The First Reader was teasing me the other day. He pointed out that he knows exactly what’s coming. I’ll finish this book (this week, really. I could wrap it in a day but I don’t think that’s happening today) and I will tell him that it sucks. I can’t deny it. it’s not just that writing this book has been a very different process from any that have come before it. Nor that this book is different from my successful Pixie series in many ways. No, it’s simply that creativity and confidence rarely walk hand in hand.
I have writer friends, and artist friends, and a few who are like me and do both. We create in many ways, but we all share this trait. it doesn’t matter how good it is, we hate it.
Some of this is a result of being too close to our own work. I learned when I was first painting that when I was working, mere inches away from the surface, that I could see every mislaid brushstroke, every ragged line. But if I took a step back, multiplied the space between me and the work, I could see that the flaws receded as well. I still had a drive to improve, to have a steady hand with the brush… And when it comes to writing, to choose the right word, set up the scene in the clearest phrases while casting the shadows that delineate the coming story. I’ve just learned not to let it paralyze me.
I was lucky, when I started doing this in earnest. I found the company of people who cared enough about me and my work to tell me when I sucked. And conversely to tell me not to let my inner fears dictate whether or not I finished a story, published, or…
I was taught, and it was sound instruction, not to edit as I worked. Write the story, get it out, and then walk away. Don’t stand there and peer at your brushstrokes from so close your eyes are crossing. Don’t let your inner voice of self-doubt get so loud it drowns out the story. When you have the manuscript finished, give it some time. If you don’t have a deadline, give it a lot of time. I rarely have that luxury any longer, but there were a few short stories I put down for months and even years. When I came back to them, I was surprised to realize ‘I wrote that.‘
Cultivate readers, if you can’t ignore your own inner critic. The First Reader is, well, my first reader. I’m not suggesting you find someone who will tell you your work is great no matter what. He certainly doesn’t. If you don’t want someone reading as you write – it works for me only because he is the other half of me, I think – then find some beta readers who will be honest. And then, for goodness’ sake, listen to them. They will find some flaws. None of us are perfect. But they will also tell you what’s good, what makes this story worth having been written.
It won’t help much, when you’re slogging through the next one. Just keep in mind that your brain and your heart are often at odds, and it’s your heart that doesn’t have confidence in your work. Do your best to drown the doubts. Play music. Step back and look at it from another angle. Ask someone you trust for input. But don’t stop. Keep plugging away at it, learning, and don’t let your inner critic shut you down.