Those Moments of Writerly Doubt

Chuck Wendig had a post this week about those moments when you’re writing that you suddenly decide your book is awful.  It happens to all of us.  (At least, that’s what I tell myself.)

With the first novel, it was the first draft.  I picked it up after six weeks of not looking at it and thought, “Seriously, I wasted how many hours of my life writing this drivel?”  I dropped about thirty thousand words, added fifty thousand, and got it to something I actually liked.

(Now I look at it and see all sorts of new flaws that I didn’t see at the time…Sigh.  Some day I may go back and fix it.  Or I’ll pull a Jim C. Hines and publish it with colorful commentary.  One of the two.)

With the most recent novel (number three for anyone counting), I actually really liked the first draft when I re-read it.  It was the second draft that had me wondering what the hell I was thinking.  The issues this time weren’t as obvious to me.  It wasn’t a “wow, I really can’t write worth shit” but more of a “Hm.  I wonder if anyone will have any interest in reading this?”

Now I’m back to liking it.  (Except for the whole non-traditional setting and characters and wondering if I did that well or not or if someone somewhere is going to hate me for trying to write about places and people I’ve never been…)

Ah, the joys of the writing life.

What’s funny is that I don’t think readers are near as judgmental of writers as we are of ourselves.

Or of each other.

Most of the readers I know that have really strong opinions about books are writers or writing industry participants of some sort.

Cliched plots?  My mother doesn’t seem to care.  At last count she had close to 50 YA vampire books on her shelves.  Same story over and over again?  It took her about ten years to stop reading plains-woman-falls-in-love-with-Native-American-man books.

When I was twelve or thirteen I read every single Arthurian legend book I could find.  I sought them out because they were Arthurian books.  But have a writer tell another writer they want to do an Arthurian adaptation and the writer will say, “Really?  That’s so unoriginal…”

It’s why I think sometimes listening too much to your fellow writers can be deadly.  (Not that I don’t love all y’all that are writers, but…)

I have my books beta’ed by both readers who have no interest in writing and a few writers.  And the difference in what I get back from the two is like night and day.

The readers take the book as set in stone.  It either works for them or doesn’t.  On the most recent novel the comments back on the first section of the book were I liked it and it made me want to keep reading.

Good enough.  That means if I can get the title, cover, and blurb tight enough for someone to pick up the book then they’ll read it and enjoy it.

Writer-betas on the other hand never quite turn off the writerly brain.  So it’s “Well, I’m not sure you have enough obviously fantastical elements in the first ten pages to qualify as a fantasy” or “I think the book should start with more X or less Y or you should write a romance instead of a fantasy or…”

It’s good sometimes to step back and set aside all the writing rules and genre rules and everything else and ask yourself one question: Does what I’ve written entertain?

Will people read this and enjoy it?

If the answer is yes, then pat yourself on the back and silence the inner critic and the outer critics and keep doing what you’re doing.

It’s way too easy to bog down in negativity as a writer.  Don’t do it.  And don’t let others do it to you.  (That includes the silent little voice in your head that thinks it knows what others are going to say…)

So, breathe.  (This is as much directed at me as you, by the way.  I just hit publish on a “book” under another name and immediately started questioning myself.  As I do each time I hit publish.  Ridiculous.)

Anyway.  Time to get back to writing.  Just remember that however bad you think your writing is, it’s probably only half that bad.  (And if you think you’re writing is golden, well it’s probably half as good as you think it is.)  C’est la vie.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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