Recently a friend sent me a panicked text message about her work-in-progress. She said something like, “Do you ever think your manuscript is just awful, and wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea in the first place? What if I’m just a girl with an idea, and not a real writer?”
Inevitably, sometime during the writing process, I experience crippling self-doubt about the particular project I’m working on, and my skills as a writer in general. Every writer I know does as well. So, when my friend sent me that message, here’s the advice I gave her…
You are not alone.
It really does help to know fellow writers feel this way. Writing is a solitary endeavor. We spend a lot of time alone in our own minds, and because of this, we can easily lose perspective and feel isolated. Joining a community of artists and writers helps counter the negative thoughts. Whether you hop on line and reach out to your social media pals, or meet regularly with a healthy critique group, don’t go it alone. Here are some tips on participating in writing groups: What You Need to Know About Writing Groups.
Finish the project anyway.
Certainly, there are projects that need to be set aside. Maybe the story truly has fallen flat, or there simply isn’t enough there for a full-length novel. But, usually when we feel this way, we’re just stuck somewhere in the sticky middle. Here are some practical tips on how to work your way out of a writing hole: Write the Sag Out of Your Middle.
There are many compelling reasons to finish a project, even if no one ever looks at this particular manuscript besides you. The most important lesson is that you will know you can! Here are more thoughts on why you should finish what you start: Just Finish It!
Edits are your friend.
The first draft is never perfect. It isn’t intended to be. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Terry Pratchett. He said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” I love thinking about my manuscripts in this way. This perspective allows me the freedom to pour the story out of my head without getting hung up on things I can fix later like pacing, fine tuning character arcs, or reworking plot issues.
When you recognize that editing is an integral part of the writing process, you can alleviate some stress while writing a first draft. There will be time later to fine tune your manuscript, to let others take a look and provide feedback, to revise and refine the story.
Refer to your roadmap.
I am a proponent of outlining. I don’t mean an in-depth, chapter by chapter outline, but if that’s your jam, no judgement here. Rather, I prefer to think of my notes as a scaffolding, on top of which I can add layers of detail. I find that if I know where I’m starting out, who my major players are, the central conflict, and if I have a pretty good sense of the ending, when I feel lost, I can refer back to the outline and get back on track.
I think of an outline as sort of a roadmap that helps direct my plot action. All the cool adventures still happen along the way, and it’s my prerogative to change the route if I find one that’s more exciting, but the path is there to guide me. Here’s more on why I think outlining is a good idea for writers: The Case for Plotters.
Once upon a time, every writer was just someone with an idea. What separates writers from dreamers is our willingness to do the work, stay the course, and learn as we go along.