Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Newbie Question #16

16. Have you ever doubted yourself while writing? If so, how do you get over it?

I doubt myself all the time, just ask the folks in my writers' group. I constantly complain that I don't know what the f**k I'm doing or that my stories suck, etc., etc. I get over my doubt by tapping my support network -- my writers' group and my partner. (Because, if nothing else, my partner will say these magic words: "We need the money." Works for me every time. :-)

But I think this is actually a question about writers' block, which is I think a more delicate and harder question to answer.

There are a lot things about this business that can freak people out to the point that they can't write. Most of the really hard ones, IMHO, come after you publish that first book, but there are a few potential killers early on.

One of the reasons I find writers' critique groups of any kind (in-person or on-line) so vital to a writer's career is because they help prepare you for the first and foremost challenge to your ego, and that is: criticism.

People are going to hate your precious babies your entire career. They just are. (I just stumbled across a rather nasty review of Tall, Dark & Dead just today.) But, before you have the cache of a New York publisher's approval, rejection is even harder to take.

If you can't handle criticism or rejection, surviving as a writer is going to particularly difficult. My advice is to find a writers' group and practice taking those slaps in the face and pulling yourself back up on your feet. It's a skill set you're going to use all the damn time.

The other big one you're going to face is rejection. Publishers (and literary agents) are going to turn you down, early and often. It may take several years and dozens of books before you break in. This is why it's important to love what you do. If you like to write, it's easier to pick up your keyboard after you have that big huge weep fest after the sixteenth rejection for your beloved book comes in the mail (when you were SURE this would be the one).

My advice is to practice this attitude: "OMG,I suck; Damn, I'm a genius!" Seriously, I think you have to be a bit unstable to be a good writer. You have to be able to accept that you suck (so you can LISTEN to critique and learn from it), while simultaneously believing you are the best writer who ever lived (so you can get the morning after a crushing critique/rejection and write once again).

The other things that I, personally, found nearly crippling is the stuff that happens after you publish. The first negative review hurts. There will be one and it will feel horrible. You'll believe every word (when, ironically, you didn't believe a word of the praise in the positive reviews.) If you're me, you'll memorize the meanest thing the reviewer wrote and be unable to forget it. Ever. Ask me if we ever meet. I can still give it to you verbatim.

The other thing is what I call "second book-itis" or pysch out. After the adrenaline rush has coursed through your veins after the sale of that first novel, you suddenly realize you're contracted for another book THAT PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO READ. If you're like most authors, you probably lived with that first novel for years before anyone bought it. You had lots of time to massage it and make it the best novel you possibly could. Usually, too, the publisher has contracted you for another book -- either a sequel or something else. Either way, you're sitting down to write that next book (usually before the first one has come out) and, if you're me, you're absolutely frozen by the idea that it could really, really SUCK and kill your career before it's even started.

That one is the hardest one for me. I don't have any good advice except to say that you'll just have to push through. I tend to get over the "OMG people are going to read this" thing (which I often still get) the same way a lot of actors get over stage fright. I lie to myself. I tell myself that no one is going to read the book but me and maybe my editor. I trick myself into believing this by writing most of my book in something other than manuscript format and in a file named something like "New stuff."

I'm sure there are other reasons people get hit with writers' block, but these are the ones I've dealt with. What about the rest of you out there? What freezes your brain?

* Previous questions have been answered on my Tate Hallaway blog, if you're interested.


Anonymous said...

imho. life is doubt. if you have no doubt - about anything - you're doing something wrong.

Douglas Hulick said...

See, this is intersting: I'm not worried about the second book sucking. The option doesn't even cross my mind (even after reading this). In that sense, I think I have the ego part of the equation down. :)

My doubts are less global than Tate's. I fiddle with passages and scenes, always trying to find "the better one." I worry my plots like an old shoe. Not because they are terrible (altough sometimes they are), but because they aren't good enough. My doubts center around figuring out a better way to write the book, to put it together; to make it as good as it should be in my head. But for some reason that never translates into fearing it is going to suck rocks. Ultimately, I am more worried about it not being good enough for me.

As for other people reading it: I think I just assumed people would read my first book. Not because I thought it was brilliant, or even that it would sell, but because, well, that's why I write: to be read. I put it in my head that people would be reading it one day and went from there. I approached Hawthorn Queen the same way. So, for me, knowing Book 2 will "be read" is just part of the drill.

I'd don't think this is so much ego (I *know* not everything I write will sell, or be liked, or be good) as it is a kind of self-deluding resolve. Somewhere along the way, part of me decided that if I tell myself the book is going to be read from the get-go, then I don't have to worry about it being read. It wasn't conscious by a long shot (in fact, I never thought about this mind-srt until now), but it's been a constant with me for years.

Kelly McCullough said...

Hmm, I'm closer to Doug on this, but not really at the same place as he is either as I don't obsess at that level. Like Doug, I've always written with the assumption that I'm going to be read, and I didn't have a second book freakout. That may be in part due to the 6 year gap between writing book "1" and book "2." My doubts have been of the am I ever going to break into selling books? If not, what have been doing for the past 10 years variety. Big, existential, am I wasting my life kind of doubts. I broke through by realizing that there was nothing else I wanted to do more. It's a long story that I've talked about at wyrdsmiths before

*I put those in quotes because sold books =/= written books, and they were actually books 4 and 9 in terms of my total writing output.