Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Newbie Question #16

16. Have you ever doubted yourself while writing? If so, how do you get over it?

I doubt myself all the time, just ask the folks in my writers' group. I constantly complain that I don't know what the f**k I'm doing or that my stories suck, etc., etc. I get over my doubt by tapping my support network -- my writers' group and my partner. (Because, if nothing else, my partner will say these magic words: "We need the money." Works for me every time. :-)

But I think this is actually a question about writers' block, which is I think a more delicate and harder question to answer.

There are a lot things about this business that can freak people out to the point that they can't write. Most of the really hard ones, IMHO, come after you publish that first book, but there are a few potential killers early on.

One of the reasons I find writers' critique groups of any kind (in-person or on-line) so vital to a writer's career is because they help prepare you for the first and foremost challenge to your ego, and that is: criticism.

People are going to hate your precious babies your entire career. They just are. (I just stumbled across a rather nasty review of Tall, Dark & Dead just today.) But, before you have the cache of a New York publisher's approval, rejection is even harder to take.

If you can't handle criticism or rejection, surviving as a writer is going to particularly difficult. My advice is to find a writers' group and practice taking those slaps in the face and pulling yourself back up on your feet. It's a skill set you're going to use all the damn time.

The other big one you're going to face is rejection. Publishers (and literary agents) are going to turn you down, early and often. It may take several years and dozens of books before you break in. This is why it's important to love what you do. If you like to write, it's easier to pick up your keyboard after you have that big huge weep fest after the sixteenth rejection for your beloved book comes in the mail (when you were SURE this would be the one).

My advice is to practice this attitude: "OMG,I suck; Damn, I'm a genius!" Seriously, I think you have to be a bit unstable to be a good writer. You have to be able to accept that you suck (so you can LISTEN to critique and learn from it), while simultaneously believing you are the best writer who ever lived (so you can get the morning after a crushing critique/rejection and write once again).

The other things that I, personally, found nearly crippling is the stuff that happens after you publish. The first negative review hurts. There will be one and it will feel horrible. You'll believe every word (when, ironically, you didn't believe a word of the praise in the positive reviews.) If you're me, you'll memorize the meanest thing the reviewer wrote and be unable to forget it. Ever. Ask me if we ever meet. I can still give it to you verbatim.

The other thing is what I call "second book-itis" or pysch out. After the adrenaline rush has coursed through your veins after the sale of that first novel, you suddenly realize you're contracted for another book THAT PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO READ. If you're like most authors, you probably lived with that first novel for years before anyone bought it. You had lots of time to massage it and make it the best novel you possibly could. Usually, too, the publisher has contracted you for another book -- either a sequel or something else. Either way, you're sitting down to write that next book (usually before the first one has come out) and, if you're me, you're absolutely frozen by the idea that it could really, really SUCK and kill your career before it's even started.

That one is the hardest one for me. I don't have any good advice except to say that you'll just have to push through. I tend to get over the "OMG people are going to read this" thing (which I often still get) the same way a lot of actors get over stage fright. I lie to myself. I tell myself that no one is going to read the book but me and maybe my editor. I trick myself into believing this by writing most of my book in something other than manuscript format and in a file named something like "New stuff."

I'm sure there are other reasons people get hit with writers' block, but these are the ones I've dealt with. What about the rest of you out there? What freezes your brain?


Margaret Yang said...

These newbie questions and answers are really helpful. Thank you for posting them.

Melanie A. Howard said...

Well, Tate, I keep forgetting to tell you, but since you say you ran across a nasty review of Tall, Dark, and Dead, I think this is just the right time:

Bonnie St. James, a gifted journalist at our local paper in Hastings, whose opinion I greatly respect and who has excellent taste in everything, is knowledgable, gifted, and warm-hearted, is absolutely addicted to your books and keeps asking when the next one will be out (and I seem to remember her telling me she wasn't terribly impressed with Twilight). You met her at the book signing at Eye of Horace, she has red hair.

So, all due respect to whomever decided to scathe Tall, Dark, and Dead, but I wouldn't put much stock in them.


PS: I'm also really liking these newbie questions. Your responses are fantastic!!!

Laura said...

I'm glad you posted this. I have a really hard time with keeping myself on track in this way. As selfish as it may seem I just love hearing someone who is published and successful (in my eyes) who feels the same. Thank you Tate.