Is this you? You have a passion for writing and you love crafting stories and characters. Your dream is to write a novel. But every time you get close or make progress, you hit a dead end. Suddenly, this shiny special idea is not as good as you think it is. The words aren’t coming as quickly, and you’re starting to doubt yourself.
Don’t give up.
I’ve struggled with this exact challenge. It seems easier said than done, but trust me, it’s vital to keep going if you want to become a novel writer. Here are five reasons why:
We’re an awful judge of what is good or not, especially with ourselves
Mybe you’re stuck because you think your writing is bad. No one else could possibly enjoy it, right?
You have no way of knowing this. When you get close to something, you lack perspective. This applies to relationships, ideologies, and of course, your writing.
An article from Harvard Business Review by Scott Edinger explores the inherent flaws in our self-perception, particularly as leaders:
“Our data show not just a gap — but something closer to a canyon — between people’s perceptions of themselves and how other people see them. “How could that be?” you might ask: After all, you are the only one there for everything! No doubt. And yet, our data tell us that you are a notoriously bad predictor of your own leadership abilities because it is so difficult to consistently know what impact you are having on others.”
Edinger shares how often the best leaders are the ones who “frequently rate their performance lower than their peers, bosses, and direct reports.” It comes down to “benevolent deception” and a lack of self-confidence and perspective.
As a writer, you are the leader of the story. You control the narrative. And that can make it even harder to be objective about your work, especially when you are in the midst of drafting. So just because you think your writing might be bad, doesn’t mean it actually is.
Quality is subjective
Have you ever read a book and loved it, only to talk to your friend about it or look up reviews online to see the complete opposite perspective? Turns out, everyone else thought the book was awful and a waste of time. Even when it impacted you and changed your life.
Everyone approaches life with a different perspective. And even with the same life circumstances, each person can have a different quality of life. If you focus too much on the possible negative reaction to your writing, you are never going to get far. Instead, focus on what inspires you about the story and what is meaningful for you.
Your expectations need to be realistic
Here’s something you need to know: your first draft will be bad. Any book you read in a bookstore 99% of the time has gone through agents, editors, and several drafts before hitting shelves. Sometimes, it can take three drafts. And sometimes it can take 10 drafts. The number varies, but of course, the consensus is that the first draft is never the end of the story.
As Terry Pratchett, bestselling author, writes “The first draft is you telling yourself the story.” Take this opportunity to explore the story and get to know it yourself. Then make it better in the editing phase.
Pushing through is what makes you a writer
When you hit a rut with your writing, it could be that you’re burnt out and need a break. Or you could have taken a wrong turn. Maybe you discover a massive plot hole or the characters are stuck in a situation they can’t get out of.
It’s easy to get discouraged when this happens. But writing yourself into a corner isn’t necessarily a mistake or an indicator that the story is awful. It is a way to push yourself to problem solve. Oftentimes, the best creative ideas come when we place restrictions on ourselves and have specific material to work with. So if you discover a problem with your story, work through it; don’t stop completely.
Seeing your story through to the end is vital
I used to be the type of writer that always loved starting projects. To be honest, sometimes I still find myself falling into that habit. I love the initial idea and the first 10,000 words are a breeze. But when it comes to the middle, I slow down. And quite a few times, I don’t even make it to the end.
It’s tempting to chase new ideas. They’re bright, shiny, and full of possibilities. You haven’t fully explored the possible challenges or issues that could come from pursuing the story, so there are no negatives yet.
But the execution is key. If you constantly quit after the beginning and middle, you will never make it to the end. Writing is a muscle; you need to train it. Endings need to be practiced just as much as the beginning. The only way to do that is to complete the projects you’re working on. Even if you don’t it is worthwhile, you will be a better writer because of it.
Inevitably, when you are writing you will doubt yourself. In a long project, such as a novel, you will probably experience that feeling multiple times. I certainly have. But it’s important to understand that in these moments you lack the perspective to fully see the quality of your writing. To finish, you need to be realistic about your expectations and cognizant of the importance of pushing through to the end.