I’ve been struggling with self-doubt recently. Mostly, I wonder if what I’m writing is any good. It’s a cyclical feeling, and I’m sure it’s natural. Not that it makes dealing with it any easier.
I suppose it stems from the on-going problem that I’ve yet to show anyone my work. Six months is a long time to work on something without another’s opinion. It would probably be more surprising if I’d gotten this far without doubting myself.
The easy, obvious thing to do would be to show somebody else my work. I’m not sure that would be the right thing to do, though. As tempting as it is, I also don’t want to. Not just yet. I’m about 3/4 of the way through what I want done, and I feel the pay-off would be much greater if I can convince myself to hang in there.
I can’t hold onto this view forever, of course—and I don’t think I will. After all, I’m eager for my work to be read. I just believe that the first twenty chapters and prologue is a decent chunk of the story, particularly because Everborne is multi-narrative. If I were to give out any less now then readers may struggle to get a proper sense of “what’s going on” in each narrative. Waiting until the remaining five chapters are finished will hopefully avoid this.
That’s likely the perfectionist in me, and I’m starting to realise it can be a double-edge d sword. When I think back on how I’ve been writing recently, I’ve noticed that I’ll tend to re-read the same paragraphs I’ll have just worked on, over and over. I’ll then tweak them, change them until I think they’re perfect—or as close as can be, in that moment of time. (I’m even doing it now, with the first three paragraphs. Bad Tom.)
Obviously, this way of writing can be slow. I’m getting too caught up in the detail. I’m too worried about if what I’m writing is good enough. It’s becoming counterproductive. It’s even possibly what’s brought about my doubt: I’m thinking to much.
I’m asking myself what the theme is, what my character is learning, what BIG question is being asked, what is the deeper meaning, what this metaphor means, and so on and so on. All of this is making me lose sight of the fundamental element: to tell a good story. As well as the want to do so. Those other things, as important as they are, should be secondary, should come out of the story as it progresses.
Reading often is a must for any writer; books are their batteries. Though sometimes when I compare myself—which is a danger in itself; everyone tells a story differently—I forget that what I’m holding in my hands wasn’t written and immediately published. No. It would have been drafted many times, and not just by the writer themselves. Not only that, but I’m not often holding an author’s first book—their talent has grown with the amount they’ve written.
I need to remember that what I’m currently writing isn’t the final draft. It’s very much work in progress, to be improved upon. I need to accept it won’t be perfect when I give it to readers, that I won’t be 100% happy with all of it. I don’t think I ever would be, either. I’m not that type of person.
Funnily enough, how I’ve been working recently is the complete opposite to how I was writing before Christmas, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Back then I was turning out words for the sake of it. Now, though, I’m being too careful, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. I need to find a medium between the two.
When I go back to work this week, I’m going to shake things up a little bit, in the hope it will help. After all, everything I do is through trial and error. I’m not going to allow myself to re-read, again and again, what I’ve just written. I’m going to stop myself from tweaking and changing, from perfecting. Instead, I need to trust myself and to keep on going—the time for detail should be in the editing. I’ll allow myself the following morning to re-read what I’ve done, but that’s it. No more. I will also write with the fundamental element in mind: to write the best story I can. The rest will follow.
I know doubt is part of the process. When I told Emily how I was feeling mid-week, she sent me this photo as a helpful reminder. It’s easy to forget that journeys aren’t always straight forward. What you often have in mind is the destination, not the route to get there. Sometimes you have detours and setbacks and changes in the course. You can get there, though. As long as you have the courage.
In the last fortnight I’ve been working on two chapters that I hoped were fingers-crossed-they’re-straight-forward-drafts. One of them was, one of them wasn’t. (Maybe I should’ve crossed the fingers on my other hand?)
Chapter 14 was a fairly smooth edit. Again, it was reassuring to go-over work and not find it was a complete, poorly written mess. Chapter 18 wasn’t exactly that, but it wasn’t straight-forward either.
I actually started with Chapter 18, but moved onto 14 after a few days to give myself some head space. What I was editing and re-writing in 18 wasn’t bad—some of it was good enough that I’m now struggling to throw away—but I knew it wasn’t right. Writing isn’t a black and white “good” and “bad”. (As I said above, what a reader sees on the printed page isn’t necessarily what was first written.) There can be a lot of “good but not right” grey as well.
I came to realise there was something wrong with the characters in Chapter 18, that they weren’t quite developed enough. A lot of a character’s development comes through the writing as their story progresses, but I should have thought about these characters more than I had—which is why I kept feeling like things weren’t quite fitting. One or two of the characters have hidden back stories, so I needed to think on how they would shape their present characters. If they’ve experienced X in the past, how would they react to Y in the present? I was also doing far too much telling for the sake of world-building. I needed to show it more, or not chuck it all in at once. Whether I felt with my head, heart or gut, the writing just didn’t feel right.
While switched to I worked on Chapter 14, I allowed my subconscious to think back over 18, to pick apart what was working well and what wasn’t and what I could do to solve it. I find it hard sometimes to look at a problem within a story and immediately know how to fix it. (It probably shouldn’t be that simple, either, otherwise everyone would be writing a book.) How I tackled this problem was by initially brainstorming some ideas, writing down the issues, asking myself questions, recording my thoughts and seeing where they could lead to.
Over the next few days I added to what I had and by the time I’d finished Chapter 14 I was ready to re-tackle 18. That’s where I’ll continue tomorrow—with my no-look-back approach, my fundamental element of a good story in mind, and the reminder that despite my doubts I very much love what I’m doing. I’m still unable to imagine myself doing anything different—and I don’t want to. My doubt probably fattened so readily because I was thinking about all of this ending.
Tom, you idiot. You’re at the beginning.
[This is an old photo—about two years—but as Friday marked the year since I lost my best friend then obviously my featured image this week was going to include Max.]