Ugh, I suck.
Why can't I get this sentence right?
No one is going to like this plot.
I'm a terrible writer.
I should just give up.
Does this sound familiar? It does to me. This was the mantra I had in my head for years as I attempted to write a novel, grew frustrated that it wasn't perfect, and then gave up. I'd start it again, thinking this time it would be different and better. But I always ended up in the same place. Stuck in the middle of some novel that I never managed to finish.
And then I just stopped writing....
I gave up something I loved, because I was afraid that I sucked.
Then one day I decided to try writing one more time. I started writing, only I did something profoundly different.
I told myself that I sucked.
AND THAT WAS OKAY!
Once I accepted my own suck-age, these five wonderful things happened:
#5: I FINISHED THAT DAMN FIRST DRAFT.
When you let go of perfection, it's amazing how freeing it is. When I began writing the book I'm about to start querying, I set only one expectation for myself: FINISH.
It doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't even have to be right. It just has to be done.
With this new mindset, I just wrote. Thanks to a surgery that took me from working 2000 hours a week to sitting in bed doing nothing, I had plenty of time on my hands. So I wrote...and wrote...and wrote...
When I knew I didn't have it exactly right, it didn't matter, I just kept writing.
When I struggled with a piece of dialogue or a description, I didn't overthink it or get bogged down. I just wrote it as best as I could. I'd have time to fix it later.
Two weeks later, I was holding a first draft of my novel in my hands.
I'm not promising it will help you write in two weeks--I literally had nothing else to do. But if the voice of perfection is what is keeping you from writing the first draft, please take my advice. Let go of perfection. Tell yourself that it's okay to suck.
I have used this technique in my new work in progress. Good Lord, I have so many notes about scenes that will have to be redone. But I'm not going back to fix it. Not now.
Right now, I am just gathering up the sand.
Then the glorious sandcastle can be made.
#4: WRITING BECAME FUN AGAIN.
Feeling anxious because you can't get this exact scene right isn't fun. Not in the least. But letting go of perfectionism in that first draft let me enjoy writing so much more. I wrote fearlessly. I had a blast. And I believe that it shows.
There were parts in my rough draft that had to be chopped off mercilessly. But because I was writing bravely, there are moments that are hilarious and lines that I adore. Things that I didn't expect, but are now a gorgeous part of my book. I don't think I would have come up with them if I hadn't been able to let go of my anxiety and just write.
#3: I totally crushed WRITER'S BLOCK.
Margaret Atwood is perfection. Every word she writes is like the breath of a goddess. Anyone who thinks differently can fight me. So when I found this quote that she wrote, it astonished me. Doesn't writing just come easily for her? No, not even for Margaret freakin' Atwood. It definitely won't come easily for us, and so often, that traps us.
I truly believe that at the core of a lot of writer's block is perfectionism...or let's call it as it is: FEAR.
This is certainly what gives me writer's block. I got stuck not because I didn't know what I wanted to say. I got stuck because I was afraid I wouldn't say it well enough. That is a trap I couldn't climb out of. I know a lot of really good author's that this is what stops them. They spend days on a single passage because they overthink how exactly to get it right, instead of just writing it down.
Sylvia Plath says that "the worse enemy to creativity is self-doubt". And boy, she's right.
Now that I've accepted that I'm allowed to suck I've gained power. Now, when self-doubt threatens to cripple me, I tell it to"Shut the #@$& up, thank you very much!"
And I keep writing.
#2: I FELL IN LOVE WITH A VISION, NOT A PRODUCT.
Because I'd made it a rule that I was allowed to suck, I learned how to be in love with a vision and not a product. Which meant, it was okay if I got it wrong. At first, criticism made me bleed, it hurt so bad. Why? Because my brain went on a vicious cycle that looked like this:
There's something wrong with my book -> my book is terrible -> therefore I must be a terrible writer -> I should give up.
It took me a while to learn to get off this crazy cycle (and let's be honest, sometimes I still have to remind myself) I force my brain to stop after: There is something wrong with my book. If I'm in love with the vision of it - i.e. what I want my book to be - the only thing that criticism should mean is that I haven't reached that vision yet. It allows me to maintain my confidence and instead reflect on what needs to be changed to get there.
It also allows me to get over myself and listen to the criticism I've been given. Too often, people take rejection as 'the other person's problem'. And though I know that a book won't appeal to everyone, there is truth in every bit of criticism. What stops us from listening is our pride and the fear of accepting that we aren't perfect. This certainly happened to me.
When I got feedback that the theme my beat readers were getting from my book didn't match what I wanted, I wanted to argue that they were wrong. When I got repeated feedback that my main character wasn't like-able, I didn't want to change her. I liked her. When I kept getting the advice that my novel should be shorter, I really, really didn't want to cut out those scenes I loved.
But I had to love the vision more than the product.
The vision of a theme of tolerance and acceptance. A vision of a girl whose only desire is to survive choosing to risk her life for love. The vision of a book that is marketable to an agent and to a young adult audience.
So, I stayed true to my vision, but I did what I had to do. I changed a major plot point. I redid my character arch. I sucked it up and chopped over 20,000 words from my manuscript.
Loving a vision instead of a product kept my dignity intact, and it made me a better writer. I didn't get hung up on fear or pride or an inability to accept that I suck. I do, and because of knowing that, I made my book a million times better.
#1: IT MADE ME BELIEVE I WAS A GOOD WRITER.
I am a good writer. Not because I get it right. Not because every word I write screams of perfection. I'm a good writer for only one reason:
I keep writing.
I write crappy sentences and flat characters. I fall into gigantic plot holes. That's okay. I don't leave it like that.
I can rewrite it.
And if it's still not right, I can rewrite it again.
And again. And again. Until finally, I'm done.
What I write will never be perfect. There will always be a better way to say it or I could edit it just one more time.
No, I'll never be perfect. That's okay. Because eventually...eventually...eventually, what I write will be so, so beautiful.
Dear hearts, there are so many stories out there that are waiting to be told. You just have to have the courage to believe in yourself and to write fearlessly.
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Until next time, WRITE FEARLESSLY!