Hey. Hey you.
Yes, you. Can I tell you something?
Sometimes writers … really don’t like the things they write.
It’s true. Some writers struggle with self-editing and criticism for no reason other than they want to drop and forget about their work the second they don’t have to look at it anymore.
The good news? This is completely normal.
The bad news? It’s not easy to keep writing when you feel disappointed in most if not all of the things you are producing.
But there’s more good news: not all hope is lost. You can pinpoint the reason (or reasons) for your dissatisfaction and implement strategies to overcome your struggles.
Here’s why you haven’t been proud of the work you’ve been doing lately, writers — and a few things you can do to feel better about what you’re accomplishing.
1. It’s been a while since you revisited your “why.” In case you need a quick refresher, your “why” is the reason you pursue a particular goal — and it usually goes beyond “I want to make money writing” or “I want to get a book published.”
Some people boil this all down into something called a purpose statement — you may have written a personal or professional statement or “mission” at some point in your time as a student. It’s an idea or specific phrase that defines exactly why you are doing what you’re doing.
I don’t have my exact writing “purpose statement” in front of me — I really should, but hey, I’m not perfect and I don’t usually try to be (anymore) — but it goes something along the lines of: “I write to share words that break down stereotypes, correct misinformation, and inspire change.”
This isn’t just a reason to sit down and write a bunch of words for the sake of getting it done. This is often the reason I get out of bed in the morning. I don’t just “have to write.” I have a job to do. A mission to fulfill. A purpose.
When I’m feeling lost and discouraged, it’s my “why” that I return to. It’s my “why” that gets me back on track and reminds me that I’m not wasting my time, I’m doing work that matters, and I have come too far to give up.
Find your way. Decide exactly what purpose you want your writing to serve. And if you have to change the way you approach your writing in order to fulfill that purpose, start formulating a plan to get that done, too. One small step at a time. You got this.
2. You’re long overdue for a change in your routine. This might seem like a weird one, but stick with me. Something writers don’t talk nearly enough about is how unstable and frustrating writing schedules can be. Everyone always wants to know successful writers’ routines, in hopes they can copy them time slot by time slot and somehow achieve similar if not the exact same results.
But the truth is that for many writers, routines actually aren’t solid blocks. They’re quite malleable, and often must be moved and reshaped in order for a writer to maintain their sanity.
Why is this the case? Because doing the same thing every day gets old. And when things get stale, we no longer enjoy spending time around them.
When you’re no longer happy with the work you are doing, sometimes this has nothing to do with the work itself and everything to do with your attitude and how you feel. An unfulfilling or stressful morning routine, for example, can very easily turn a would have been great day into a day full of stories you almost wish you hadn’t even bothered to write in the first place.
3. You’re holding onto a project that needs to rest — or avoiding one that needs attention. Here’s a reality many of you reading this might not want to hear (but too bad): Sometimes you will spend a large portion of your time working on a project that you will eventually put down and never pick up again. And this is not only normal, but good for you creatively.
I know! It sounds atrocious! But here’s the thing: If you keep returning to the same project over and over, despite continuing to struggle through it, no longer learning anything new or gaining anything from doing so — you’re just doing it to do it — you’re not only going to come to hate it, but you’re also going to write yourself straight into a rut.
And the deeper you go, the harder it’s going to be to climb back out.
While every project deserves the chance to shine, there does come a point where you have to decide if continuing to chip away at it is still worth the effort and time. While no writing time is ever wasted time, if your time could be better spent on other stories, it’s okay to say goodbye and move on. You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re not a bad writer or a bad person or a failure. You’re just growing. Not all stories grow with us.
Sometimes we also end up avoiding certain projects or stories our hearts are begging us to tell but we keep refusing to pay attention to. This happens for a variety of reasons — often times fear, doubt, and the refusal to let go of the cozy and comfortable past in order to embrace an uncertain future. But the longer you avoid the story that’s calling out to you, the louder it’s going to scream.
And no one can write when there’s an idea screeching at the top of its lungs in the corner. No one.
Sometimes the stories we end up being the most proud of are the ones we dare to take a chance on, even when we aren’t sure they will work out. If you’re not feeling great about what you’re working on, ask yourself: Is this the project that’s going to scream and cry and beg until I pick it up and hold it close? Is it the one I’m going to fall in love with? Is it the one that’s going to change my life forever?
Accept the story you will be proud to show off to the world. Dare to give it the good life it deserves.
4. You’re having a rough time. This can be hard to admit. It can even be hard to identify as it’s happening. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re running on fumes until they run out. Sometimes the only sign you’ve been slowly burning out for months is the fact that you’re completely worn down to the point of exhaustion.
It’s nearly impossible to pat yourself on the back for a job well done when you can barely function beyond the absolute minimum. And this doesn’t even mean you’re stuck in bed unable to rise or you’re on the bathroom floor crying because you can’t bring yourself to do anything else. Sometimes “a hard time” doesn’t look or feel any different than any other time. It’s just … harder, somehow.
When you’re struggling, stepping away from your writing temporarily might be the best thing for you. Continuing to write despite the chaos around you might be the best thing for you. There is no right or wrong way to handle internal struggles, and the only one who knows what’s best for you from situation to situation is you.
You might need to seek outside help to actually make sure you do what you know needs to be done — this is coming from someone who knows sleep is important yet has to set multiple reminders to convince myself to go to bed at a decent time — but what’s important is that you’re acknowledging you’re not okay, and figuring out how to deal with it.
If you’re struggling this much, whether or not you’re writing things that matter to you might be the least of your concerns. Put your health and well being first, and worry about your creative projects later. There is no shame in that. You can’t write when you aren’t well. Get well. Then write.
5: You’re being too hard on yourself! Believe me when I say I am no stranger to harsh self-criticism. I still absolutely hate most of the things I write — it’s a combination of impostor syndrome and Anxiety and just not trusting people I don’t know to tell me the truth about my work. But I still publish most of what I write anyway, or plan to eventually, because we’re our own worst critics. This will never change. Creators will continue to view their work as less than valuable long after they are told otherwise.
In other words — it’s ABSOLUTELY okay to not always feel confident in or proud of what you are working on or have recently completed. You’re not a good judge of the quality of your own work. This is why agents and editors, beta readers, and other skilled and willing “word analysts” exist. Always treat them with respect. They are important and deserve all the love.
We all can learn not to be so hard on ourselves all the time. We’re not perfect — we never will be and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. We can’t always be “on.” We can’t always do our best work. We are human beings and we have limits, gosh darn it!
So what if you mess up? You can always try again. So what if you get rejected? It’s not the end of the world — and definitely not the end of your career.
A piece of writing doesn’t have to go viral to be good.
Most people will never see the majority of what you write. That does not make you a bad writer.
Give yourself a break. Laugh at your terrible dialogue. Set aside what you never want to look at again. Celebrate your small victories even if they are also endings. Keep moving forward, even when you’re not sure what the outcome might be. It’s the best thing you might do for yourself today — and that’s just fine.
It’s okay not to love everything you write all the time.
It’s okay to forget why you’re here and what you’re trying to accomplish.
It’s okay to not do your best, to want to quit, to be afraid.
As long as you keep going — keep writing, one word at a time — you’re going to make it through this.
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.