My muse guides me through everything I write. She whispers in my ear. She tells me all about the characters. She plays out the scenes for me in my mind as if watching a film of them unfolding in front of me. All this happens in a stream of consciousness somewhere between being awake and asleep. The process happens effortlessly most of the time. After jumping over the halfway mark wall that I almost always encounter, I reach the home stretch with more enthusiasm and love for the project than when I went into it. Isn’t novel writing such a blissful experience?
So there I have on the computer in front of me 110k or more words. I have put it away for a while to get the proper distance from it. I open the file and begin to rewrite and edit it. I have poured over it for a few weeks banishing the bad and trying to emphasise the good. I punctuate, I check grammar, I cut all those redundant words and phrases. I think things are going well. I like what I am reading. I decide to have another read through and that is the point when it happens and it always does happen, I hear that editing voice start whispering to me. That is when writer’s doubt creeps in. I begin to question my abilities as a writer. I question my ideas. I become terrified at the thought of letting anyone actually read what I have written. Isn’t editing such a nightmare?
The editing voice is the evil twin of my muse. Where my muse’s voice encourages me and stays with me every step of the way, the editing voice tells me my work is not good enough then instead of helping me like the muse does the editing voice goes silent leaving me to work through things all on my own.
I am now editing a novel and have hit this point. In the past I have actually stopped working on a manuscript because the doubt has pushed me to the point that I no longer believed in myself or the story. That was a very hard place to be in. The thing is though this time I am determined to fight back. I am using the writer’s doubt to my advantage. I will not let it take over. I had devised a plan to conquer this before I even started editing this novel. I saved my very first draft and then edited a copy of it. I am looking at draft one and the edited one and comparing the two. Now I hate to quote a Virginia Slim’s advert I grew up seeing in magazine but I hear the voice in my head saying, “You’ve come a long way baby.” And it has. This helps me overcome the doubt in the mechanical side of being a writer.
So what next? Because I am still feeling writer’s doubt over the story itself, I have decided I will finish line by line editing as planned whether I think the story is worthy of being read or not. Once I have a handle on the grammar and punctuation stuff, I will send it out to the beta readers. I will let them decide if it is worthy. I just have to suck those feelings of inadequacy up and get over them. I will make sure I pick a good spread of betas who will be able to cast an honest and critical eye over this novel and I will use their comments to finish rewriting and editing. Otherwise this novel will end up in a file and will never get the chance to see a shelf or the inside of a kindle.
Have you ever experienced writer’s doubt and if so how did you overcome it?
billie jo, i am going through that self same thing right now. i also am in the editing phase of my book. but mine isn’t simply a novel, it now sits at 240237 words, with a minimum of ten to twelve chapters yet to write. i am splitting it into three distinct sections. i am currently editing the first section, which will be published, tentatively around the first week of august, under the title THE IHMAYRAN CHRONICLES: CHILD OF SUN AND MOON.
am i scared it will flop? am i wondering if i am being a fool even thinking i can write? am i even more scared of proving all of those that have told me all of my life that i am worthless, that i will never amount to anything, that no one wants to hear a single word, much less read a book’s worth of them, that i might have to say?
you better bet your sweet aunt petunia’s bloomers i am! but like you, i refuse to give up. one way or the other, i am going to prune my poor little “plant”…brace it with the best editing i can, and then perhaps weep a few tears as i send it out into the world to fend for itself. our stories are our children, and just as you would not desert the “child of your body”, if you have one, simply because you begin doubting if you are raising it right, neither can we desert these “children of our hearts”. we just have to have faith in ourselves, and even more importantly, in them.
i wish you luck on your journey, sweet lady.
Thank you Marantha and good luck with your projects. You are a good writer so I am sure they will go far.
this line was supposed to end in the word “right”…am i wondering if i am being a fool even thinking i can write? am i even more scared of proving all of those that have told me all of my life that i am worthless, that i will never amount to anything, that no one wants to hear a single word, much less read a book’s worth of them, that i might have to say RIGHT?
I wrote a very short story about it
At dusk, the familiar figure in a bad wig appeared once again to flirt with my imagination. She is my muse, and just in time to interrupt my work on chapter two. She speaks in a voice soft and sultry.
“The five words for today’s flash fiction contest have just been texted to your mobile phone. Don’t you want to see what you can do with them?”
I sighed. The challenge was difficult to resist. And it certainly stimulated my imagination. But it seems like they were interrupting my novel too much. Six months and I’m still struggling through the second chapter. Yet I’ve managed to produce a flash fiction piece everyday. But no one buys those. I’m lucky to get them posted for free on obscure websites. It was time to demand answers.
Lying is not exactly a muse’s nature. It is more a matter of wrapping the truth up in layers of myth. But if you demand the truth, they have to give it to you.
“Why are these contests so important to you? Wouldn’t it be better for me to finish a significant work like my novel? As my muse I would think your efforts would be better spent helping me finish that.” She smiled at me sadly.
“Oh my poor writer. I am a muse, not your muse. Frankly your writing is crap and I’m doing my best to keep it from happening.”
That about sums up some of what I am feeling. Thanks for sharing!
For me, publishing has helped. Getting 1-star reviews on books I worked REALLY hard on has helped. Why? Because you realize that all your agonizing and feeling bad doesn’t make any difference at all. You put in the time and you do the work. You’re only going to write the book that YOU are able to write. And that’s a special, wonderful thing!
Not everyone’s going to think it’s worthy. But here’s the great part: it doesn’t matter!
Art doesn’t have to justify its existence!
You made something out of nothing. A novel. A story. The stuff of life.
I know people say to put it in a drawer to “get distance” but I think that’s B.S. You never get distance from your work, not really. You love it, you hate it, but it doesn’t matter. You can feel both of those emotions at once, and your feelings about the work don’t change the work.
Use your checklist and your rules for times when you can’t trust your emotions. Don’t put too much stock in the beta readers, and don’t change a single thing unless the majority feels you should.
Thank you for this. You are right on all accounts. The struggle comes from needing the brain to stop overriding the heart and telling the heart to listen more to the brain. When they find balance, I think I will be happier with this manuscript.
Ignore the demon’s Billie Jo. You are fabulous and it doesn’t matter if noone else likes it. Everyone starts somewhere and we all get better the more we write. Keep writing. I can’t wait to read your book – whatever you decide to do with it 🙂
Thanks Jody. I am not sure what point I will sit back and feel I can do this as any thing more than a hobby, perhaps never but I will always write. I am not sure if anyone will get to read my work though. 😉
Be happy that you’re critical of your own work.
I remember reading an article about a strange phenomenon. People who are not skilled in a certain activity, but who persist anyway, tend to have unnaturally high confidence and self-assurance, all the while not realizing that they stink. But the people who are genuinely talented tend to second-guess themselves and doubt their talent.
If you fall in the second category, I guess that means you’re good at what you do!
(I’ll have to find a link to that article.)
Aha! The Dunning-Kruger Effect.
Interesting points. I have seen this happen in the real world and can list several examples of it. I certainly think I will always doubt my own abilities though. Wonder how to cure this phenomenon?
“Have you ever experienced writer’s doubt and if so how did you overcome it?”
Yes, every time I start to edit. You ar enot alone.
Lucky for you (and for me as well) this nasty voice of doubt doesn’t start up until after the first draft is finished. I know some poeple who battle this meanie all through the process. So, if we only hear it during edits, I’d say we’re the fortunate ones.
I guess that is true. I wonder if getting published helps overcome this feeling.
Hopefully we’ll get a chance to find out. 🙂
I love these honest posts. Make me feel so much better about all my little writerly voices 🙂
Thanks for that. Sometimes I question my sanity. I go to the blogs to see if others are the same. I like when people admit to struggling too because the people that say everything in this writing world is smooth make me wonder what I am doing so wrong.
my creativity is a dry desert right now.
Im consumed by editing and putting things together…
I actually hit a very similar point while writing my book that I’ve just turned in to my editor with McFarland Publishing — I already had the book contract and everything when I suddenly was struck with writer’s doubt (as well as by a rude and discouraging note from someone who’s thoughts and works I respected) and stopped working on it completely for about a full six month period. Even though it was due that same year and even though I couldn’t ever bring myself to tell my editor I didn’t want to do it anymore, I just stopped working on it entirely. But then, almost as suddenly, I was struck with new found inspiration one day and was able to pound out every word, idea, scrap, and edit I needed to still get the book turned in on time — I think you’re making the right decision to at least keep editing it, but you should never say never even if you’re already saying ‘most likely’ because that surge of invigoration and confidence might be lurking right around the corner. And don’t forget — things will never be perfect. You will always realize something you would’ve changed or that you won’t find inspired tomorrow, but that shouldn’t keep you from putting your work out there — don’t let the fears of imperfection keep you from rolling onward.
I am still editing away. I keep questioning the tense, the point of view and every little plot twist and turn but I am hanging in there. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me. It helps to know others go through this too.
Oh that’s never fun, and OH SO COMMON! I’ve been doing this for about eight years now and still don’t know how it’s overcome, except by positive feedback. Seems the only cure to self-doubt is to know that no one else is ever as critical of your work as you will be. Well, maybe some people, but they suck!
🙂 Thanks for that!