July 22, 2013

When Doubt Creeps In . . .

Last week, I hit a wall. For the very first time ever, I got this awful sick feeling my stomach, and suddenly my draft that I'd been writing with glee turned terrifying. I knew what was supposed to happen next. I had the whole story outlined. But suddenly, I was filled with so much doubt that I freaked out--am I writing the wrong story? Is my plot original enough? Will anyone give a care about my character, or is he too boring?

Commence hair pulling.

And for the first time ever, crying. Real, actual tears over words. I know I might sound spoiled, but up until that moment, writing had only ever been fun (and slightly obsessive) for me. I'd had plenty of moments where I knew I was writing crap. That the story didn't make sense, or the words were awkward, or whatever truth crossed my mind. But I'd always been able to forge ahead regardless. To brush off the question marks and write.

What changed?

Well, it's taken me about a week to figure that out. First, I fired off pages to a CP, and then had lengthy discussions with my always-supportive agent, but I couldn't seem to find peace. I was about 3/4 of the way through my manuscript, and I couldn't decide if I should change the plot lines or not. Every alternate idea I worked through had potential, but didn't grab me. In fact, with every new option I explored, I freaked out more, until I was in full-on writer distress.

This was a new thing for me, and bewildering, and shameful--why was I so stressed over writing? I mean, it's just a stupid story, right? Just words on paper? Only it's not just writing anymore--I have obligations to other people. I'm trying to get traditionally published. I have something to lose. And without realizing it, I'd let all of that pressure (most of it from myself) creep in and create doubt, until I couldn't even remember how I came up with my story in the first place. As I sat in the car with my husband outside the train station Friday morning (cue dramatic music), crying over everything and feeling lost, I realized that I'd forgotten how I discovered my character in the first place--and in turn, how I create stories.

I'd forgotten MY PROCESS. *cue hallelujah chords*

Everyone has a unique process for discovering a story. For me, story creation involves striking on a wonderful character who keeps my attention and defining that individual's character arc. This allows me to create a plot that suits the character's growth over the course of the novel. My stories are what you'd call character-driven. In many ways, I work from back to front. And that's how everything in the story ends up contributing to the character's outcome, from theme to individual plot points.

In my zeal to force a new plot-line, something more interesting or unique, I'd forgotten that the solution also had to suit my character's arc, and that's why nothing seemed to fit. Once this thought occurred to me, I briefly revisited the theme, premise, and character arc for my story--and discovered something else about my first draft: it wasn't terrible. It might not be right in the end, but I'm not at the end yet, and deciding before I finish is pure crazy.  That's the other part of my process I'd forgotten: FINISH YOUR DRAFT.

It's almost like I'd entirely forgotten that my previous books ever existed in draft form. And that they changed quite a bit over multiple drafts, and with multiple rounds of input. No first draft is perfect--that's why it's called a DRAFT. I've written a few books at this point. I should know this. But the basics were all too easy to forget.

So for all of you writers out there, this is your reminder: Remember your process. Finish your draft. Don't worry about what comes next. Cross that bridge when you get there.


  1. Brilliant advice. And stay true to your characters. That's what I hope to do with my unfinished draft. And not look back until the draft is finished. Then beta the heck out of it --then see where the possibilities lie. The pressure of people waiting for your writing--wow. This is why I hope to have a few MSs before the pressures on. Hallelujah! (sorry for typos, using phone) love this post.

  2. Next time you get stuck...add an octopus. Works. Every. Time.

  3. And remember, getting stuck is often part of the process.

  4. Terrific post. We've all been there, and it ain't pretty, and it feels gross. I'm impressed how you got out the swirling miasma of doubt. Well done ... okay I'm jealous about the redemptive ending happening so quickly!


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