Rewrites and Roadblocks

First off, THE REPORT:

Writing with the writing bud: Check.

Daily hour of writing: Check.

Chapters of Dead Timmy edited: Four.

This post: Done.

RoadblockTHIS POST

Years writing City of the Dead: Six.

Years revising City of the Dead: Ten.

Yep. I’m not proud of it. But there you go. I started writing City of the Dead when I was twelve years old and finally got through the behemoth of a book when I was just shy of eighteen. I’ve spent the last ten years of my life rewriting it over and over. It’s only in the last year that I finally started querying and branching out into other projects.

Assuming that the entire Star Daughter series (which was originally one book) is 300,000 words (total guess), that’s a writing average of 137 words a day. The words preceding this sentence total 136. They took me about two minutes to write. So the problem is clearly not in my fingers’ ability to pound out letters.

I know I’m not alone in this. Why do we writers do this to ourselves? Why spend such a hideously long time on a single project? (I mean, sixteen years. Sixteen years. That’s more than half my life!) I could blame a million little speed bumps along the way, but it really boils down to two major road blocks.

The first was a lack of confidence. Writing was a closet hobby, right back there with my Sailor Moon obsession (possibly even behind my Sailor Moon obsession, if I’m being honest), and I was very eager to not let anybody know about it save for three people. Total. For a decade. It’s kind of hard to decide a project is ready when you know in your heart of hearts that it sucks and everyone’s going to laugh at it and it’s better to just snuggle it in the darkness and pretend it doesn’t exist when someone notices. Getting over that sort of thinking is pretty vital in the publication process.

The second reason it took so long to finish (haha, finish, that’s so cute) is that I didn’t have a clear goal in mind for the book. Or for the entire series. Or my course and goals as a writer. It was all free to meander. So meander it did.

Either one of these problems would have been hard to overcome. Combined, they were crippling. I spent years thinking my writing was both terrible and pointless. (To be fair, it was at first. But I could have streamlined the fixing quite a bit.) Writing was something I did when I was taking an emotional beating and needed fictional people to take it out on. It had no value beyond personal catharsis. And personal catharsis is great and all, but eventually it wasn’t enough anymore. So I knew it was time to break down some barriers.

The first one to come down was the lack of clear goal. Signing up for NaNoWriMo knocked that sucker down quicker than Mohammad Ali can knock down a drunken beanpole in a night club. My first year of participation was a ridiculously close call. Suddenly, 137 words a day wasn’t enough. It wasn’t a tenth of enough. I staggered across the finish line with about ten words and two minutes to spare. I was better prepared the next year. I had an outline. A plan. And a grim determination to knock that 50k out of the park. Which I did. It felt good. Furthermore, it felt easy. Pretty soon I was averaging 3-4k a day, no problem.

But there was still that other problem. That confidence problem. And that one took a little more coaxing out of the way.

It’d be lying if I claimed it wasn’t an issue anymore. It’s not necessarily a problem like it was before, but it’s still there, lurking at the edges of my mind while my fingers lilt over the keyboard. It took a while to change that hulking monster breathing down my neck into a manageable little tamagotchi in my pocket, but that too was a necessary step in overcoming my inability to produce decent writing on a decent time frame. And unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet solution for it either.

Each writer has to approach that demon in their own way. For me, it involved learning to trust the opinions of my three confidants. It involved letting them finagle my death-grip off of the manuscript and hand it out for me. And then trusting the opinions of those their objective friends as well. Pretty soon I had perfect strangers looking at it who claimed that they liked it. So if they could love the ugly little thing, why shouldn’t I? And if there were parts that I knew were bad, what was stopping me from making them good?

Writers should never be completely comfortable with their craft. They should never feel like they can’t possibly get any better. But they should feel confident enough in their writing to let others see it.

If you just can’t muster up the confidence to let anyone look at a piece of writing, ask yourself why. If you don’t think it’s good, why not fix it up? Why not clean up the parts that you know are fluffy or confusing or just plain bad? If it’s still too intimidating, maybe try handing it out to just a couple of people that you trust. Or to internet strangers you’ll never have to look in the eye. Or maybe pass it around just a few pieces at a time: a first chapter or two, a short story. Something small and easy to digest. Maybe something you’re even a little proud of. Reception won’t always be glowing, but it probably won’t be as bad as you imagine. At least, such was my experience.

How about you folks? What are some ways you’ve whipped up a little more confidence in your work? What are some things about your own writing that you think you do well? Please share in the comments!

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