Ooo … ooo … I know this one!

Let’s play a little game, shall we?

Linda: I’ll take felicitous discoveries for a thousand.

Alex: I do have writing talent. Linda?

Linda: What is … What did I discover while editing?

Alex: Correct!

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know I suffer from a lack of confidence in my writing ability. It’s largely self-inflicted. My inner critic prides herself in perfectionism. To make matters worse, she’s an expert at rationalizing away any praise that comes my way.

I think most of us lack confidence to some degree. We play that comparison game and believe we’ll never measure up. We get one tiny bit of negative feedback and blow it out of proportion until we see every word we’ve written as garbage. (Or is that just me?)

Today, as I edited my novel, I found myself smiling—grinning, to be honest. Not at any particular “darling” as in, My god, has there ever been a more brilliant metaphor?! No, I was happy because I could honestly say, “This is good writing.”

That may sound like I’m full of myself, but I’m not. What I discovered today is I suffer doubt most when I don’t read my work. When I set aside a work, whatever faults I know it has magnify in my mind until I convince myself I’m hopeless as a writer. I’m discouraged from even starting something new because, well—I can’t write!

When I finally open that file and start to read I see it’s not perfect. I find weak verbs, flabby sentences, bad syntax, but I also find decent writing as a whole. It’s never as bad as I imagined it to be. Yet I’ve allowed my doubt to waste time, fuel jealousy, and even downright depress me.

Why do we writers do this to ourselves?


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The folly of feedback?

Recently, I bought a book by Becky Levine I hope will improve my critiques. (If you have or do read it let me know what you think.) I have been a member of a large critique group, then a smaller one, and now an even smaller one. I’ve never had much confidence in my critiquing ability because, except for the mechanics, I felt I could only tell you what I didn’t think worked, not how to fix it.

Then, today, I read this quote from Neil Gaiman:

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Ookayyy … but who are these “people” he speaks of?

  1. Non-writing readers?
  2. Fellow writers?
  3. Agents?
  4. Editors?

I think this statement might apply most to group #1. It’s possible, of course, that someone who reads extensively, but doesn’t write could tell you what’s wrong, though not likely they could tell you how to fix it.

And I can see where it could apply to many in group #2. Haven’t we all had the experience of another writer suggesting changes that would transform your book or story into something you never intended. Or suggesting changes that would result in something suspiciously like their writing?

In fairness, Neil Gaiman is savvy, he’s a published writer, so I don’t think he was referring to groups #3 and #4. If we want to be published, we should—we have to—listen to agents and editors, right? So I’m left to wonder who exactly are these people he advises us not to listen to. Surely he didn’t mean that fellow writers can never tell us how to fix something in our writing.

Tell me, who do you trust to help fix your writing problems?


Are you in the wrong house?

I had started writing a post on a completely different topic for today, but last night I had a dream. Yesterday, I confessed to someone that my faith in my writing ability has waned. In my dream, a person in my life who is hypercritical of me said something that hurt my feelings. I hid my reaction and walked casually out of the room. But then, I continued on out the back door.

houses With a heavy heart and fighting back tears, I walked down the street toward my house. I entered the house next door to mine instead. I remember thinking that it was fine to do this, I could live there and no one would mind. Maybe no one would even notice. When I entered the empty house, I knew instantly I wouldn’t be happy there, but felt trapped by my decision.

Then, the person in my life who has a most generous heart and always makes me feel better about myself came to the door, smiling at me through the glass. Even though I had triple-locked the door, she easily opened it, and I knew that I was free to leave.

Once again, my subconscious had spoken to a captive audience. It told me to quit listening to that inner critic that locks me into a substitute self. A self that believes she can’t write. A self that would be unhappy if she didn’t write. So today, I’m going to smile lovingly at myself and move back into my own house. There are words to be written.

Do you ever take up residence in the wrong house?


Passion

heartsThings have been a little silly around this blog lately, read the last two posts and comments, if you don’t believe me. Thank you all for sticking with me. I needed that bit of levity. However, I’m going to go deeper today … though, knowing me, I won’t be too serious about it.

I don’t have a lot of “public” writing experience. All my life, I’ve composed tales in my mind, and I’ve written many of them down, but it’s fairly new for me to expose them to an outsider’s critical eye. So, I’m still working on the confidence angle. I’m easily disheartened by doubt. I tend to believe that every writer knows more than I do about the craft. Well, someone posed a question about one of my characters and BAM! … I’ve been on life support this past week.

I’ve blogged about this before. I knew what was happening, and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t last, but there’s always that sniggling voice in the back of my mind saying, this time I really need to face the fact that I can’t write. Or, at least, I can’t finish this novel. Maybe the whole premise is stupid; the characters are weak, confused, ridiculous; there’s no story; there’s too much story; or maybe not—maybe I just have no clue how to write. Never did. Never will.

But … but … but, I want to write this story. It’s not an important story. It’s not going to change the world, change your outlook on life, or even change the batteries in your remote, but I love this story. I love the characters. I’m passionate about this book. And my passion counts for something, right? NO!!!

Passion counts for a lot.

A couple days ago, I looked through some photos of portraits I’ve done and picked out a favorite to share with someone. It hit me that the reason that I’m proud of that work is not only because it’s technically well executed, but because I felt something about the person. And those feelings came through. That passion flowed into my work. The portrait is alive.

So, I’m back to work now. I’m writing my story, my way … and it’s breathing quite well.

Writing garbage, redux

It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly. – C. J. Cherryh

At least once a week, I come to the conclusion that everything I write is garbage. Usually this realization is preceded by reading some brilliant piece of published fiction, at which point my inner critic Ms. Perfect, declares, “See? You’ll never write anything even close to that, so give it up now, quit wasting your time!” But this morning I read the above quote, and am encouraged to write “garbage” today, and edit tomorrow … if I can muzzle Ms. Perfect long enough.

Originally posted 10/13/008