It's one of those bizarre phenomena - the way writers see-saw between a love/hate relationship with their own writing.
You're in the throes of a story or an article - you don't want to stop because you're feeling inspired. Each word and phrase seems to resonate with profound meaning. The drama and/or the thought process seems to be unfolding well - and you're on a high. Finally, it seems as though the hotline between your thoughts and the page are in sync - you're writing well and all is right with the world.
This feeling can last a few hours, even a few days...
... until you look back at what you've done.
Then the angst sets in.
The writing you thought was superb suddenly seems clunky and inadequate. The phrases you particularly liked now seem awkward and ill-formed. Worse, your intellect seems exposed: you feel as though your writing shows you to be the hack you never wanted to be: the metaphors lack depth and the imagery is weak. The writing doesn't work. It's just, well, awful...
"The horror, the horror!" to quote Joseph Conrad who, irritatingly enough, wrote in several different languages and still managed to look like a genius in all of them. Gah!
What's a writer to do?
First take comfort in the fact that all writers go through this.
There's not a one that at some point didn't think they were the worst writer in the world (even Joseph Conrad.) It's got nothing to do with talent or dedication or practice or experience. Every writer goes through periods of self doubt. It's part of the landscape.
Next, take stock.
What have you got?
At the very least you've got some words on paper. You can congratulate yourself that you've at least done something 90% of would be writers struggle with - actually doing it.
If you're working to a, usually self imposed, deadline, this is good. At least you don't have to go through the pain of starting. There's something down. The rest is surely just editing...
If only it were that easy.
Sometimes I wish I was more easily satisfied. It would be wonderful to write a few lines and think, Now that's cool. Perfect, I don't need to change a thing.
But that's not how it works.
I have a semi-finished novel I've been editing for months. I do a little every day if I can. It's around 85,000 words altogether and do you know what?
Every single time I sit down to work on it, I end up reworking the damned opening paragraph!
I can't understand why but every time I open up the file, I feel the need to edit the beginning. Is that perfectionism? It doesn't feel like it. Seems more like insecurity - or simply frustration that I can't find a bunch of words that work for me every time. I mean, how hard can it be?
We have to be patient.
We have to take our time.
As you know, I'm all for writing the first draft of a novel in around thirty days. Or around 30000 to 50000 words a month.
Stephenie Meyer says she wrote Twilight in just three months. Makes you want to throttle her, doesn't it?
If there's any justice it took at least a couple of years to edit.
Because editing is where the work is. My novel has around ninety chapters - and after beating myself up over the final manuscript for the last week, I've made a few decisions.
1. It's not really ready to send out. (I have actually sent it out twice and received two rejections. I can handle it - not.)
2. If I'm going to edit it again, I need to do it slowly, taking care over every singe word. Only then will I be happy - won't I?
3. At one short chapter a day of around 1000 to 2500 words, it will take me about three months to edit the whole novel (again). But that's okay. What's three months when the final, final, final version will last forever, right?
Fiction in particular I think is hard to get right. Easy to write, hard to get right. Fiction needs to look effortless - which ironically requires more effort on the part of the writer.
But in my own case, I'm sure it will be worth it.
I want this next novel to be perfect - to impress everyone who reads it. I want it to be a bestseller...
Is that asking too much?
Maybe. You can't expect everyone to like a story.
Okay, I can accept that.
It's just that I have to like it first!
Thank you for letting me vent.
I hope this little rant helps with your own writing demons.
At least now you'll know you're not alone...
(c) Rob Parnell