Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Mountains to Hurdle

I don't usually do "list posts" but I'm going to give one a go today. I want to talk about the obstacles that crop up in every writer's life, more particularly in the lives of fiction authors. So let's begin!

1. Self-doubt is probably the biggest obstacle to writing. It plagues writers day and night. Every time they sit down at the computer it stops their fingers from typing. It's powerful and it is crippling. We all have that voice in our head constantly saying things like, "Your writing is terrible" "You'll never be good enough" "Everyone will laugh at you" "You'll never find a publisher" "You'll never write anything good" "You'll never finish your book"...etc. It is never-ending and it is hard to get past it.

Here's the thing though. You are amazing.

You have a story to write. No one can tell the story like you can. And you will be amazing. Maybe the first draft will suck...guess what? First drafts always do. Just keep going. Tell that voice to shut it, and then write what is on your heart. You have unlimited creative power if you'll only learn to silence the voice in your head and just write. Some days it will be hard. I still have hard days. But just remember that you are amazing, and that YOU are in charge, not that negative voice in your head. So show them who's boss.

2. Distractions. They come in many forms. Social Media. Books you want to read for pleasure. Movies. The mall. Don't get distracted. You have to learn to stay focused and diligent or your story will never get written. That isn't to say never do other fun things. It's all about balance. The way I find balance is by making myself a schedule of specific times that I have to write, specific times I'm allowed to read, and so forth.

3. Criticism. This one is especially hard. You pour your very soul into the stories that you write. When people have negative things to say about that story, it feels like a personal affront. That story isn't just a story, it's you. I get it. I struggle with accepting criticism and not letting it control me. You have to learn to be objective about it. When you get the criticism, in whatever form, take a day to feel the emotions. Maybe you'll cry. Maybe you'll be angry. Don't, DON'T, complain to people or yell at people or do anything irrational. Just keep to yourself and feel those emotions in private. Because you only get one day. After that, you have to get over it.

I start by writing down the criticism that I received. I look it over, and try to find the root of the problem. Is it the story itself they don't like? The writing style? The characters? I figure out what the problem is. And then I take a good hard look at my story and decide whether or not they are right. Sometimes, I do have terrible character arcs. So if someone points it out, instead of getting all riled up I thank them and then study my characters a bit to see what I can change to make it better. You have to learn to let the criticism become a positive thing. It can help, I promise. Just don't get emotional after the first day. I do one day for the emotional feelings because let's be honest: criticism hurts. It's painful. That's your heart and soul they're talking about. So yes, have a good cry. And then pull yourself together and figure out what you can fix.

4. On the flip side of that, only having people in your life who tell you how awesome you are and how amazing your writing is doesn't help either. You need those people, because authors suffer from self-doubt like a leper does from leprosy. It's constant, and painful, and you can't write without having self-doubt. So yes, gather up those encouraging people and surround yourself with them. You need them. But don't cut out every negative voice. You need someone, not to criticize perhaps, but to be rational. Be truthful. Be objective. If something isn't good, you need to have someone in your life who will tell you so. Otherwise you'll never notice anything is wrong and you'll never fix it. Meaning you'll never improve your writing and you really will suck. So find someone who will speak the truth gently but firmly and listen to them.

5. Comparison. A huge no-no. Don't ever compare yourself to other authors, it will only lead to more self-doubt. We all want to be like our heroes, or like those famous authors who have become household names. I get it. I want that sometimes too. But don't compare your writing. One, those household names are generally household names because they spent years honing their craft. You're a tiny green shoot, they're the full-grown tree. Also, you're never going to be like those authors, and you shouldn't want to be. You have a unique voice, so use it. Don't try to be like someone else or compare your work to someone else's. They aren't you, you aren't them. Your writing is special in its way, the same goes for theirs. And comparing yourself with other authors will only lead to you judging yourself and finding yourself coming up short. So don't. It doesn't matter what they do. You aren't held to their standard. You are held to your own. It is not a competition against other authors. It's a competition with yourself. Compare your recent work with something you wrote a couple years ago. See how much you are improving? That's great! Keep it up!

Well those are five of the many obstacles that writers face. Avoid them, at all costs. 

Happy writing, everyone! :)

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