Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Writing Through Self-Doubt

Lots of books and workshops exist to help writers get "unstuck" (writerly term meaning, essentially, "what iz plots and words I cannot huh?"), and if  you are feeling the stick, I can recommend a few of those. (If you haven't already taken her courses or read her productivity books, I would 100% recommend Becca Syme. She's the best.) But what if your brand of stuckness isn't about time management or self-discipline and maybe goes lack of self-confidence or even hopelessness?

That's often where I find myself, but when I try to describe the deep pit of cannotness, the person I'm talking to tends to get that blank look on their face and start backing away. Sometimes they'll recommend therapy or psychotropics. *shrug* I'm used to it, to the point that I don't even try to talk about it anymore. It's my own secret horror show.

But maybe I'm not the only writer out there who gets to this point (a lot)? Dunno. Just in case, here are a two things that work sometimes.

Critique Partners Who Actually Like What I Write

Okay, yes, I can rev myself up and get crit from strangers or professionals, and yes, all of that is helpful for craft and whatnot, but dude, when I'm sitting in my closet with my laptop, in tears because everything I write is a flaming turd, your critique sandwich with cute terms like "huh?" and "too stupid to live" is not going to help. It's going to anti-help. 

So I counter that kind of crit with a couple of crit partners who aren't about ripping stuff to shreds. Instead, they are about helping me grow as a writer. I know crazy, right? So they tell me not only what isn't maybe working but also what absolutely is. They help me build on the good stuff and snip out the bad. They lol in the margins and leave comments for my characters. They tell me when the ending needs more punch but don't tell me how they'd do it. 

It's like they trust me to make those story decisions myself. And, folks, when I'm in the Pit of Despair, that kind of trust is like soul medicine. If these amazing people think -- however misguidedly,  bless them -- that I am capable of moving on and making this story good, maybe there's hope for me yet. Self-confidence ticks up, I got this, poof=unstuck.

Caveat: It's hard finding crit partners who work for your particular brain. I've found the best ones are people who are my friends, who know when I absolutely can't handle a "you're making no sense here" comment and just need a "flagged things to revisit later, but for now: hooray for complete chapter and keep going!" encouragement. I've collected my little group over many years, but the basis in each relationship is respect. You can't have a crit partner you don't respect or who doesn't respect you. Some awe helps as well. Don't partner up with someone you think is not on your level, and def not with someone who thinks they're light years ahead of you. A mentor is not a crit partner. A mentor is a mentor.


I hear all about writers who go to coffee shops or libraries or write-ins (none of which is happening a lot in covidlandia lately), and that fuels them. It settles differently over my head. When I'm around a lot of other writers and they are all doing their awesome thing, I feel smaller and smaller and less and less capable. But by myself, locked in a room with my laptop, I can write anything. I can think anything. I am free. ( write the derpiest stuff in the history of written things but hey, it's made of words! And that matters!) When I'm at my lowest and stuckest, giving myself permission to write just anything --and have it completely suck--is a private thing. And sometimes also is the thing that makes it all start working again.  

If you're thinking, "Solitude, right, it's easier to find Clorox wipes than solitude in quarantine!" I hear you. Like, I really hear you. We're doing a lot of needs-must things right now, and many of them suck. The lack of alonetime is just part of that. We will get through this, but it'll take time, and I've given my writing career permission to stumble around for a bit. It's okay if I miss a trend. It's okay if there are long stretches between my releases. It's okay. Permission to fail, permission to pause, permission to just sit there and play Animal Crossing and let my brain bake itself in the struggling AC of a hotter'n-hell Texas summer. We will get through this. 

And, eventually, the self-confidence--and the writing--will get unstuck and work again. I have to believe this.