I’m in another, perhaps deeper, self-doubt slump. Or, rather, had been (he says)—I’ve since kicked myself back into gear. I did say it was a cyclical feeling.
I’m ashamed to admit the first thoughts of quitting bloomed the other day. I even (very briefly) looked online for jobs, panicked as I was by the belief that everything I’ve so far written was on par with the sour smell of fresh cow cack. This only created more panic when I didn’t find something suitable, or saw jobs had 100+ applicants already. I then shut my laptop and tried to forget about it. (Did I hear someone say typical man?)
More than anything, I’m disappointed I let my belief drop.
It hasn’t helped I’ve had a migraine since Monday. I woke in the early hours with an intense pain which kept me up for some time—it felt like a wedge of wood had been squeezed in behind my eyes, its edges stabbing splinters outward. It’s gotten better since, but the pain has been there all week, wax and waning in severity. I’ve not been able to write for more than five hours a day this week.
Wednesday was when the doubt set in—only two days, but it felt longer (and more intense than the migraine)—when I was reworking Chapter 10. A particularly hard chapter, at that. By mid-afternoon I got sucked into a vicious circle of wanting to write, trying to write/actually writing, not getting the chapter to where I wanted it to be, believing I was a stone cold failure. I ended that day on a low, which repeated again yesterday. That’s why I decided to take today off, with the intention of resting over the long weekend and starting again on Monday.
Cassie allowed me to sleep in half-an-hour later than usual, and I went to bed early so I’ve had a whopping nine-and-a-half hours sleep. At the moment the migraine is a dull background pain so I’m feeling OK to write—the absolute gallons of water I’m downing seem to have made no difference, but I’ll keep [pauses to drink] downing them anyway. (Boy, I cannot wait to drink coffee again: five days caffeine-free and counting!) Fortunately, our morning walk enabled me to have a good think about my writing woes.
I’m not sure what brought the doubt on this time. It may have been frustration from not being able to write at the best of my ability due to the migraine, or from going over a chapter and not finding it as strong as I’d remembered (whilst also forgetting how much of a challenge it originally was), or comparing my writing to the book I’d started that morning: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I’d chosen that book expressly because the author had been around twenty-seven when his debut was published.
It’s always a mistake to compare yourselves to others. 1) What you’re reading is the final, infinitely-edited draft, not the first 2) You shouldn’t want to be like someone else, you should want to be yourself 3) People tell stories in different ways, there’s not a right and wrong way.
I’m fortunate that I have the constant support of Emily and my mum to talk things over with, and it was as I was walking this morning that I thought about what they’d said. One question Emily asked me in particular kept looping around my uneasy mind: What are you going to do?
I ended up becoming quite fired-up, wanting to get back into writing as soon as I was home. However, as this is what I’d done the last couple of days I thought it’d be best to stick to my long weekend, to allow those same flames to grow and spread over it, so by Monday I’d feel even more confident.
As I’ve said, I was already disappointed I’d let my belief drop—to the point I let panic override me and search for jobs on the internet. What would that even achieve? What I’m doing now is my dream. There’s no job out there I’d rather have.
Writing and trying to publish a book was never going to be easy. This period of doubt is one of many hurdles to come. I don’t like to give up, especially not easily. If I did, then I’d be disappointed in myself—now and for years to come. You should do something for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Giving up now would be wrong. Especially when no one else has read my work.
So I’ve decided that I’m not going to write any more chapters before I send off my first draft to my readers. In my last post I explained why I was against this, with my main concern being my readers might struggle to get a proper sense of “what’s going on” in each narrative. After re-reading one narrative in particular I’ve come to realise this is not that case, and that sixteen chapters is more than enough for my readers to be getting on with, especially when they come to 69,000 words—that’s probably too much to begin with…
I am going to keep going, at least for the meantime. It’s only been seven months, I can’t give up yet, especially not before I’ve heard what others have to say about my work. I’m going to do my best to get my first draft out to my readers as quickly as possible—within the next month. Remembering it is that—a first draft, which is far from perfect and where I want it to be—helps quite a bit, and it’s made me feel less protective, less sensitive about what I’ve written.
I could keep on editing and re-writing with no real end in sight but all I’m going to do now is make sure each chapter is complete. Once I’ve sent them off, I’ll continue writing the next chapters, remembering to write for the love of it and to not worry about all those things I was worrying about a fortnight ago.
It’s only until I mention this that I realise I’ve yet to mention the previous week—all I’ve really been talking about is the past two days. That’s kinda the perfect metaphor of doubt, really: how you can become so tunnel visioned. It helps to think things through to see beyond the doubt, but I guess sometimes you need to ride those feelings to be able to flush them out.
So, the previous week: it ended up taking me a single day to complete the chapter I’d been previously struggling with. I wrote 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. (Ha, how did I forget that last one after a week?) I was surprised Chapter 18 only took me a day, though I don’t think I rushed it. The fact I’d been struggling with it for a few days probably meant I could approach it with a decisive mind.
I then went back to the beginning of Chapter 1 and re-wrote it—I’ve not been happy with it for some time. No doubt it’ll change again, but at least I’m now happy for others to read it. Afterwards, I had intended to write Chapter 13, but as it’d been over a month since I’d visited those characters I thought it’d be best to go over the previous chapters in the narrative and then write it.
After Chapter 10, I only have five more chapters to look at. A couple of these should take no more than a day each, whereas one or two may take a bit longer. I’ll do as much as I can next week, before I go away to Prague. Once I’m back, I’ll finish what’s left and get the first draft out there to my readers. Finally.