Writers’ doubt and how to live with it

Doubt is normal. All writers have it, get it, live with it. Published, unpublished, still thinking about doing it and/or starting it one day.

But when it strikes, and I’m not talking about the little itty bitty strikes of ‘oh, perhaps if I change this one word, oh, yes that’s it, it’s perfect’, I’m talking about the ‘doubt doldrums’ (see Andrea’s post on this) and all the chaos and messing with your head that that involves. How do you move on and out of the doubt and the low level rumblings shaking you to the very core of your belief in yourself and your ability as a writer.

I suppose it’s the start of writers block, or the cause of writers block and I want to know if I can nip it in the bud. I’ve been dragging my feet (fingers on keyboard) for the last two weeks and all I’ve got is one poem to show for it. And the all pervasive feeling running inside my mind that I’m not good enough, what am I doing, I’m wasting time, this writing is rubbish, what am I thinking, how on earth could I think I could be a writer…it’s been running on and on and on…

But this time, I’m on to my repeating pattern and I want to stop it.
How do I recognise the pattern and nip it in the bud?
How long does it go on before I can activate some strategy to stop the doubt and get my brain back and focused on the problem at hand – writing the damn novel?

So strategy, what can be done as soon I know I’m going down the slippery slope, faster and faster, sliding down into doubt and how do I bring myself back to writing again, that carefree satisfaction that comes from enjoying the freedom of writing a shitty first draft.

1. Recognise the problem

2. Write about anything else but what you’re working on
Write about the problem. I wrote a poem. Even opening up your notebook and writing the date can be the starting point. Free write. Go to a café and write. Go to a beach and soak in the salt air and write. Write in any other place to your normal writing spot – I moved out of my office onto the kitchen table to complete the major second draft of my novel last year.

3. Get away
Do the housework, do the gardening, clean the gutters, spring clean (it’s that time of year when the light makes every bit of dust look twenty times bigger than it was in winter), walk, go for a drive.
Bigger budget – think bigger! Smaller budget, walk. Just walk. The rhythm of your feet on the ground works both sides of your brain – left and right.

4. Take a break
No, not a couple of hours. A real break, a holiday from writing. A free from ‘any writing pressure’ slot in time, marked in the diary, just for you to get a real, complete break from writing. All jobs give you holidays – writing should be no different. Know when you’re coming back.

5. Accept that writing is for the long haul
Disillusion can set in when we are in the middle of a project. Recognise that novel writing takes time, has its ups and downs, fluctuations, bursts, day dreaming times and it will get done. We are creating even when there are no words on the page. These moments, days of doubt are normal, meander through them and rest in them. Find the courage to see these days for what they are.

6. Come back to the page
Write the date. Write some rubbish, stuff you’ll never use for anything else.
Try the 33 minute productivity technique.

7. Read about doubt to understand it.

Dorothea Brande in her book, Becoming A Writer, says in the section entitled ‘The Slough of Despond’,
‘But then comes the dawning comprehension of all that a writer’s life implies: not easy day dreaming, but hard work at turning the dream into reality without sacrificing all its glamour…wonders how (s)he ever dared to think (s)he had a word worth saying…Every writer goes through this period of despair. Without doubt many promising writers, and most of those who were never meant to write, turn back at this point and find a lifework less exacting.’

I started this post to think of ways of managing moments, who are we kidding, periods of doubt and I’m ending it by saying, we need to recognise doubt as a normal part of being a writer. But in order to be writers, keep writing, we need to find our own way to move forward through moments of doubt and disillusion, to step out onto the other side.

 

 

Finishing and the writing diet

Stephen King was right. I was re-reading his book ‘On writing’ and he talked about getting the first draft of a novel done as quickly as possible and in one go because the longer it took, there would be loss of momentum, loss of attachment with your characters and their plight and everything would become a bit of a struggle.

So I should have done that for this first draft and kept going after Nanowrimo last year. But I didn’t. I took a ‘break’, a long one, and I’m dawdling and other things keep fighting for my attention and the novel is not moving on despite my knowing exactly what happens next.

So I have to keep going, make time, and just do it.

Or I have to figure out if it is the next scene or chapter that is the problem and figure out if I need to revise my idea of what happens next.

I did my first draft for my first novel in about six weeks. My second novel took about 2.5 months. And, I think, it’s pure cockiness on my part that I haven’t finished the first draft of this third novel. (Hey, look at me, I finished one novel, this one will slip right out, easy peasy. Wrong.)

Right. Time for bum on seat and get on with it. Plan out a writing plan for the next week, times I can give myself for writing and force through the next few words, sentences, paragraphs and pages until I push through the block holding this novel from progressing.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong (to me) with the story of the third novel – I love the ideas I’ve come up with for this novel but I seem to have slowed my momentum down too much and need a mental push to get to the next chapter and so on, until the first draft is complete.

Here goes. Find my writing time. Commit and begin again.

This is just like being on a diet – the writing diet! Fall off the wagon, pick myself up, and start again.

Time to write, Time to blog

I haven’t written a blog post in many months. I did however complete one novel and begin another.

So the question I’m asking is if authors of years gone by didn’t spend their time on social media, why was that such a bad thing?

I already know the answer to my own question. The market for publication was very different to the current one. But I still wonder why writers today need to make sure that they spend time on all the many social media platforms before they have even published one iota of work.

Again, I know the answer to that question. Writers need to create a profile online so that they are known before they are famous.

But surely, in order to be a writer, you need to produce the work first, a good finished draft to showcase yourself. Wouldn’t that be better than tweeting about it?

Anyway, I’m digging a hole for myself here because I know the answer to all of this.

– Time management

Today’s author has to be a writer and a business person, has to have a publisher’s hat on as well, also marketing and be their own agent, selling their work constantly through the current media du jour – the internet.

Perhaps the gap in my blog posting is just pure procrastination. (Now technically, I am producing the goods, writing wise, and that was the main reason for starting this blog, to support other writers stuck in limbo with their writing.)

Anyway, I’m back and rearing to go. So what have you been up to these last few months?

The positives of procrastination

The byline of this blog is simple ‘Writing and the art of procrastination’ and yet I’m loath to admit that I get more productive after I’ve procrastinated a bit. After all, we’re supposed to be productive all the time, you know, bang out the 5000 plus words of our target before lunch. Every day. Simples. Not.

This blog post from Positive Writer says it all brilliantly about embracing procrastination, labelling procrastination as taking a break or slowing down but without the guilt trip because a break refreshs you for the next writing session, slowing down reduces stress, gives your mind time to mull over the next scene, action, word.

Here it is: Creative Flow: 8 Reasons Why Procrastinating is Better than Working

 

Getting over the initial fear

Getting over the initial fear of putting pen to paper, placing my fingers onto the keyboard, opening up the last draft, checking my notes, starting the corrections, adjustments, editing my work, working on the millionth (it feels like it) revision of a chapter or a scene, some days feels like the hardest thing in the world.

Knowing that the chapters and scenes that I’ve looked at and edited will work better, read better after their revisions and convincing myself to keep going because this next chapter, this next scene, after I put in the changes I’ve identified that it needs, will be better. It will sing, exactly right, exactly the way I want it to. I’m getting there.

So, today, I feel the fear, the worry inside that tells me ‘what if you are wasting your time, what if this novel is crap?’ and I try my best to ignore it, that malicious little voice, and I shout back ‘But I’ve seen it, I’ve seen the precious fragments in my writing that tell me I’m mastering this craft, I’m doing this, I can do this’.

And then I tell myself.

‘Do not be afraid. Write. You deserve to have your voice heard and your words deserve to be read.’

P.S. I feel like I’ve been editing forever…thank goodness I sorted out all the plots and subplots, this should work better now. All I have to do is keep going, with a little faith…No, with a lot of faith.

Struggling to revise

Revision is tough. I’ve done very little over the last week, couldn’t write at all for four days. Felt bad. Tried to be positive. Did not work.

I’d decided to aim for a target of 10,500 words to be revised every week and I’m not making that target. My aim was to complete the second draft in eight weeks but it’s not working out and I’m feeling a bit, more than a bit, de-motivated this weekend. I’m supposed to be at 31,000 by now and have only 25,000 worked on.

It’s a catch between – do I need a break or is the section I’m working on boring me senseless?

I decided that the idea was still sound and I needed a break. So I got four days and three walks in. Did loads of reading, a painting and free-writing. And telly and cooking and housework and general sorting out of things that should have been done if I wasn’t writing.

What did I get done since my break? Well, six pages of notes later and I suppose I did get two chapters written more the way I wanted them to be, new scenes added to reinforce one of the sub-plots and loads deleted and re-written. Revision is so gut-wrenchingly ruthless; cutting good writing because it doesn’t do its job. But when a chapter is revised and pulls the plot along properly, it really sings!

I’m not making my target but at least the chapters feel better written. I’ll tackle the next one tomorrow. Make a dent in it. Literally.

Waiting for inspiration

If you’re waiting for inspiration to happen so that you can start writing, well, you could be waiting for a while.

For instance, I get inspired in situations when I’m relaxed, comfortable, happy, content like when I’ve just laid my head down to sleep and I’m enjoying the fact that my head is on the pillow, I’m all snuggled up with my hot water bottle and my dreams will be coming soon…

Then WHAM, inspiration hits and all these scenes run through my mind and I curse and have to switch on the light and pick up a pen and use the notebook (I always have a notebook next to the bed) and I have to make quick notes, scribble down the dialogue between characters (why do they always know what they want to say when I’m falling asleep?)

Obviously I don’t want to write my novel from my bed. In an ideal world, maybe, but in reality I need to re-create this moment so that I can write at other times of the day.

So how do you get inspired?

You have to create situations that you can be inspired in.

So how do you re-create these moments?

Re-create a moment in which you are relaxed and ready to write.

For me, I know that I write best when I know I have a couple of days ahead of me dedicated to writing, minimum interruptions e.g. I just have to feed and water myself at least (yes, includes taking showers and performing the daily ablutions)

I need:

A comfortable chair

The room is warmish

I feel cosy – sometimes I wrap a fleece around my tummy and legs (womb-like for when the house is cold around 10 to 14degC)

Time to myself with no interruptions i.e. I’m relaxed and not under pressure.

Laptop or notebook all ready to go.

When I have all this, I check my notes. Imagine the scene. See my characters there, doing things and I start to write it down or type away.

Most of the time though, I use the notes I made last night before I fell asleep.

P.S. I also use the ‘it’s just half an hour’ technique to make me sit down and write. But basically it works by putting bum in seat in front of laptop, opening up the novel document, referring to my notes, and writing.