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Do you second guess your writing skills?

Got a question/comment about the creative process of writing? Post it here!
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Julianne Douglas
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Post by Julianne Douglas » Wed January 7th, 2009, 5:20 pm

Divia, I cope by trying to forget about writing a NOVEL and just worry about writing a CHAPTER. If I start thinking about the NOVEL, it's easy to freeze and convince myself that I'll never be able to accomplish such a thing. If I just focus on a CHAPTER (~25 pages), the task is not as daunting. Plus, it's easier to remind yourself you can dump a chapter if it's no good than to contemplate trunking an entire novel.

Just keep going. I never thought I'd get to each next step. First I was convinced I'd never complete a manuscript (and believe me, it took years!), then I thought I'd never be able to revise, and I was positive I'd never land an agent. I did manage to do all three. The final step--a contract leading to publication--is proving to be elusive, but I know it will happen it time. Sure, my ms could be better--every book could theoretically be so, don't you think?--but it is what it is. Time to move on and use all the things I learned writing the first one.

Just remember--in my experience, what comes out on paper is NEVER as good as what you imagine in your head. Once you accept that's just the way it is, it's easier to keep going.
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Post by Divia » Wed January 7th, 2009, 5:21 pm

Thats a great idea! Just focus on the chapter. I'll try that. :) Grazie.
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Post by cw gortner » Fri January 9th, 2009, 7:05 am

Everyone's pretty much summed it up, but just to add a proverbial cent: I doubt my writing most of the time. Before I got published, I really doubted but the drive to prove to myself that I could get published motivated me. Now that I'm published, I conquer the doubt by telling myself if I did it once, I can do it again. Sometimes, not always, it even works :)

Like Julianne, I focus on the novel chapter by chapter; I break it down further and go at it scene by scene. Some days it flows and other days I can barely get three decent paragraphs out. On those days I wonder why I even try to write. Then I tell myself how pathetic I am and I get mad, and start writing again. It can be my own little internal S&M game.

So, I just think self-doubt goes hand-in-hand with writing; but I try to use the doubt as a motivator. If you get complacent and start thinking, Oh, wow. Look how good this is, chances are it's not. I prefer it when I think, This is as good as I can get it right now, because that allows me the option to go back later and revise. I love to revise. It's where, for me, the best writing happens. The draft is there, with all its warts and bumps, and revision is its plastic surgery, where I get to make it smooth and beautiful.

The input of a writing group where you can share your work and be critiqued proved invaluable to me. The feedback from other writers acting as readers often was the cure to my moving forward, because they'd tell me they wanted to know what happens next in the story. Now that I have a great agent and editor, their feedback is invaluable.

Still, for example, I've just had my next ms. sent back with a second request for revisions and the moment I saw the editorial letter that came with it, I felt paralyzed by doubt. I'm working steadily on the revisions, scene by scene; I think it's improving, and I am excited to see where I can massage a character there, turn up the tension in a scene here; but most of the time, I just focus on it step by step.

Hope this provides some hope or insight. Or just a laugh.
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Post by Helen_Davis » Fri January 9th, 2009, 6:27 pm

I don't doubt mine. Does that make me a black sheep or a bad writer? :(

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Post by Libby » Fri January 9th, 2009, 8:42 pm

[quote=""Andromeda_Organa""]I don't doubt mine. Does that make me a black sheep or a bad writer? :( [/quote]

Perhaps it just makes you an optimist? ;)

I agree though that most writers have moments when they struggle to believe that their work is any good. But you do need an element of self-belief to stay motivated.
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Post by LCW » Fri January 9th, 2009, 8:57 pm

I doubt my writing all the time. Although I don't write fiction, Science requires a LOT of writing. It's been said that good science writing is as much art as it is skill. I've been told I'm a good writer but then I'll go read something someone else has written and say, "Darn, why can't I write like that?" I guess being told something isn't the same thing as believing it yourself!

My solution for my very frequent self doubt moments is to just fake it...to myself! I fake like I think I'm the best writer in the world and that usually gets me through a rough spot. It might sound weird, but it works for me!
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Post by Chatterbox » Mon May 4th, 2009, 11:44 pm

[quote=""cw gortner""] It can be my own little internal S&M game.

So, I just think self-doubt goes hand-in-hand with writing; but I try to use the doubt as a motivator. If you get complacent and start thinking, Oh, wow. Look how good this is, chances are it's not. [/quote]

CW, truer words were never spoken. Last fall I filed a 4,000 word magazine article thinking it was one of the best things I had ever done. It promptly came flying back to me with a request for a re-think, re-reporting and a complete re-write...

You know how when you hear your own voice on a recording, it astonishes you because it sounds different to you than when you hear it inside your head? (Hope you followed that....) Similarly, I'm convinced that we're hampered in our ability to judge our own writing objectively. You have a vision of how good it could be in your mind's eye, and then whatever you do fails to measure up to that. You may need to just find a way to live with that, because to date I have yet to find a way to get that mental image to vanish or the inner critique to just shut the f*** up.

I'd be more worried if you or I were happy and cheery about what we are producing. It's when I'm pleased with something that I stop fussing about every word and detail, and when mistakes creep in or I become careless with my style or...

I do think it helps to have great editors, who really sense what you are trying to do, and whose goal is to help make the content better without distorting what you're trying to communicate or altering your voice. If you can find just one person to give you helpful feedback on your writing, that would be great.

To this day, 26 years after I earned my first $$$ from writing professionally in journalism, I remain astonished when people compliment my writing. And pleased. And I actually create a file in my inbox to store compliments from editors and readers. Then when I get really down in the dumps, I go to that file and read them not to make my head get all puffed up, but to remind me that if people valued what I did before, then I'm doing something right even if I don't always see it clearly at the time. It's like an Impressionist painting; you need to step back to get a clear vision of 'reality'.

good luck....

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Post by Margaret » Tue May 5th, 2009, 6:06 am

we're hampered in our ability to judge our own writing objectively
Truer words were never written. We know in our heads the effect we're trying to create with our writing, so when we read it back to ourselves, it naturally evokes that effect for us. Critique groups and first readers help a lot. It's important to be able to detach a bit, emotionally, from one's own writing at a certain stage so one can hear criticism without taking it personally. One way in which critique groups helped me the most was that I could see pretty clearly where and how other people's work fell short for me, and when people critiqued my own work, I could often hear what sounded like my own critiques of other people's work coming back to me - that helped me see my work more objectively. Another thing that helps a lot is to set the first draft aside for a good long while. Coming back to it later makes it easier to read one's own work as if it had been written by someone else, and the rough spots stand out much more clearly. (It's also great to come across sections that really sing or move or excite in some way!)
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Post by 71writer » Fri May 22nd, 2009, 11:23 am

2. DON'T read it back! When writing a first draft, just KEEP GOING no matter what. Don't do any revision or editing until you've got to the end. Otherwise you'll get stuck in a loop and never finish.

This is always, always where I get stuck. I am so glad you pointed this out. I struggle with the same thing. I have been doing this for 11 years now and have finally become determined to see this thing through.
The "giving myself permission to write badly" is another hard one for me. I think I may be a perfectionist.

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Post by Nell_Gavin » Sat May 30th, 2009, 1:19 pm


I think you have to constantly question your writing abilities in order to be good. That's what rewriting is for - and in the words of someone (I have no idea who...?), "There is no good writing, only rewriting."

I have a few tips that worked for me. They may absolutely NOT work for you, but they're something to consider trying when you're blocked or discouraged.

I do not write in order. I write as the spirit moves me, working on this chapter or that as ideas come, rather than forcing myself to plod through the story in chronological order. I work back and forth so I can remove myself from each chapter and view it with completely new eyes later on. I do that over and over and over again. That's how I catch the errors, the clumsy descriptions, the inconsistencies with other chapters, and the over-writing or unnecessary scenes.

When things get so stale you stop seeing what you're working on, it's time to move along to something else. I can usually tell it's time to shift focus when I have a sense that something is bad but I don't know how to fix it, and I feel as if I'll never get it right. That's when I put it down and pick up something else. Weeks or months later I'll go back and know just what to do about the problem I had earlier.

Also, a huge part of the writing process involves removing things (essentially "carving" your book from reams and reams of writing), so I always keep a "dump.doc" file. I can be absolutely brutal because don't actually delete content, I simply move it into this file. I have no sense of panic because I can always retrieve it if I change my mind. And interestingly, I can only recall one instance in 10 years when I went back for anything and used it. My dump file is just a safety net that helps me be brave when I'm culling content.

I hope that helps you or someone! Keep at it! And good luck!

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