Doubt is a fact of life for everyone, not just writers, but for anyone involved in creative pursuits, doubt often feels more like a constant presence than an occasional thing. Most of us refer to this pestering voice as our inner editor. It nags us, tells us we’re not good enough and sometimes, keeps us from working at all.
But you can get past it. Here are some tips:
1. Take a hard look at your expectations.
If you expect to write a perfect scene the first time, you don’t understand how writing works. No one gets a scene 100% correct on the first go round. Instead of worrying about how bad it is, focus on getting the bones down while you remember that nothing is set in stone. Not only that, but it will be changed. That ugly scene will become beautiful after layering, polishing, revisions and edits.
On average, each of my books has been gone through six times before they reach my readers. Six times. This is why I don’t worry about what a scene looks like on the first pass. It’s almost just a placeholder for the awesome scene that will eventually take its place.
You may also be thinking that you’re never going to do justice to the grand idea you’ve had. That can be very debilitating. The same advice applies. Get the bones down and pretty it up later.
Often, the true essence of a scene doesn’t manifest until it’s sketched out. It’s like we need to make room in our brains for the rest of it to take shape.
Have the courage to write ugly.
2. Take a hard look at your goals.
If you’ve decided you should be writing 2000 words a day when all you’ve ever done so far is 500 a day, it’s no wonder you feel bad about yourself.
The same goes for setting unreachable deadlines. Stop doing that to yourself.
Who cares if author A writes 5000 words a day? All that matters is what you can do. I’m not saying don’t push yourself, but be realistic. And stop measuring yourself against others. Their journey is not your journey.
And on that note, speed does not always equal quality. It’s far better to put out two great books a year than four mediocre ones.
Time is not your enemy, even if it sometimes feels that way.
3. Isolate the negativity.
What specifically are you worried about? That your characters are weak? That your plot is full of holes? That your worldbuilding is thin? Figure out what areas of craft give you the most trouble. Then…
If you’re published, go read through your five star reviews. Generally, I think reviews should never be read, but in this case, they can work for you. Look through those reviews and pick out the comments pertaining to the areas you worry about the most. Copy the sections that contradict that negative voice in your head and paste them all into a document you can print out and keep handy. Refer to it next time the voice tries to get you down.
Not published? Then shut the voice up by taking a class in the areas you feel deficient in. Learn how to create stronger characters, juicier plots and bigger worldbuilding. Those classes will give you the ammunition necessary to defeat that inner editor and you’ll be pushing yourself to become a better writer.
4. Learn to listen to the voice. Sometimes.
There are times when I get a feeling about a scene that something is off. It’s a different kind of voice than the nagging editor and it’s take years to fully understand the difference. It’s an instinct that develops with time and experience and I wish there was some magic pill you could take it make it kick in, but you can’t.
What you can do is talk to other author friends about how they know when a scene has gone wrong. You can also develop that instinct by taking a hard look at a scene that feels off and asking yourself some tough questions. Things like does the scene move the action forward? What’s the goal of the scene and is it accomplished? If I took the scene out of the book, would anything change?
Over time, you’ll start to hear a more helpful voice than the hindering one. Promise.
5. Stop worrying about “the rules”.
If you write something, then immediate wonder if it “can be done” in the genre you’ve chosen, your work is going to suffer. Sure, there are things that are generally acceptable or not in different genres (like the expectation of a Happily Ever After in romance), but ultimately your only concern while writing should be to entertain the reader.
And to entertain yourself. (This is why it’s so important to write what you love.) If you’re entertained, there’s a good chance the reader will be too. Focus on that and not the constricts of the genre. If you really veer off course, it can all be fixed later.
6. Stop beating yourself up!
This is a hard business. There are plenty of other people out there willing to take on the job of making you feel bad. Please don’t do it to yourself. Think about all the people who talk about writing a book – you’re actually doing it! Give yourself some credit!
I know it’s easier said than done, but give yourself a break. Especially if you’re on your fist book and you think it’s crap. It probably is. 99.998% of first books are. Who cares? It’s a learning experience. And your next one will be better.
Have you successfully dealt with your inner editor? What worked for you? Share in the comments! Or ask questions. Or post cat pics. Whatever.