What do you do when you don’t like what you write? It’s a question I’ve been asked by many of my aspiring writer friends, and even have to contemplate myself most days. Every writer I’ve ever met has at one time or another hated what they wrote. For me, it’s everything. Right now, as I work on my Camp NaNo novel (at 17,000 words), I absolutely despise everything on those thirty pages. I’m sure they’re not as horrible as my mind is making it out to be, but the pacing, the repetition, the descriptions, and the lack of any kind of coherent continuity are driving me mad.
But I have another 100,000 words, at least, of writing to do before this novel is over, and I know myself; if I start revising, I’ll never stop. I’ll go, and go, and work on what I’ve already written rather than what I need to get down. Because as we all know: we can’t fix what doesn’t exist.
So what should you do when you don’t like your writing? Well, there really isn’t a simple answer to that. Everyone thinks differently, and so everyone deals with this universal feeling differently.
For me it’s rather simple. I have trained myself to just not. It’s taken years of practice, and help from friends, but somehow I’ve gained enough discipline to actually ignore all the horrible writing I’ve put on the paper and keep going. I tell myself over, and over, and over, that I can fix it later. Revision comes later. You don’t have to fix it right now. You need the help of other people to fix it.
That last thought is probably the most important for me. Now, I’m a pretty good editor. I catch a lot in my own work, but I also miss quite a bit. Or, I’ll think something is wrong and horrible when everyone else likes it. So I know, and I remind myself that I need the help of other people before I can actually begin to like my writing. After all, no one is perfect.
Now, the way I keep going doesn’t work for a lot of people. My brother, for example, can’t just let it go. He will revise his essays until his fingers bleed and never get anything done. So I have a few ways to help.
1. Separate yourself from the writing.
This might require some help from friends, and it’ll take up a lot of documents, but one thing you can do is write each chapter on a different word document, and then once the chapter is finished, move it to a flash drive. You can separate it by chapters, or even pages, whichever works best for you. But once it’s on a flash drive, you can hand it to a friend and make it so you can’t access what was previously written.
This might work for people who revise chapter at a time, and just can’t seem to get past that first chapter because they keep changing things. It forces them to keep going, because they have nothing to revise.
2. Get someone to beg you for new chapters.
A lot of people don’t like to show others their first drafts. I’m one of them. It doesn’t seem like it, especially not to my friends, but I’m always very nervous when I give my work to someone else to see. But let me tell you it helps. If you get a friend you trust and just have them read the story, chances are they’ll ask you for new chapters. Is There an Elephant in the Room? was written this way. Every day a good friend of mine would ask me for another chapter, and being me, I felt obligated to get it to her. Next thing I knew I had 47 chapters, 382 pages, and 210,000 words written in my newly completed story.
The trick to this is get someone who’ll only compliment you. If you get someone who constantly critiques everything, then your motivation might die, and you’ll want to revert back to revising what you’ve already written, instead of finishing the story.
3. Make notes to yourself
When you finish writing for the day, or the hour, or the minute, or whatever, a good trick to do is make a note to yourself about your thoughts at the time. For instance, in my story Found the Rock. Where’s the Hard Place?, I knew exactly where I wanted to go when I got to the end of the chapter, but I was afraid I’d forget about it when I finally got back to the story. So I write a small little paragraph about what I wanted to happen when I picked up again. Worked wonders.
But this is also really good to keep you from revising. Instead of having to go back and reread what you’d written the day before — which encourages revising — you can just read the little note and continue on from there. It keeps you from looking back and seeing what you hate about what you wrote the day before.
4. DON’T SEEK OUT CRITIQUES
Until your story is finished, unless it’s absolutely necessary (you don’t know where you should go with the story, or there’s a flat character and you need help with them), avoid getting critiques. What happens when you get a critique, at least for me, is you start to see what they say about your previously written stuff, in what you’re currently writing. This not only makes it difficult to continue writing, but it also encourages you to abandon the current and go back to the old to fix it.
This is good once the book is finished, but if you aren’t finished? It’s almost pointless. Beautiful, amazing writing doesn’t mean anything if it’s incomplete. You can admire it for what it is, but at the same time you’ll pine for what it could be.
Overall? Don’t turn mountains into molehills. Birds into dragons. Lakes into oceans. Probably the best advice would be to remind yourself that all writers hate what they put on a page. There’s always something you can change. A good friend of mine put it best when she said, “An artist’s work is only done when the artist is dead, and even then they’ll be rolling around in their graves thinking of all the things they could have done differently.”
A first draft is a first draft. It will have it’s problems. As long as you understand that and know it can be fixed later, moving on when you hate your writing becomes easier. The amount of times I tell myself, “You can fix it later,” is so massive I can’t count it on two hands. I’ve had people tell me I should make it perfect before I move on, but you know what? I’d never have finished Elephant, or Childhood, or The First Nine if I did that. If I made everything perfect, I’d still be on page one, line one, word one. Perfect is subjective, and if you take a step back, breathe in some fresh air, and realize it’s okay to have mistakes, moving past this block will become so much easier.
Now then, I’m sitting in the San Francisco airport, waiting for my three and a half hour delayed flight, and I have a horribly written NaNo novel to write. Anyone have any other advice for the people out there who are having trouble? Triumphant stories? If so, don’t be afraid to comment and share what you have to say!