Friday, October 1, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Respecting Your Own Work

First things first—I have contest winners to announce! The random number generator has spoken. The winner of the hardcopy of Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern is K. Marie Criddle! And the winner of the audio book of Get Well Soon is KT! Congrats, guys, please contact me at natalie (at) nataliewhipple (dot) com and I will get you your prize.

Now, in other business, I need some volunteers (like two or three). These volunteers must be willing to film themselves giving a fake testimonial for a fake infomercial. Yes, you read that right. This fake infomercial may or may not be for fake club funding, just so you know. If you're interested, shoot me an email (I really want it shot to me, no boring "send").

And with that, I'd say it's about time for our weekly pep talk, no?

There's nothing quite like the feeling of a new, brilliant idea invading your mind. It might be my favorite part of the whole writing process. At that point, everything is perfect. You know how amazing this story will be. All the emotions and characters and plot lines are so exciting and fresh. You just know that this book will be incredible.

And then you start writing.

For me, it usually hits between 20-50 pages (aka: the end of Act I)—that dread, that doubt, that oh-my-gosh-I'm-going-to-screw-this-up-BAD.

From there on out, my idea doesn't look so brilliant anymore, but I keep on truckin'. I trust my alphas when they say it's good. By the time I get to edits—and the more I edit—the dumber and dumber the book seems until I start thinking "Why did I ever think this was GOOD? I'm an IDIOT!"

This would be an example of what not to do, or at least a queue to snap yourself out of that kind of thinking.

Our stories, while perfect in our heads, rarely turn out like that on paper. Okay, I'm willing to bet they never turn out like that the first time around. That does not mean the book is worthless or stupid or unsalvageable—it only means it needs more time to grow.

When a child makes mistakes, do we call them stupid or worthless? I hope not. That doesn't help a child improve. It's a rare child who has the drive to overcome those harsh words and prove them wrong. In fact, harsh criticism usually makes the child believe that they are stupid and worthless. It's not the best way to improvement.

We teach that child, don't we? We respect that they are still learning. We show that child how to correct their mistakes. We give them more productive activities. We're patient. We're forgiving. We encourage them to try and try until they get it right. At least we should.

I think we should treat our writing similarly. Sometimes I call my books stupid or worthless. Sometimes I worry they have zero potential before they're even finished. I compare them to polished, published books. To books that are totally different from them. It's not very fair. It's kind of like deciding your child will never graduate high school before they're even done with preschool.

We need to be more forgiving of our work. We need to respect it—whatever stage it's at. It's much easier to improve something when we believe in it, when we see the good in it and seek to bring that out.

If you're at a place where you can't see anything good in your book, I encourage you to sit down and try to remember what made you want to write it in the first place. Write those things down and keep them somewhere you can see. It's extremely helpful—doing just that saved one of my own projects from ridiculously high expectations and criticism.

Because really, if you don't love and respect your work, then who else will? And even if they do, I promise it's no replacement for your own feelings. The bitterness and discontentment will always come back—no matter how much praise you get—if you can't learn to appreciate and respect your stories.


  1. As a newcomer to the possibility of my writing I found this post very helpful. A great a post for new starters as well as those regular writers. Thank you!

  2. Natalie, you have no idea how much I look forward to Friday since you started this. Thanks for being so upbeat and positive!

  3. I look forward to your blog so much. This is a great post. I'm wondering, though, because I'm feeling that now (30,000 words in and gone, dead, no magic, stuck). I already shelved it for an entire month. Today I had to force the writing. And I prompted a turn that will lead the whole novel off course from original. It seems like a shallow idea, and I''m not sure I like it. But I have no idea what else to do with it. Part of me wants to not continue with the WIP at all and instead explore other possible ideas. But it is nagging at me, as though I should finish it. I've already shelved it over a month, so I feel its "do it" or "don't do it". How do you get past that stuff?
    Plus, the story is darker tone. Now, I'm not feeling the same "down and out" way, and I find it harder to convey that on the page anymore. I'm lost.
    Good post though, as always.

  4. I was having one of these days today, and this is exactly what I needed to read to help me push past it. Thank you ^_^

  5. Thanks for this post! It is something I NEEDED to read today.

  6. Kayley, that is a totally personal choice, but I can tell you if you want to walk away you shouldn't feel bad!

    I have walked away from ideas before. I wrote about 45k on one story, wasn't feeling it, and walked away for a long time. I felt super guilty about not finishing, but when I went back I didn't see anything I really loved.

    That's okay! You're allowed to try new things or walk away.

    I guess my advice would be to analyze why you are walking away. Is it fear? Is it because you don't know how to progress the story? Is it because a new idea is distracting you and you just want to move on?

    Whatever it is, be conscious of your decision and own it. You can always go back someday if you really want! Or you can push through and figure it out if you really want. Either way stick to your guns and move forward:)

  7. Hooray! Thank you so much, Natalie! I, as well, look forward so much to this happy posts. We writers can get so ridiculous in our self-filled pools of doubt and loathing. We have these real, valid feelings, but it doesn't always mean they are accurate.

    Again, thanks. Today I will be a Happy Writer. (And later, a Happy Reader!) Cheers.

  8. You mean other people are thinking the same things I am?Great to know I'm not alone! Maybe my story doesn't suck afterall. Maybe I should believe in myself more. Awesome post!

  9. Your posts are a daily encouragement to me! Thank you so much, Natalie! :)

  10. I've been following this blog for a while and I must say that it is a constant encouragement on this crazy writing journey we find ourselves on. Like they say on Write on!

  11. "It's kind of like deciding your child will never graduate high school before they're even done with preschool."

    Great analogy, Natalie. It's strange, but I honestly never thought of it this way, and you're so right. Why am I so hard on myself and my ideas? I would NEVER treat someone else or their ideas that way! Thanks for the eye-opening reminder. :)

  12. As always you are so on the money. Great post Natalie!

  13. someone told me to treat yourself like you would treat your kids (on a good day!) We wouldn't say the things to our kids we say to ourselves.

  14. Last week I went through a, "my writing is crap" phase. I think that this happened because I hadn't looked at it for over a week. Yes, I admit that I was lazy - again. Getting back into the groove of editing helped me to realize that it isn't as much crap and good material that needs work. I can appreciate this post because, yes, we need to respect what we write.

  15. I FREAKING LOVE THIS GUILD! It makes me remember why I loved writing so much in the first place.

  16. Brilliant analogy. Loving this society and looking forward to many more meetings.

  17. I love your analogy! I get stuck at the 20-30k word mark--that's when the am-I-ever-gonna-finish-this panic sets in. So glad I'm not the only one!

  18. Ah, we should give our writing that kind of grace. Good stuff!

  19. I'm too guilty of comparing my books to already published ones. Or more recently, books about actual people who live in Japan and experience the culture. Then I read my story and I worry that I'm misrepresenting the culture and making it too Western.

    I know I need to just push past it, but it does become overwhelming sometimes. I need to be a little more merciful with it--and myself.

    Thanks for another awesome post! I love this society :)

  20. Yay! Thank you :)

    Totally agree with this. New ideas are the freaking best...until you starting wondering what in the world you're doing. But we gotta push through :)
    Love the post!