Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Insecure Writers Take Heart - you are not alone!


My publisher emailed me the other day to say that advance copies of book one of King Rolen’s Kin had arrived on his desk and they looked terrific. Now any normal person would be dancing on the ceiling with news like this. My first thought was -- Gosh, I’d love to see a copy.

My next thought was -- It is real now. What if no one buys the books?

So why are writers so insecure?

Well, we pour our hearts into our books, then send them out into the world to be savaged by reviewers and placed on a bookshelf where they may never be bought.

We have little or no control over what happens to our ‘babies’.

In the past, in professions where people had little control over things like fishermen at sea or actors on the stage, they tended to be very superstitious. Here’s some info on theatrical superstitions. And here’s some insights into fisherman superstitions. One belief not mentioned on this page was the idea that those persons born with a caul (part of the amniotic sack) over their face, could not drown. My grandfather was born with a caul over his face. His mother put the caul between pages of the family bible and by the time I saw it 80 years later, it had absorbed the printing from the bible. Very spooky. It was like very fine vellum, and you could see through it.

According to Nathan Bransford, if you lack confidence in your writing, it might not be a bad thing. He quotes the Dunning-Kruger effect.

‘The basic theory is that when people are incompetent at something they tend to lack the ability to realize it and they overrate their abilities relative to others. Meanwhile, people who actually are good at something tend to underrate their abilities and may as a result suffer from lack of confidence.’

Which doesn’t surprise me, because the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. Which might be why I feel insecure ...

Here is a post about The Five Habits of Highly Neurotic Authors. It has some practical suggestions.

Which brings me to … what do you do on those days when your doubt your writing ability?


31 comments:

Dave Freer said...

" … what do you do on those days when your doubt your writing ability?"
I get out of bed. Because if I waited for days when I did not, I would never get up ;-).
(ie. I don't have days. I have that permanently.)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

LOL. What Dave said. I was just about to type that.
Actually the nights are worse. I wake up in the middle of the night consumed with the thought of my inadequacy. There are degrees in this, though. When it's really, really bad, I can't write. Or I write sixty versions of a first page. When it's only mildly bad, I write through it. And send it. Weirdly its being accepted doesn't help vanquish the fears and fan letters only help for about an hour. Even the ones from famous people I admire.

matapam said...

I don't ever think I'm a _bad_ writer. Ignorant, for sure. Lazy,oh very definitely. As I learn more and look back at all the things that haven't sold, I see the errors, and I beat myself up about taking the easy way out of a problem, or letting a crude transition stand or any of a dozen things.

But I like my stories, and I think my writing is basically sound.

Which may explain why I don't do the depression after rejection thing either. Too egotistical to bruise.

Anonymous said...

With submissions, I send them out anyway telling myself that a rejection won't be totally unexpected, therefore it will hurt less.

With writing, I tell myself, it will suck anyway, so it doesn't really matter about the words I put down. It actually helps me move forward, believe it or not, knowing that I don't have to worry about trying to make it good.

It actually makes it a happy thing when I get affirmation that I really don't suck at all. I say, "Wow, I don't suck!" Little steps, I know.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, that was me.

Linda

Amanda Green said...

I have to agree with Dave and Sarah. When it comes to my writing, I'm always insecure. What makes it hardest for me to keep going are those rejections that are really good ones -- you know the ones I mean. The ones that say, "we really liked this but decided not to publish it". -- They seem to hurt the most and make it harder for me to get back to the computer and whatever the current WIP might be. But I do...after chocolate, maybe a little single malt, and some crying on Sarah's and Kate's shoulders.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Oh, Dave.

I have days when I doubt. And I can't let doubt freeze me.

And I have days when I have so much to do, I just ignore any thought about the larger picture and get stuck into things.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah, I wake int he middle of the night, too!

Perhaps we should form a Night Worriers Support Group!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam,

When the writing is going well for me, I just immerse myself in it. It is a self justifying act. I do it because I love it.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Anonymous, is that you Linda?

When my first trilogy sold, I had this sense of a big hand reaching down out of the publishing world and patting me on my head with the words, 'See, you weren't fooling yourself all along.' LOL

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Oh, Amanda, chocolate definitely has a place in the world of insecure writers!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Rowena, My writers' group had serious rituals involving chocolate. We got chocolate if someone had an acceptance. Then there was consolatory chocolate after a rejection. And OF COURSE you needed chocolate to steady your nerves if waiting to hear from a publisher.
Yes, I AM on a rigorous exercise program, and the weight is finally moving off, why do you ask?

C Kelsey said...

I'm on my second short story in a row where I thought the writing was basicly sound and the story was there, but have ended up flat out hating it. Which stinks, because it's the short story I focused on as a non-serious relaxation story to be posted on my new blog. I'm getting tired of writing stuff, and then hating it.

Stephen Simmons said...

Does it tell you anything about my confidence in my writing that I clicked in the Comment box -- then closed the page -- three times before I actually typed a reply?

Days that the lack of confidence gets really bad, I research. Or read something from the inexhaustible list of things-I-wish-I-had-already-finished ...

matapam said...

You know, I could sign you all up as volunteer Slush Readers. You'd never doubt your own brilliance again. Or at least competence.

First Sentence:
A cold winter evening in October 28 2057 in Washington DC , the world has changed dramatically since World War Four erupted over night causing the beginning of many disasters which has changed the World in many ways and bringing the humankind to a devastated economy loop of global ruin and no world peace since the commencement of the first nuclear bomb inflicted by the Middle East which started a chain of events and an all-out nuclear war between all the countries throughout the world, causing a domino effect which become the worst catastrophe in history, a tragedy so huge it is difficult to comprehend and yet high political figure knowing that not dealing with the world powerhouses of Nuclear Dictators who are trigger happy and the other countries with no other solution but to react and also push the button created a ticking bomb ready to explode to the next phase of adversity, No one, not even the leaders of the world countries did anything to pacify and calm the outbreak of nuclear violence that has destroyed the world as we known it and causing unexplained earthquakes, large tidal waves and frozen rain storms in some areas with boulder the size of hailstones coming from above to the earths soil.

Chris McMahon said...

I tend to have to work through a 'penicillin ring' of anxiety every time I write. The 'oh this is crap' thought process is hard to shrug off. Best solution I have come up with is the same answer to the other begining jitters - try to ignore it and focus on 'seeing' what I am trying to create and letting it flow.

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, matapam. I dread to think how long the second sentence was if that was the hook!

matapam said...

With 211 words until he discovered the Period, I'm not sure but that that wasn't an entire prologue.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Matapam,

My mom writes entire letters with ONE period. At the end of the page. That's where she figures it belongs. Unfortunately someone tried to teach her to punctuate by saying "Put a period where you stop for a long breath." Well, there it is.

Chris McMahon said...

Sarah LOL

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris, write the stuff you want to read. Then you won't hate it.

That's what I did with King Rolen's Kin. It is a 'Saturday afternoon, put your feet up and go along for the ride' sort of read.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

That Chris comment was meant for C Kelsey.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Stephen sometimes I don't leave a comment because I'm feeling too flat and think no one would want to read what I have to say. Sigh.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam -- what a hook!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah, does your mother talk like that as well? You'd never get a word in!

Synova said...

There are times when I read what I've written and think, "Wow, that's really good." That is generally followed by a long mental list of why its not going to work anyway. (Other times it's "OMG, what was I thinking!")

Someone here, a bit ago, said something about writing the first draft to please yourself. I still think this will be key to finding a way to push all of those insecurities aside long enough to get somewhere.

Synova said...

I was also told, once, by an author I was beta reading for, the bit about overconfident writers often being less good than they thought they were and that being a second-guesser probably meant my writing was better than some.

Which was fun to hear and made me feel good but did exactly nothing to help productivity along.

Kate said...

I do two things. One is remember my stint reading slush. Matapam's sample is one of the better ones.

The other is to go back and read some of my old, old stuff. You don't notice it happening, but boy the improvement is noticeable.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Synova, I feel for you.

Second guessing can get in the way of actually producing something. So I think your idea of writing to your first draft to please yourself is excellent.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Rowena,
The household has adapted by talking all at the same time and increasingly louder. I thought this was perfectly normal until Dan came to stay to propose formally. Not understanding the language, he thought we were all very angry and on the verge of physical aggression.

Anthony J Langford said...

Matapam, I almost passed out through lack of oxygen reading your single sentance!.. lol

Good post.. It's definetly a real notion.. I've encountered this many times... particularly on the net where everyone is a goddamn writer...

I've even bought a few books by such net writers, wanting to support them, do the right thing...only to find their work... well, i won't even go there..safe to say i had to buy extra loo paper that week..

Doubt almost cripples me everytime I sit down to write.. occasionally it gets the better of me.. but mostly I wait it out... then at the end, I say, 'Ahh, got you sucker!'

ps Nathan Bransford rejected me for a novel once.. I remember one of his posts saying Harry Potter is not around the corner.. then Twilight came out.. hahaha