You Think Your Writing Sucks? That’s Okay; I Know the Feeling

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.


Winding Down from #PitchWars (Or, “What to do While We Wait”)

Currently listening to: Counting Stars, by OneRebuplic

If you’re like me, you submitted your entry to #PItchWars a few days ago, and you’re anxiously waiting for the mentors to make (and reveal) their mentee picks.

Also if you’re like me, you’ve been looking for ways to distract yourself. Because seriously, this is some stressful business. Why did we even enter to begin with? Well, because we’re writers and we have a manuscript we want the world to see, and we’re eager to take whatever opportunities we can to try to make that happen. But leading up to the submission deadline, and in the days following it, it’s been a huge bundle of stress. Waiting sucks. Waiting for responses on query letters to agents, waiting for the Pitch Wars mentor picks, waiting, waiting waiting.

I have never been a patient person. Lacking that particular virtue means that anything involving my manuscript is basically hell, and that hell is just wearing a different pair of high heels depending on exactly what I’m waiting on. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of ways to distract myself when I have to wait for things. Might help a few fellow stressed-out potential-mentees.

  1. Write more. Seriously, I always have between 2 and 6 works-in-progress. This is because I get a lot of ideas at random and don’t like to let go of them, and because I have a nasty tendency toward writer’s block. When I get blocked on one project, I need to have another project I can jump over to. I’ve never had a day go by when I can’t think of anything to write at all, even though I’ve had entire weeks go by when I couldn’t figure out what to do for a single, specific project. Writing anything at all helps keep me sane during the waiting. Right at this moment, I have four WIPs open on my laptop. Two are related to the MS I entered to Pitch Wars, playing around more in the world I created for that story, and the other two are connected WIPs–a story and its sequel. I’ve written quite a bit on all of them, today. Lots of inspiration flowing, and I think it’s because my current options are either that, or go completely mad wondering about Pitch Wars.
  2. Listen to music. I’m one of those people who basically subsists off music. I can’t even get my makeup on in the mornings without slipping my headphones in at some point, let alone get to work. I mean, I can, but God help anyone who interacts with me before I’ve listened to some music. I’m basically a zombie, but angrier. Music also doubles as a wonderful distraction. Any time I don’t want to think about something, in go the headphones.
  3. Find a new series to marathon on Netflix. Or rewatch one. I’ve made it through Lost Girl, and Sherlock again so far.
  4. Stalk the #PitchWars feed on Twitter. Or, alternately, stalk the mentor feed. But do this sparingly, because it will seriously drive you batty. Every time one of your mentor picks says something about an entry, you’ll wonder if it’s yours. Or you’ll know it’s not yours, and wonder if they read yours, if they liked it, if they hated it…And God help you if you see one of your mentors talking about having found “the one”, or having their picks narrowed down. You’ll either get ridiculously hopeful, daring to dream that it’s you, or you’ll spiral into disappointment, fearing that it’s not.
  5. Read. Go find a new book or an old favorite and dive in. Don’t think about any of your writing, and just enjoy someone else’s display of skill for a while.
  6. Watch a movie (like a movie based on a book!)

Good luck to all my fellow Pitch Wars contestants! We still have about a week and a half to wait for the official mentee announcements, I believe, so try not to go too crazy!


Down the Rabbit Hole and Into a Writer’s Mind

Currently listening to: Her Name is Alice, by Shinedown

Writers are weird. Think about it. By and large, we’re caffeine-fueled lunatics writing down the stories that characters in our head are telling us. Some of us stay up until 5am because we’re struck by an idea that is just too good to wait until morning. Some of us work on our latest manuscripts while we’re supposed to be writing a research paper or conjugating verbs in foreign languages or socializing at a family function. Some of us participate in things like National Novel Writing Month, and write for thirty days straight on a mad mission to hit at least 50k words. Bonus points if you re-read what you’ve written on December 1 and the words have formed coherent sentences with things like plot points and punctuation.

I belong to a few of those groups. Especially the “caffeine-fueled”, “up until 5am”, and “writing while supposed to be doing something else” groups. I would put myself in the NaNoWriMo group as well, but even though I’ve participated about 3 times, I’ve only “won” once. I don’t count Camp projects because I almost never make my goal as large as 50k words for that. But anyway, every now and then it strikes me just how strange writers are. I talk about my writing habits with people who would probably sooner scoop their own eyes out with a melon baller than spend their time writing a novel, and they look at me like I’ve got six extra heads.

But then I take to Twitter, or to the NaNoWriMo facebook page…and almost everyone gets it. Talk about how you accidentally stayed up until 6am writing a few new chapters? At least a few people will raise their hand and assure you that they’ve been there. Some of them were right there with you this morning, in fact. And even the ones who manage to accomplish miraculous feats like steady sleep schedules and not mainlining caffeine (actually…the caffeine usage might be directly related to just how late/early some of us stay up…) at least get the idea. They know what it’s like to have something you just have to write down, and they know why you can’t keep yourself from editing your MS for the fifteenth time or why you agonize over whether or not you really want to brutally murder that character.

Writers are weird. And I love it.