What To Do When You Hate Your Writing

Writing can be a wonderful thing. There are times when the words will flow like magic, and make you feel almost as if you’re flying, completely giddy with the rush of composition.

But writing can be a terrible thing too. Because sometimes when the rush is gone, and you look at those words that carried you so high, you start to see cracks in the foundation, flaws in the structure. You get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. You ask yourself in a trembling voice, “Did I write those words?”

Because now you can see those words aren’t the heady and glorious constructions you thought that were. In fact, the longer you look at them the more they start to look like utter garbage. What went wrong?

Well, maybe nothing. Lots of writers go through this. Its natural enough at some point to look at your work and think, “I kinda hate this. This basically sucks.” But does it really? Well, maybe yes, and maybe no.

It’s perfectly normal for a writer to hate a book as they’re in the process of writing. Why? Writing can be hard, and unforgiving work. Can can loom over you like a massive mountain you never think you’ll be able to climb. And so after weeks and months of throwing your heart and soul into this work you’ll start to resent it, to look at all the work you’ve done and wonder whether it was worth it.

If that’s the spot you’re in, then the best thing you can do is just keep pressing through. Maybe you need to take a few days break to relieve yourself of the stress you’ve built up in your mind, but now is not the time to turn back. Keep at it, and finish. Odds are good you’ll look back at the things you hated and wondered how you could ever have been so blind.

But what about when you’ve finished your book and let it set for a month or two? What happens then, when you start to get that squirmy uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach? It’s time to face that fact that your manuscript may have some flaws.

Why? Well that cooling off time between writing and editing is designed to give you emotional distance. When you were in the throes of composition you were too close to the work to be able to make a good judgement as to what was good and what wasn’t. But now, after letting it sit in a drawer for several weeks, you’ve had time to move on, to forget, to spend some time thinking about other things.

When you go back after that cooling off time and you get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach it may very well mean the something is really wrong.

Don’t panic. It’s not the end of the world. I doesn’t mean you should trash your manuscript in a fit of despair. What you need to do, is fix it.

This is what rough drafts are for. They give us the opportunity to go back and look at our mistakes a missteps. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that no writer yet has produced a perfect first draft, and you’re not going to be the first.

So get in there and make some changes. Delete that sentence that doesn’t quite sound right and write it again. Plug up that plot hole over in chapter five. Tighten up that ending for maximum effectiveness. And for the love of Bob, get rid of that bizarre dream sequence with the god-tree in the forest. Actually that last one is probably just me.

Point is, don’t turn your back on your book because you’ve started to see the flaws. But don’t ignore the flaws either. Swallow your pride, admit you’re not perfect, and then go make it better. When you’ve finally got it right, you’ll know. Because you’ll read through that book you spent so many painful hours making right, and you’ll think “This book is pretty darn good.” And that moment will make all your hours of work and frustration seem completely worthwhile.

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7 responses to “What To Do When You Hate Your Writing

  1. Nice thoughts. Writing is a craft, and like any craft the creation is a process. Rough drafts are supposed to be messy. Your advice to not panic is needed for lots of insecure folks, especially some of the writers I see in college.

    Stephen King says that when he rereads his stuff after that initial draft, he sometimes finds holes “big enough to drive a Buick through.” If he can take it so can I.

  2. I guess I’m lucky. I’ve never reached the point where I actually hated my writing. I’ve had doubts about whether it was as good as I thought it was. That probably sounds arrogant, but I’ve never thought my writing is great or wonderful. I try not even to think about it in that all-inclusive way. Instead, I ask myself whether it’s an interesting plot and whether I’ve done fairly well by it. I ask if my characters are living, breathing people. And I get down to the page level where I want to know if it reads well, and and the sentence level where I hope it flows clearly.

    People often fear getting lost in the details, but you can also get lost in the big picture and lose your sense of perspective.

  3. That’s where I’m at right now. I am so hating my book and I’ve been neglecting it for that reason. I know I need to give it another chance, it’s just a matter of actually doing it!

  4. You read my mind! Right now I’m resting my brain. My writing yesterday gave me a headache. I could only use 740 words out of 3200.

  5. I knew I started poking around here for a reason! I have always loved writing, but lately it seems I have a whole lot of unfinished scraps. Sticking it out is one of the hardest things for me to do as a writer, so I’ve started downsizing. I still have that “Great American Novel” looming in the corner of my mind, but maybe someday I will get the nerve to sweat it out.

  6. Anne Lamott writes about allowing yourself those “sh*tty first drafts.” That’s actually what she calls them (minus the asterisk, plus an i), and she says they’re vital. Sometimes if you don’t allow yourself to do it poorly, you won’t do it at all — but with crappy first drafts, even if it isn’t right, at least it’s started.
    (Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed yesterday!)

  7. This post helped me out a lot. Sometimes I worry that the hatred I feel for my writing at times, and my ability to see its flawed structure, might mean that I’m not a writer at all, that I’m a fraud or something. This inspired me because I now see that everyone hates their own writing at one point or another. Very helpful post, Albert.

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