Here’s something you might need to hear today: It is totally normal not to love your own writing.
But that doesn’t mean you have to let drag you down.
We have no worse critics than ourselves. It’s hard to read something that came out of your own brain and not see all its imperfections leaping straight off the page.
And sometimes, what you see isn’t what you WANT to see. Even if you like the story you’re writing or have faith you can transform it into something better, it simply doesn’t look, sound, or feel like something you’ve read from other writers. Chances are, it feels less polished. Less professional. Less … good.
Even the most confident writers sometimes look at their work — even their PUBLISHED work — and think, “Ew. Why did I write that?”
It’s normal to not always love what comes out of your brain. To let a lack of confidence or uncertainty or shame stop you from doing the thing you do love deep down, though, just doesn’t make sense.
Self-doubt is inevitable. Quitting because of it is unacceptable.
There are dozens of reasons writers quit writing. Some lose interest. Others give it a try for a while and simply decide it’s not for them, or not something they want to spend the time, energy, or resources on. Many people find their real world priorities just don’t allow for writing. There is nothing wrong with this.
But there are plenty of writers who stop writing because they just can’t seem to fall in love with their own words.
This might sound like an odd way to look at writing — being “in love” with something you’re putting out in the world can sound, to some, a little self-absorbed — but when it comes down to it, there’s no point in writing things you don’t, at least to some degree, love.
Loving what you’re working on doesn’t always mean you have to LOVE it all the time — at this moment I’m feeling like me and my latest work in progress need to take a break and figure out if we’re truly compatible (don’t worry, it will be fine, probably). That doesn’t mean I don’t care about it. Sometimes, the things you care about just frustrate you all the way past your limits.
Can you learn to love what you write?
Even though there’s no way to completely erase your doubts, fears, and anxieties, you can learn to give yourself a bit of a break, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Learn to be comfortable with imperfection. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ll admit this one is definitely an ongoing progression for most creators. Maybe even the hardest one, which is why I’m listing it first, because that’s just how I roll.
Here’s the thing: In order for you to take a (let’s be honest) mediocre piece of writing — let’s say a first draft of a chapter — and make it good, you have to have the whole chapter to work with. You can’t improve parts that don’t make up a whole. And in order to have a whole to break down and rework, you actually have to finish writing it. And that won’t happen if you’re so worried about every mistake and imperfectly written thing that you’re never really moving forward.
Train yourself to write without caring whether it’s good or not. Just take a deep breath and go for it. No one’s going to see it. Only you. And don’t give me the “it’s going to take longer to go back and fix it later” argument. I don’t subscribe to that method. Get the words out first, then go back and make them pretty.
Once you stop worrying (as much) about all the mistakes you’re making, you start to look past them and see more clearly the points you’re trying to make. The messages you’re trying to send. You see the bigger picture. Which is really important when you’re trying to write something in which all the smaller connections work.
Once everything comes together … that’s often when you really start to fall in love with your work in progress.
Instead of cringing at your mistakes, plan for future corrections. It’s no secret that reading your own work back to yourself — especially if you haven’t visited it in a while — can result in some major cringe-worthy feels. I just reread some dialogue I wrote a few months ago and, ew. Hate it. Will probably delete it later. Or not. Who knows?
But it’s so easy to let all the negative thoughts start tumbling in when you see one thing you don’t like. I’m a bad writer. I haven’t learned a thing. I don’t know why I’m even doing this. What’s the point?
Tumble in, they will. It’s up to you to let them roll right along so you can concentrate on figuring out what you’re going to do about, for example, your bad dialogue.
What can I learn from mine? That it’s OK to try something you think is clever and turns out absolutely bombing. The beauty of writing a first draft is that you have all the power in the world to rewrite it.
Tell yourself that in the future you need to slow down and take more time with your dialogue instead of rushing through it, for example. Remind yourself that you’re not a bad writer because some imaginary conversations fell flat. Always forward, never back.
Be proud of your favorite lines. Honestly? Sometimes even on your worst writing days you’ll compose a masterpiece that knocks you off your feet. It might be a sentence or a sequence, a paragraph, a page, or an entire chapter. Some days you’re just “on.” And you shouldn’t feel ashamed for patting yourself on the back for doing what you feel is excellent work.
Because the truth is, there are going to be moments you’re so discouraged — it’s the nature of creativity, especially when we feel like we’re doing too much and not seeing the results we want in return — that you want to give up. It happens to everyone.
So when these not quite as common moments of “hey I might actually be good at this” come around … savor them. Make the most of them. Hey, that line you’re screaming at yourself not to tweet (and you’re doing it anyway … wait … stop) could very well be your best line yet. Celebrate!
Mute the haters. I used to think there was a benefit to paying attention to both sides of every discourse, but this just isn’t the case when it comes to “feedback” from strangers.
There are going to be people who don’t like your writing, who don’t agree with your arguments, who don’t want you to succeed. There’s no escaping that. However, if you want to avoid unnecessary exposure to overwhelming amounts of negativity, to some extent, you can ignore a lot of it that might otherwise come your way.
There’s a difference between giving constructive criticism a chance and absorbing pure hate. You don’t need that. Writing is stressful enough. People technically have every right to say whatever they want to you, but that doesn’t mean they should — or that you have to listen to or be affected by it.
I say block out as much unsolicited hate as possible, if you can. Don’t let someone else’s bad day ruin your good feelings about what you’re working on or what you’ve already published. There is a time for hearing other people’s opinions for constructive purposes. And there is a time to just be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Loving your work is a process, and there is no straight path or even a definite endpoint. Every day you have to do the best you can to accept your words — the good and the bad. The clever and the cringeworthy. The beautiful and the awful. All of it. Even on your worst days.
The general rule stands: If you love what you are working on, more people will love interacting with it.
To the best of your ability, have fun. Remember your Why. Write from your heart. And, well, your head too. That’s kind of important.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.