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Words for Writers: My Writing Sucks and I Hate Everything Or, Being A Writer While Human

When I sat down to write this NaNoWriMo pep talk, I was 10k behind and feeling sick.

Not the cold that’s going around, but a gnawing, mild sense of nausea that no amounts of ginger tea and/or red wine seem to be able to dissipate. For the last three evenings, after work, I had not sat down to my computer. I had, instead, finished reading three books that have been languishing in my TBR basket, repotted all my outdoor herbs and plants in their container gardens for the winter, had done no less than seven loads of laundry (most of it things like curtains and blankets that suddenly, inexplicably, seemed to need a wash), and filed all of my expense receipts. (Which, by the way, my friends will tell you that I never do before tax season).Yes. I was procrasti-cleaning.Why?Because I suddenly and inexplicably hated my novel.

Twenty thousand words and a good handful of chapters in, and I hated my novel. I thought it was trite. It was clichéd. It was boring. There was nothing compelling about it and I should just stop and save everyone in the world the pain of having to even know the book ever existed! I was a terrible writer! I sucked! I was a boring, trite, shallow human being and everything I made was boring, trite and shallow!

Aaaaaaauuuugh!

Right. So. You know those feels, right?

Sure you do. You might be battling them right this moment. I always battle them between 25-35k. I’ve had twelve years of NaNoWriMo and I still start procrasti-cleaning and despising my book between 25-35k. It’s a dark, horrible creature that sits on your shoulder and says “This is awful, you’re a hack, this is a waste of your time.”

1667 words per day is a slog, especially if you don’t type fast. Even more so if you fall behind and have to try to make it up. The greyness of routine, the lack of sleep, three weeks of being a shut in and missing your friends and family, those are all hard, and they compound the feelings of “I suck” ness.

But guess what? Monsters can be slain.

You don’t suck.

You don’t.

So first things first: flick that creature right off your shoulder. It’s a LIAR.

Nobody, but NOBODY sucks. Nobody is shallow. Nobody is worthless. And neither are any of the stories anybody wants to tell.

In the words of The Doctor:

Second things second: Sometimes the book’s perceived suckiness comes from being just plain weary. Give your creative well time to replenish itself. Read a comic, watch a TV show, go see a film. Go have a nice dinner with friends and family, reconnect with your social circle for a few hours. Take a night off from writing, if you need to. Go to bed early. Spend time with other human beings. Take a bubble bath. Drink a liter of water and eat something healthy. Take the dog for a really long ramble. Go to a museum. Go do something, anything that isn’t writing your book. Even for an hour. Then come back to your book energized.

Third things Third: And then have a good old think about your book. WHAT about it sucks? Is it that you don’t know where the plot is going? That you hate the MC? That you’ve suddenly realized that you’re telling it from the wrong POV? Is it that it just suddenly bores you? That you’ve realized that it’s a shallow ripoff of something else? Or is it something in your personal life that’s getting in the way? (I, for example, am currently dealing with the $#!%-storm that is my hate-blogger being finally unmasked.)

Once you’ve figured out where the problem is, don’t worry it like a popcorn kernel stuck behind your tooth. Work around it. And don’t stress. First off, finding problems with a story is normal. God, I am still not totally happy with my published books. That doesn’t invalidate everything you’ve already done.

Maybe what you did is just fine and you just needed a breather. Maybe you just needed a little vacation for an hour. Maybe you need to rejig the plot, or read your research notes. Or the conversations you had with friends and fellow writers about why you were excited to write this novel in the first place.

Maybe what you did is salvageable. Maybe you can Frankenstein it. Maybe you can just jump ahead and write the bits that you know you have worked out already. Maybe you could skip straight to the ending, write the climax to get you excited again and remind yourself why you loved this story.

Maybe you’ve realized you told the story from the wrong POV; that’s okay, start again from the right one. Maybe, just maybe, you need to walk away from this novel and just… begin fresh. That’s okay too. If it’s not working, it’s not working. Maybe, if you morgue it, you might get an idea that will help you resurrect it next year. Just own up to your word count, and keep going with a new idea.

NaNoWriMo is, yes, about writing a novel. But more than that, it is about learning who you are as a writer. NaNoWriMo is about how you like to write, and what you like to write.

And if you learn halfway through that you aren’t connecting with this book, then that’s fine. Write a different one. Write a better one. Or, take the breathing space you need to find out why you’re not connecting, and fix it.

But most importantly, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for having gotten as far as you have.

(And as for me, what was mobilizing my procrasti-cleaning? I found the plot too shallow and boring. So I had a friend over, made a roast, drank a bottle of wine, and explained. Together we found a way to weave some of my social passions into the narrative, and suddenly all these ideas were sparking off the page! The ending is the same, but it means something totally different now! My characters are essentially identical, but their deeper passions and motivations are more compelling, more driving. And the story is far more topical – I’ve been reading a lot of headlines and Tumblr blogs that have helped. I was telling the right story; but I was telling it the wrong way.)

Some of the best advice about the “I Hate My Work” phase of writing given was this:

*GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO BE A LITTLE BIT CRAP You can fix it later. No really, you can. If you need to, add some comments or notes into the MS, and just motor on through.

*NO ONE NEEDS TO SEE YOUR FIRST DRAFT Honestly. You can bury it forever in the back yard, or throw it into a bonfire, or put it in a drawer forever. Or you can put it away for a little white and come back to it in a few years with fresh eyes. Or you can put it away until the NaNo editing phase kicks in. The truth is, the only eyes that need see the draft is yours – you’re not obligated to share it until you think it’s been polished and is ready to share. WRITING MAKES STORIES, EDITING MAKES NOVELS This is so important. You can always go back in and add layers of meaning, or clarification scenes, or sub plots. You can always punch up dialogue or make sure the right senses are being evoked. This is all stuff that you can go back and consciously put in during the editing phase. Writing your first draft is like making the playdough. Once it’s made, then you can go back and use the medium to shape it into a novel.

*50k DOES NOT AN ACTUAL NOVEL MAKE Do you know how long the last novel I wrote for NaNo ended up being when I signed it over to the publisher? 78k. And the novel before that? 140k. The point of my telling you is this: your novel will live on after NaNo. You will still be working on it after December 1st. (If you’re like me, you could still be working on your novel from four NaNos to this very day.) So if right now it’s not right, it’s not perfect, it’s not what you want it to be, then that’s okay. It takes time to shape these sorts of things, and the time it takes is different for each person and each novel. You don’t have to get it totally right by 50k and you don’t have to get it totally complete by 50k either. Know that you have breathing room.

In summary/TL;DR –

You’re probably in the mid-NaNo doldrums. You’re probably battling the headspace that says everything you write sucks hard. I am too, so I get it.

The truth is, it doesn’t.

Take some time to reward yourself for how far you’ve come, and to rekindle the fire that pushed you to do NaNo on November 1st. Take some time to decipher if the feelings of suck are because the novel has genuine issues, and if it does, try to figure out how to solve them. If you can’t, write around them for now, and come back to them later.

Your novel doesn’t have to be perfect now. You have all the time in the world to write more, edit, and polish the book after NaNo is over.

Breathe. Sleep. Drink water. Eat healthy. Go for a walk. Be awesome. You’re already awesome. You’re a writer.

*

For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

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