I managed to get myself into a funk last Friday, I was finding myself despairing over my rarely completed to-do lists and my languishing novel, which is suffering through first draft blues. As much as I keep plugging away at the book, there is a deep, ugly, grumbling that believes I’ll never finish the novel or any novel and even if I do, none of them will be worth reading.All this tied into the fact that I had picked up 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma (my review is here), which was blowing my mind with awesome in terms of both writing style and storyline. Normally, I don’t bother with being jealous of my fellow authors, but on this particularly day, I felt it and it layered onto my anxieties. I began to spiral into doom-gloom with “I’ll never write like this, never this good” and “My writing sucks” and “I’ll never inspire or move someone the way the writing of this author does for me.”
Dwelling on this kind of stuff is less than helpful and can lead to an avoidance of writing and/or feeling blocked when staring at the blank page. At least, I know this can happen for me. So here are a few things I’ve done and that others can do to let go of all the negative gobbledygook.
1. Remember that Every Voice Isn’t the Same
I can thank my mom for reminding me of this when I was despairing on Friday and it’s important. No two voices are the same. Every writer has their own stories to tell and their own way of telling it. Therefore, it’s not necessarily an issue of better or worse, but just about being different.
Just because one author writes an amazing book, doesn’t mean that your own story, words, and thoughts are not valuable in their own right. If you have a story to tell, then tell it. Your words are unique to you, and chances are someone will find them valuable.
2. Keep in Mind that Drafts are Called “Rough” for a Reason
I think Anne Lamott says it best in her essay, “Shitty First Drafts” (link to a pdf). Most drafts suck the first time around, and they many continue to suck after the second or third go throughs, but somehow a good story gets drawn out in the rewriting/editing process.
It doesn’t really how many books an author has published or sold, or how great their writing, chances are that author has been through bouts of despair and flailing over the suckage of their own writing at various stages of the process. For an excellent example, check out Libba Bray’s fantastic post on writing despair.
So, be gentle with yourself. Be forgiving of your early mistakes. Be forgiving of your later mistakes. You have to work through each mistake to learn how to write, and every word you write gets you to the next one. You can’t get to the finished story/book/poem if you don’t walk through the tangled, mangy woods of the first (and sometimes second, third, fourth, etc.) drafts.
3. Do a Writing Analysis on the Book
So you’ve found a book you love, with writing you adore, with delightful worldbuilding, compelling characters, and a smooth plotline. Instead of feeling inadequate in all its glory (as I did), use this as an opportunity to learn something.
Once you’ve finished the book take a look at what it was about it that made you love it. What is the plot structure or how it launched immediately into the fray? What it the eloquent scene descriptions? How about how the characters were portrayed?
Create a list of what worked for you and what didn’t. What techniques can you use to improve your writing? What can you try to avoid?
I don’t tend to get too heavy handed with these sorts of analyses, as I don’t want to overshadow what naturally comes out when I’m writing and it’s important not to try to force your writing to fit a mold that doesn’t work. But I’ll often keep these kinds of lessons sitting in the back of my mind while I write and will draw on them when I’m challenged on how to handle a certain aspect of the story.
4. Practice Celebrating Your Fellow Writer’s Successes
Both Justine Larbalestier and Seanan McGuire have posts about how life, art, and publishing are not a zero sum game. One writer or artists success doesn’t take success away from you.
I’ve heard some people say that books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey should never have been published and lamenting about how many people were taken in by these horrible books. But my sister hated reading, mostly because high school taught her to, and it wasn’t until she read Twilight that she became a reader. That book series taught her that reading could be fun, and that enjoyment has led her to read a multitude of other books in a variety of genres.
What authors like Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James have done is manage to tap into their enjoyment of their readers in such a way that lots and lots of people wanted to read their books. They may not be perfect books, but I salute both authors for their success. Hats off to them, and I’ll keep writing the stories I feel compelled to write.
It’s even easier to salute the writers you love, because their success means more great books for you to read.
But more importantly, if you’re sending out joy and good wishes, then you’re not bogged down by jealousy. Personally, I find it much harder to write when I’m in a fowl mood, so keeping positive (if I can) helps me.
5. Just. Keep. Writing.
Just that. Keep writing.
There’s a momentum to the writing process. I find the more I write, the easier it is to keep writing. If I stop and let myself fall into a mood, it just makes it that much harder to come back to the blank page.
And whatever else is going on around you, whoever is on the bestsellers list or winning awards, one thing you know you can control is the work you put into your own stories and and effort you put into making them the best they can be. That’s a powerful thing.
How do you handle little writing jealousies? What do you do to keep from despairing about your writing?