Learning to Write Through Self-Doubt

I’m learning that resistance is most powerful at the finish line. The end for my first draft is in sight, I can see it, yet self doubt and other obstacles push it further away with each step I take toward it.

I’m almost there, but it’s as if fear of accomplishing this great goal delays my arrival. How can I be so close yet feel so far away?

I suspect it’s some form of insecurity. It’s the insecurity that drives me to perfect and revise and improve–it’s also the insecurity that drives me to discount and question the work that I’ve done. But there’s a benefit to realizing that I feel this way periodically and that’s knowing that the feeling comes and goes. No need to abandon the project and quit all creative endeavors because some creative demons are meeting their quota.

Though I’m currently mired in second-guessing, this too shall pass.

I figure that the important thing here is not to succumb to paralyzing doubt or think up some magical remedy for it, but to learn to live with it.

Recognize it, accept it, and adapt to it.

Much like how the character in my story is adapting to the problems I’ve thrown at him. Time to accept that I may never be overly confident about my work yet somehow I have to find the will to keep writing.

I have to stay committed. It’s the only way that I’ll get better.

That is, to write everyday. To write through the doubt. Even if I’m unsatisfied with every word I’ve written that day. Especially if I’m unsatisfied with every word I’ve written that day. Even if I see it as throwing words down a well because I’m fairly sure I’ll delete them all. It’s still momentum. It’s still an avenue that I can check off of the list of story directions if I decide to scrap it.

That’s how to take the power away from insecurity and doubt. By not letting it paralyze. Instead, I’ve decided to venture forth from my comfort zone and accept that 90 percent of my work is probably crap. I also accept that I probably can’t produce that shining 10 percent of good writing without wading through said crap. It’s not gonna happen by just sitting and staring at the keyboard.

With that said, I guess it’s time to put on some boots, grab some nose plugs, and wade through the crappy first drafts and crappy rewrites. Time to guide myself forward with the memory of confidence I had when I started this long project. The confidence of a novice who thought it’d be easy enough to turn pro.

Perhaps that transformation only takes place with a good amount of fortitude to weather the ebb and flow of inspiration and motivation.

 

The Pitfalls of Perfectionism When Writing a First Draft

I recently passed 67k on the work in progress. It’s officially a novel. My FIRST novel. An exciting feat for someone who wasn’t even sure that she could write something of novella length. I remember being so proud of myself for reaching 17k. Well, I’ve almost quadrupled that, so what’s up now, Past Self?

I’ve learned a thing or two about dedication and persistence. About sticking to goals. About accountability. About what works for me when it comes to writing. (It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all type of deal.) I’ve also had to unlearn a thing or two. What I’ve unlearned was necessary for me to reach my word-count goals on my first draft.

I’ve had to let go of my perfectionist ideals.

I’ve had to let go of the idea that my first draft should be a sparkling, blemish-free, ready-for-publication magnum opus. The greatest work of my life!

That idea was slowing me down. A LOT.

I was treating my first draft like the only draft I was allowed to have. I was stopping every couple minutes to obsess over a word or do some “quick” research.

Minimizing the word processor and opening an Internet browser is a very dangerous thing.

This I’ve learned. Again and again. And again. And I’ll probably learn this yet again in the future after looking up a definition and somehow ending up on YouTube watching Corey Feldman music videos.

Basically, I was researching trivial things when I should’ve been advancing my story. I’ve learned that perfectionism can be procrastination in disguise.

It is also wasteful when it comes to a first draft. Now that I’m nearing the end, I’ve realized that whole sections might have to be cut because they slow the story down or are no longer relevant to what the story has become. I’ve dumped hours into perfecting prose that will most likely get cut.

Once I started to let go of my ideas of first-draft perfection, I noticed that my word count began to increase. Fretting over every little sentence was stunting my progress and only allowed for a couple hundred words a day. Now I can write a thousand in one day and am aiming to write even more.

I’ve learned that the first draft is a rough sketch.

With a rough sketch, you apply big, broad strokes to map out a form. You move the pencil freely, not worrying about what’s right or wrong.  You then go in and erase the unnecessary lines and add the detail that makes it realistic.

You don’t worry about those details when you’re mapping out the form. Those always come later. It actually took me awhile to learn to start with a rough sketch when drawing. The realistic details were always my strong point, but starting with those details left me with ill-proportioned faces with features that were never quite symmetrical. It seems I was destined to repeat the same mistakes with fiction. But it’s OK–I’m still learning and adjusting. And humans are supposed to be able to adapt, right?

I keep thinking that my first novel is supposed to act as a perfect reflection of myself and my creative identity. I’ve let this falsehood go too. All this project can really represent is a season of my life and a slice of my creative focus. And, in the end, you have to ignore all those self-conscious thoughts in order to tell a good, uninhibited story.

Because that’s what this is all about at the end of the day: telling a story. It becomes really simple. Do away with the bad habits that hinder you when telling your story.

I figure that, once the story is told, that nitpicky and self-conscious part of myself can return when it comes time to edit.

Writing Confessions: I Have Story Commitment Issues

17500

I recently made it to 17,500 words on the WIP. It is now, according to the Wikipedia word-count page, officially a novella. (Maybe that’s not impressive to those word-count powerhouses out there, but let me have my moment!) What began as a short story in college (and stayed that way for quite a few years) expanded into a few more pages with character development and has now grown into a novella-sized piece with the introduction of a few mysterious and disturbing events. The closer the story gets to its climax the more I wonder about why its taken me so long to get here. Why the hell am I only now nearing the end of my first novella?

And why haven’t I written a novel or novella before?

Well, heh, I’ve tried.

There were a few over the years that reached the 50-page mark before being abandoned. It happened a couple times. As soon as I pushed past page 49, my interests went elsewhere: to a new short story idea that was so interesting, it demanded my full attention, or to some new music I chose to focus on. Around that point, I always convinced myself that I was basically throwing words into a well—to finish the project would be a waste of time because I convinced myself along the way that the story was inherently flawed, boring, or a combination of the two things.

How did I finally choose the right story to finish this time?

Out of all the short stories I have written in the past few years, this is the one that had the most set up that just tapered off: characters with flaws that begged to be explored, the introduction of complex issues that interested me, and it was set in a friggin’ factory farm—one of the most disturbing settings available. What could that kind of work to do my characters? Are they all truly desensitized? Is there something more going on, like, is the factory actually haunted as the townsfolk insist? I felt that there was something to discover raveled in those dark themes. There were questions about human nature that demanded more space than a short story can accommodate.

Those are some reasons. But the real reason, damnit, was that I finally decided to just pick something and stick it out. There were self-deprecating habits to unlearn, and it wasn’t going to happen by just abandoning story after story.

So Many Options …

Like others with commitment issues, there’s the fear of making the wrong choice. That there’s some inherent flaw that’s just waiting to be discovered or something important that wasn’t initially contemplated. There’s the feeling that there’s some better idea with better characters making its way toward you, and if you’re tied up in one project, you won’t have time for this newer, better idea.

I now use that feeling as motivation. I take those new ideas, type them up in Evernote, then tell myself that once I complete the project that I’m currently working on, I can devote my efforts to the shiny new story.

Making a Connection

A short story is its own art form.

You delve into a snippet of life and examine and obsess over it because every little word is important. You examine your character’s motivation for acting that way in that situation. With a longer piece, there’s a more intimate understanding of your character since you see him or her react in several situations. You see your character’s good side and her flaws as well, probably multiple times. Before you know it, you have history together. You’ve become invested, and there’s the comfort of returning to what’s familiar when you sit down to write. (Well, at least until your  character does something crazy. Then you’re like, “who are you??”)

Working on a longer piece is like visiting an old friend when you sit down to write. It’s fun and thrilling to flirt with shorter pieces of work to establish your writing identity and discover themes or topics to explore, but sooner or later you want to settle down with that longer project for a more fulfilling writing experience.

Getting Over the Fear of Commitment

I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing shorter fiction, but at least I’m no longer scared of getting past that 50-page mark and continuing on. With the way that things are going, I think I’m improving. There might be a novel in my future. Though, I don’t think I’m allowed to say that I had commitment issues until I finish the new WIP. Onward!