of believing that your writing isn’t has good as someone else’s. It makes you want to rip whatever you’re writing to shreds. But do not fear! I have tips for you on how to defeat this monster.
- Don’t read other young writers’ writing. If you are a young writer, do not read other young people’s writing. This will probably reinstate the self-doubt and end up comparing yourself to others.
- Take a break from your piece. Or from writing altogether. Sometimes it’s good to let something sit for two days or two weeks or two months. Whatever seems like the best amount of time for you. Then, when you go back, it will be fresh and your brain won’t be as clogged.
- REMEMBER: YOU ARE STILL LEARNING. This tip is especially for younger writers, but also can be targeted at anyone. You are not a professional, paid author. You need to remember that you are not 100% experienced yet and do not have all the skills you’d like to eventually master.
- Do not compare yourself with published authors. If you are doing this, just first, STAHP. These authors are published for a reason. They are far more experienced and have gone through a lot to get their books in print. You are not their equal, and therefore cannot compare your writing with theirs.
- And lastly, remember: you’re fabulous.