|picture from pinterest|
To be completely honest, I’ve been cringing over this very phrase for the past month:
what if I’m getting worse?
In April, I wrote the second novel in my trilogy, Outcast. I can honestly believe that I was having a really good streak when writing that book. I can go back and read it and, for the first time, feel happy with my writing, knowing that it is good. It’s not all good, obviously, but it’s not all bad, and when you get to that point, you feel like you’re flying. I think we all have one bit of writing — even if it’s only a sentence — which we feel is at least decent enough.
Coming off that really high note, I went in to rewrite the first novel (and now I’ll have to rewrite the second, but that’s a different story). It was going well. I talked about how the plot was working thanks to my outlining method in my newsletter. But then there was my prose.
Last week, I was preparing the first 10 pages of that novel to send off for a professional critique, and started getting so frustrated. My words seemed a w e f u l. Sure, the opening chapter did what it needed to do, but did it even sound decent? Was it just a droning sludge of words? Compared to my favorite paragraphs in the second book, it felt horrible.
What had happened to me? It was like I was getting… worse. Becoming a worse writer.
And that was terrifying.
I think there’s a point when we think we’re seemingly not improving at all, and then there’s a point when we feel like we’re getting worse. And though I really dislike getting stuck in one place, I think the most scary thing is when you’re suddenly going downhill. It’s like you were there, and now you’re not.
Or are you?
STEP 1: BREATHE.
Stop looking at your writing. Seriously. Just quit it. You are not your writing. Your life is not your writing. There is more to you and your life than those words on the page. What if you feel like you’re horrible at everything? Stop. That isn’t possible. Those are lies.
STEP 2: DO SOMETHING TO GET BACK IN A GOOD SPACE.
Do something you really enjoy doing. Even if that’s writing, don’t you dare look at those words you hate. I chose to take the wrong step right here. Stubborn me wouldn’t let this go, so I ended up comparing those 10 pages to my favorite snippets from the sequel. It still worked out, but I should have let it go. So let it go. Give it to God. Take a break.
STEP 3: ADMIT IT.
Say it. Just say it. You hate your writing. You’re getting worse. Vent. Don’t deny this frustration. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it cease to exist.
So say it, but not to yourself. Talk to someone. This isn’t the time to go to some other person who’s going to critically analyze your writing. Go to someone you trust, someone who will be honest with you, but not brutal. Saying your problem out loud might end up making the whole thing look a lot smaller than you thought it was.
STEP 4: HAVE THEM READ IT.
That person, whoever you went to and vented on, have them read it. Maybe they’re your alpha reader. Or a critique partner. Or a friend. Just someone who has seen all different stages of your writing. Let them read that section you hate, maybe out loud. Better now?
Whatever you do, realize this:
You’ve been staring at this thing forever. You, as a writer, have trained yourself to look for only the faults, the things you need to fix. For that reason, especially if you’re doing a meticulous line-edit, you no longer have a clear view of your work. You need fresh eyes that can honestly point out the strengths and weakness and silence the inner voice screaming that your writing is worse than it used to be.
Don’t believe that voice. It’s a liar. You might know story structure and good prose, but you cannot completely, honestly make a perfect evaluation of yourself.
And that’s another thing:
In conclusion, I went through this whole ordeal to realizing that my writing style had just changed a little bit, while my understanding of story structure had grown. Which was awesome! I had just… overreacted and compared my writing to perfection (story of my life 😉