Sunday, April 12, 2009

What to Do When You Think Your Writing Stinks

Based on the title, you would think that I am experienced at feeling inadequate. But of course I'm not... really, no really. I have loads of confidence. Just back off, OK?

Seriously, sometimes (or even often) feeling like you are a lousy writer and you have no right to cut down the trees necessary to print out your draft is a normal part of being a writer. In fact it is probably just proof that you are a writer. I know this happens to me all too often, including this last week.

I was chugging along, finishing another chapter, and then I took a few minutes to read back over the last chapter. Big mistake! The structure was fractured, the backdrop was almost invisible, and the dialogue seemed forced and too much like an information dump.

In short, my writing stunk. I admit it. And from what I hear that is the first step to recovery.

After allowing a brief period of mourning and self-loathing, I stopped myself from wallowing in despair. Let's face it, as writers we often can be quite overly dramatic. Time for a reality break.

Every writer stinks sometimes, especially in a first draft. In fact I would argue that the more often you write, the more often you will stink. It follows the principle that the most successful people are also the biggest failures, because it is just a factor of the number of times you try.

So do not give up!

Rally, charge, and brazenly spill out those words that may never see the light of day again in the same form. Try to stop those doubting thoughts. You will revise. The writing will get better, much better. You can do it! Time is your ally. Dedication is your tool of success.

As a practical matter, read religiously on the subject of writing. If you do not have any books on the craft of writing, set aside a shelf for writing books and start buying and reading them. I am a mere amateur, but I have learned volumes about the craft of plotting, dialogue, character, and so on from the wisdom of other writers. And do not wait until you finish your first novel or your latest project. Make a commitment to read a book on the craft every month. Believe me, it will improve your writing.

I should note that I think it is important to read a variety of different perspectives of writing because a single writing book that you treat as the bible for writing can become a crutch and make your writing stiff, static, or even repetitive. The goal is to learn the craft, not some magic formula to writing a best seller. In my opinion, the best seller is up to you and your imagination, tamed by the strictures and proven techniques of other great writers.

In summary, never let a few pages or chapters of stinky writing stop you from your goals. If it was easy everyone would do it and succeed. Press forward, remember it can be fixed later, and remain confident. After a few weeks or months of work, you may find you have developed a sweet smelling rose.

J Hugh Thomas is a database developer and a programmer who is writing his first novel. Read his blog to see all of his writer's resources and free advice.

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