Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Want To Be A Better Writer? Stop Second-Guessing Yourself

As I've alluded to before, I've been an author for some years now. And before I was an author, I was a young writer trying to figure out how to become an author. I read every genre book I could get my hands on, I picked up the usual how-to guides, I took creative writing classes, and I shared my thoughts and ideas with other writers that I knew.

Some of the other writers I knew when I was younger made the jump from writers to authors (which is to say, from those who wrote as amateurs to those who write as professionals), but not all of them. Not even most of them, if I'm honest. Now, part of that was because not everyone wanted to make that leap. They were perfectly content writing as a hobby, or as a group activity, and they didn't really have an interest in making a career out of it. A lot of folks did, though. However, there was a major problem that stopped many writers who wanted to go pro from doing so. It wasn't their vocabulary, their plots, their subject matter, or even their voice or quirks. It was, simply put, a lack of confidence in their stride. They would take a step, maybe two, and then they'd hit that backspace key until they were right back where they started.

No, wait, I've got a BETTER idea!
There's nothing wrong with deleting text that genuinely doesn't work, and going in a different direction with it. However, if you find yourself constantly asking if you should start over, or start another project entirely, then you might find yourself in need of a firmer stride.

A Bad First Draft is Better Than NO First Draft

You've probably heard that phrase before, but a lot of writers don't really appreciate it. Mainly because, for many of them, the fun is in all the build-up to the project. That's when your synapses are firing, you're creating a world, and you're drunk off the first shot of your new idea. When you're fleshing out your characters, making up your plot, and naming everything, you can feel like the most brilliant son of a bitch who ever put words to paper.

Then the writing starts. For a lot of folks, that's where the fun ends.

Well... what if this isn't the right project? Could I go and PLAN a different one?
Second guessing can take a lot of forms. Maybe you re-write your opening chapter ten times because it never sounds just right. And then, when you finally do get it right, you want to throw it away because it sounds too much like Tolkien, or Martin, or another author you've read a lot recently. It's even possible that you get halfway, or most of the way, to the end, and then decide to scrap it and start over. Or put it in mothballs, and start something else instead. Because it isn't right, or it feels boring, or you don't have the same energy you had before.

Imagine, for a moment, that you had a friend who really wanted to get in shape. They did all their research, and figured out the ideal diet, and the best exercise routine based on their body type, their interests, and their goals. The first session is hard, but they feel it's going well. They struggle a bit with the second, and the third. Then they skip a day, and claim they're trying to reset. Then they show up, and try again, but taking all their weights and reps back to start. The same thing happens. Then they decide to try a different program entirely, thinking that maybe they weren't getting the results they wanted because they were using the wrong method. But they keep bouncing around, switching, and stopping.

Are they still getting a workout? Sure. But that isn't the point of the exercise. The point is to mold yourself into a finished product. If you're constantly backtracking, changing, and not going forward with your book, you have the same problem. You're burning a lot of calories, but adding no page count.

Finish First, Polish Later

Writing, much like exercise, is all about building a habit. It's about programming your mind and body to do the heavy lifting. It takes a while to set a habit, and it takes even longer to unlearn one.

That's why finishing a project is so important.

Don't even think about it.
How many times have you read a bad book, and said, "I could do better than this!" Probably a lot. But it takes just as much effort to write a bad book as it does to write a good book. It takes even more effort to edit that book, get a contract for it, get it edited, and release it to the reading public.

Finishing anything is hard. But once you start doing it, and refusing to stop until you have at least a rough draft, it becomes habit forming. Once you're used to finishing, then you can build your other skills. But being able to write perfect prose does you no good if you never finish what you start.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Told you I'd get around to it. If you want to make sure you stay up-to-date on all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support the work I do, why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? All it takes is $1 a month to get my everlasting gratitude, and some sweet swag, so stop on in today!

No comments:

Post a Comment