Currently listening to: Die Vampire, Die!, from [title of show]
We all know the feeling. That moment when you think “my writing sucks”. And it might suck, but that’s okay.
I’m having one of those days where all of the sudden, everything I write is terrible. Like, I write a paragraph, glance back at it, and think “What the hell is this crap?”. And it’s not just one particular piece: I’ve worked a little bit on four different WIPs today, and I’ve gotten the same feeling on every single one of them. I literally cannot write anything I’m satisfied with today. My fingers are itching to delete every unsatisfactory word.
But I can’t let myself do that. Why? Because I need to learn how to give myself permission to suck. I’m not the only writer who’s ever felt this way–I know that. Sort of like how I know that there are other writers who refuse to edit anything out of their first drafts; they just get the words down and don’t worry about whether the words are brilliant or mediocre or anything in between. All of that concern comes later, during revisions. It’s what often separates a first draft from a second draft (from a third draft, etc.). I’m a perfectionist, though, and I always edit as I go. I’ll reread a paragraph, a page, a chapter, or even the entire piece and edit as needed before moving on with the next bit of writing.
That’s an awful habit, and I need to break it. It’s the same habit that throws me into the swirling pool of self-doubt that I’ve been in all day. Is my writing genuinely awful today? Is it ever really “awful”? Probably not, but I can’t see anything good in it right now. All I can see is the stuff I think is terrible. Maybe the only problem is that I’ve made a poor word choice or two, and fixing that will clear up other issues in the passages. Maybe there are no issues at all, and I’m just getting weirdly paranoid about it.
So all day, I’ve been sitting around staring at my WIPs and thinking how terrible I am. And then I remembered something: I may have a lot of discarded manuscripts that I never want to see the light of day, but I have one piece that I have written and polished and I want the world to be able to read. I am damn proud of that manuscript. So what am I doing now? I’m going through and re-reading feedback I got from beta readers on that manuscript. I’m reading about everything they liked about the story, I’m reading about how upset they were when I killed off a character they loved, how they like my writing style…Basically, I’m giving myself a much-needed boost of encouragement.
What I’m writing today might suck. It might not suck, of course, but if it does, that’s okay. Because I know I can do better, and maybe I’ll take another look at what I’ve written in a week or a month, and I’ll see the problems and fix them. Just because I feel like everything is crap today doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes, it’s more important to get some words out, in the hopes that they don’t all suck, than to sit around fretting about how the words aren’t up-to-par. I’ve written better, and I’ll write better in the future. I also need to remember that I can’t compare my current WIPs to the completed manuscript I’m looking to publish. That manuscript has been polished and polished and polished; it’s unfair to myself to put it side-by-side with anything that’s still in-progress.
So today’s lesson: Don’t obsess over every word in a rough draft, and don’t try to compare it to completed works. Just remember that you are a skilled writer, and you can fix things later. We’re all constantly growing in our craft; we can’t expect everything to be perfection from the beginning.
P.S: Click the link and listen to the song. It’s from a really fun musical, and also really appropriate. Talks about all the things that can sap a person of their confidence in their art, and also basically tells all those things to screw off.