Friday, June 17, 2011

This is a stupid concept that nobody wants to read

As I predicted in yesterday's post, the pace of my writing did indeed slow down yesterday as a result of my having to stop and rework the next portion of my outline. This was necessary because, after actually writing the stuff dictated by my outline so far, the next scenes I had prescribed initially either weren't quite appropriate or just not as good as the ideas I had now.

Still, I managed to do 700 words yesterday, so that's nice!
Interestingly, my subconscious saboteur decided to make another derailment attempt. Last night, I started wondering if maybe my protagonist was the only character I would ever be able to write successfully. (This was brought about by the fact that this is far and away my most successful novel attempt.) I promptly rattled off several other characters I've written successfully (in a separate novel I'm co-authoring), so I beat that attempt at sabotage rather easily.

This morning, however, I was taking a shower and suddenly had the thought pop into my head that my novel plot was stupid. Just silly and stupid and utterly uninteresting to anyone but me. This bit of negativity has been harder to refute, simply because, besides me, nobody has read what I've written yet. I really don't know for sure that my plotline isn't dumb, I have no way of knowing if anyone who doesn't see my face in the mirror every day will find this story compelling. For all I know, people will cringe as they read it and won't progress beyond the first ten pages.

But I guess this illuminates one of the most important components of being a writer: faith. I'm not talking about having faith in your talent or being self-confident. This component extends well beyond talent and ability and persistence and all that other stuff that typically figure into pep-talking for writers. This speaks directly to personal taste. I'm talking about having faith in your ability to craft a story that will appeal to people outside of your own inner circle.

There's no way to know that until you actually show it to other people, and if you start to doubt the appeal of your story to others, it's really hard to keep writing it. You start itching for feedback, often at a moment when the story is just not ready to be viewed by anyone else, because it's full of abbreviated character descriptions that you intend to flesh out in the next draft and plot threads that you come up with later that you drop in when you think of them and need to go back later to weave them in near the beginning. Stuff like that. So I really think that it's important to be very careful about seeking feedback during a first draft, especially early in the first draft.

If you do elect to do so, you should be selective about whom you approach. It should be someone whose judgment you trust, who will be able to overlook the unhewn elements of the work and assess the strength of the concept, the clarity of the narrative voice, the liveliness of the characters, etc.

As for me, I still hear that voice trying to convince me that writing this novel is a waste of effort because nobody will like it, but I'm choosing to ignore it and keep going. When I reach the first plot point (I've gotten to the set-up for it but not to the actual point where the protagonist makes a decision to act), I'll clean up the whole thing enough that the chinks and cracks won't be too distracting, and then I'll let somebody read it to tell me if they find the story compelling.

Then I'll deal with whatever the outcome is of that!


Jo Eberhardt said...

Stay strong! I'm sure all writers go through the same thoughts on a regular basis. (At least, I do, so I hope it's not just the two of us.)

I'm really lucky in that my husband is incredibly supportive, and perfect for overcoming exactly those feelings that you described. He's an absolutely terrible beta reader. His feedback on a nearly-finished-but-needs-a-critique piece is usually something non-useful like, "It's great." But when it comes to the big questions like, "Is it even worth me writing this? Does the first chapter suck? Is anyone even going to care?" he's awesome. Sometimes you just need someone to run a non-critical eye over what you're doing, to give you that emotional pat on the back that you need to keep on writing that first draft.

Leanne Baldwin said...

Hi, Jo! I think you're probably right that most writers experience these doubts. It's probably a side effect for the act of creation; whether you write or perform or paint or sculpt or whatever, you are exposing a part of yourself in a way that you don't at any other time. Negative reactions hurt a lot because creating is a deeply personal act.

It sounds like your husband is the perfect audience for the early, doubt-ridden stage of creation!