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Those Insidious Doubts

Doubts are crafty little creatures. Sometimes they hit you almost as soon as you sit down and pull out your notebook or open your word document. Sometimes they’re sneaky and crawl in after you’ve written a few pages. One minute things are normal, and the next you have that feeling like fingernails down a blackboard, that weird sensation of not liking your words much anymore. In fact, every single word makes you feel ill. And sometimes it goes away, but other times everything descends rapidly downhill. And then you realise that you’re not just writing any old bad novel. No. You’re actually writing The Worst Novel In The Entire Universe.

There are a lot of different things you have to screw up to write The Worst Novel In The Entire Universe. You need appallingly dull characters, characters with no interesting qualities whatsoever. Not even slightly interesting qualities. Everything about them has to be as dull as possible. And every single sentence needs to snarl up and make no sense, and also talk entirely about things no reader ever wants to know. And the setting has to be – I don’t know. Somewhere with no chance of any interesting thing ever happening. And the plot – the what? There’s no plot. At all. And god forbid there be any themes. Or any anything. Or maybe there are themes, but they’re all awkward and keep turning up constantly. Every two words.

And sure, there are some characters who accidentally do boring things in every first draft. Mine like to go to sleep and tell me what they’re dreaming about. There are some sentences in every first draft that clunk in one way or another. Mine end up kind of scatterbrained: sentences that try to do too many things at once in the wrong order without any commas when really they should be doing something else entirely. Like that last sentence. There are possibly a few moments when the setting doesn’t make much sense. Or the plot falters. And maybe the themes turn up just to whack you in the head with obvious obviousness. And sometimes, naturally, you look at all this stuff, this stuff that you screw up, and you think that maybe you should go watch some daytime television and never attempt this again.

I read a post on Sarah Dessen’s blog recently, where she talked about writing Just Listen. She almost deleted it and gave up writing in despair. She was that convinced it was terrible. I couldn’t believe that not just any published author, but Sarah Dessen, could feel that way about a book which turned out (in my opinion) to be her best. In short, we don’t know. As she points out, when you’re entangled in a draft, you’re so close to it that it can be impossible to see clearly.

Besides. It’s better to hate your writing sometimes than to never hate your writing at all. Doubt can be good. When you’re working on that next draft, you’ll be objective and able to listen to other people’s advice and edit ruthlessly. If you’re in love with every single thing you write 100% of the time, it’s hard to acknowledge the flaws. Doubt shows that you’re a healthy writer, rather than an inflated egotistical ugly one.

So, sometimes you write and it comes out imperfect. Or even awful. But don’t let that stop you. As the British government liked to tell people during World War II, just keep calm and carry on. Because you never know. That Worst Novel In The Entire Universe? It might just turn out to be amazing.
Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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  1. Oh Leila, you couldn't have chosen a more perfect topic!!

    I have just finished first draft and have started to revise and more than once have thought "This is total crap." But I pushed through and hope that this is something really good. (I have no idea, as I am still too close to it to really know for sure)

    I LOVE hearing about how even amazing published authors have the same doubt about their own writing. It gives me hope!

  2. I really needed to see this today. Thank you. :)

  3. I love you and this post. My WIP and I are having SUCH a love/hate relationship right now!

  4. Great post! Sometimes I hate what I've written so much that I can't even bring myself to open the word document...

  5. I heart this post. I was ready to label my WIP Worst Half-finished Novel in the Universe.

  6. Oh, thank you, great post! My doubts creep in when I sit down to re-read my first draft. Those first few pages where I spot the things I did clumsily, the edits that need to happen, and realise the glory in my head isn't quite reflected on the page!

  7. I almost always find that those passages I deem the worst of the worst are the ones that my critique partners find the most intriguing. I think sometimes that unpolished, awkward stuff comes from so deep inside that you don't know how to articulate it the first couple (OK, seven or eight) times you try.

    Keep calm and carry on, indeed.

  8. If you're afraid to write a bad novel, you risk winding up with nothing on the page at all. As I see it, doubt means you're at least giving it a try. This was a great post to read today after a rocky morning write. Thanks! Stasia

  9. I go to the Decatur Book Festival every year with my mom to see lectures and panels by authors, and one thing they all say is that they have doubts too! Hearing that, and seeing it affirmed in this blog, always helps me keep writing.

  10. Oh yeah. This strikes home for all writers, published or not, and I think your last point is really important.

    My agent suggested I look at my novel, lethal Inheritance again before we submit it and I was thrilled to see bits I could fix up. I figured that if there wasn't anything, it didn't mean it was good, it meant I was blind.

    I figure that all books can be better.

  11. This post is exactly what I need to read every day before I sit down to revise.

    Thank you. <3


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Item Reviewed: Those Insidious Doubts Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Leila Austin