I belonged to a writing group for about 5 years. It was wonderful (and I wrote my first published book there) but writing groups evolve. People come, people go, the focus changes. It started out as fiction and memoir, enjoyed a brief period as all fiction encompassing plays and even musical theater, and then became all memoir.
It’s great being part of a close-knit group and wonderful to see how different people develop their voice, and find their way, all under the tutelage of an amazing- I guess, mentor would be the most accurate term for her.
However I noticed that sometimes people lost steam all of a sudden. They’d come for a few weeks excited by their project, bringing much more than the minimum two pages, and their enthusiasm was so great that we would be infected by it. The stack of pages would grow, the story would take shape and then just when things would get really interesting, they’d stop.
One of the members was a repeat offender (if that is not too harsh a term). He was brimming with great ideas, he wrote amazingly well, he’d draw us in and then he’d abruptly start something new. It was disorientating. It became hard to commit to his characters or to his manuscripts because we knew we’d never find out how the story played out.
I wondered why? What stopped him in his tracks every time? His stories flowed. I’m sure they were hard to construct but there were no warning signs that he was faltering. In fact he’d always quit just at the most climactic moment, when all the action had built to an inescapable conclusion and in writing terms he was on the downward slide to home.
And we were encouraging, we were full of morale-boosting support. Any voices he was hearing were in his own head. They were not coming from those helpful acquaintances or strangers (or worse, friends) who always have some piece of ‘constructive’ criticism to offer. “Oh, I think you should write something exactly like your last book” or “You’re not seriously writing a whole book about a leprechaun love triangle are you? How about vampires instead?”
These people are the reason that I don’t talk specifically about WIPs and share them only with my betas, agent and editor.
I found out later there was a psychological reason behind it all. If he never finished then he never had to go through the next part of the process. Trying to make something happen. Find an agent. Submit to magazines. He would never fail.
I have another friend who can’t finish a story because she is never happy with what she has written. She can’t move forward. She goes back over the first couple of chapters obsessively, picking and unpicking, and eventually becomes incapable of telling whether she has written something good or something awful. She gets bored with her own manuscript. She goes through the motions without any real connection anymore. This causes her to feel guilt and sorrow and frustration, none of which are conducive to writing.
Let me say also that much of writing is drudge-work. Many days feel as if you are chiseling words out of cement with a piece of cooked spaghetti, and hopelessly trying to fit them together in some way that makes sense. But hey, you also get points just for showing up. And you show up with enough commitment, and eventually it all comes easier.
But no one can write with all those nay-sayers filling your head with insecurity and doubt.
All writers feel like this. Well perhaps not all. I’m sure there are some who are so filled with confidence that they think that their work is without blemish but I certainly do not know them.
We all hear these voices. I am second guessing myself right now as I struggle to finish a first draft. I have been obsessing over structure. I am worried there is not enough of a story to warrant a YA length novel. I have picked apart each chapter and rearranged them and cut out large passages.
Normally I don’t nitpick so much in my first drafts. I conserve that energy for the multiple revisions I know are coming.
But this time I am writing a book after 1) having written a book which will be published by Scholastic next summer. I am pretty proud of that one. and 2) having finished a book it took me about 10 years to formulate and figure out, which my agent loved. I am feeling the pressure.
I am concerned that this book will not be as good as those books.
It is causing me to call into question all sorts of things which rationally I know are fixable.
And that is the answer a writer must give when asked by the nay-saying and second-guessing voices inside her head what the hell she is doing?
“I’m not really sure but I know I can fix it.”
and maybe follow that with a big juicy raspberry.