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Writing Through Doubt

Writing LifePosted by Jonathan McKinney Mon, January 16, 2017 21:10:10
You feel it, deep down. Your work in progress is garbage. No one would enjoy it. No one could enjoy it. It makes you apprehensive about returning to it at all, and so you procrastinate and remain in that place of doubt and frustration.

It's possible your story has real problems that you need to fix, and if that's the case I understand. You can work on that later, though, when your first draft is finished. This little piece of advice is about pushing through that sense of doubt you feel about the first draft of your story as you're writing it.

It gets me all the time.

I'll be writing something and I'll be stuck. I think the phrase that non-writers are obsessed with is "Writer's Block". When you're blonde Johnny Depp, drinking hard, in a cabin in the woods somewhere, and you're trying and trying but the paper in the typewriter contains nothing but insufficient first sentences.

It's a romantic idea, but I don't think it's a realistic idea.

I think that the sense of dread comes not from insufficient inspiration, but a self-created super-harsh judgement about existing inspiration.

Because chances are you know what your scene is supposed to accomplish. Chances are you know what the next scene and the subsequent scene are supposed to accomplish. But the problem is you've been staring at these events for so long, you're passed caring.

You read it back and suddenly all you see is garbage.

It's too literal, so you're a child.

It's not literal enough, so no one will see what you're doing.

The characters are flat. The "funny" lines are not funny. You're the joke. You're wasting your time, writing about people who don't exist, doing dumb, impossible things, and your work sucks.

In that state, it's real easy to stop writing and do something else. Not forever, but just for now. Until "the feeling" returns. That vague sense that the story is actually good. That vague sense that the dialogue is interesting. Maybe, if you entrust yourself to fate, inspiration will strike and you will be back on track, another time.

I argue with this voice in my head a lot. Especially while drafting. But the voice is wrong. The writing doesn't suck. At least, no worse than normal. (All opinions welcome.) The problem is one of perspective. You are too close to the work.

You know that feeling when you love a song? And you listen to it over and over and you know you're slowly killing your love for it but you can't help yourself?

It's like that.

Of course, if you spend so much time so close to your characters, they're going to start annoying the shit out of you. The dumb stuff they say won't seem clever, it'll seem moronic. And every little flourish you dare insert into the prose will begin to look like the crappiest block of crap that was ever crapped.

The fact remains: your characters need you to shove your hand up their puppet holes and make them talk because they're nothing without you. You know what it is they want. You know what it is they're working toward. So get to work. Not every line has to dazzle all the time. You know that.

Writer's Block is bullshit. It's just that feeling you get when you stop being your own perfect audient for a while.

Get to work.

All the techniques you admire in other writers can be applied to your own writing later. That's the beauty of the second draft! For now, make those damned people talk. Make them act. You know what they want. Now make them go and get it.

Peace and love.

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