“Embrace the Suck”: Writing through the doubt

Moira-frustrated-computerI’ve often been told (and it’s advice I’ve passed on, myself) that if you are still long enough, you will hear God (or the Universe, or Fate, etc. etc.) speaking to you. I do believe that. Patience and calm will net you wisdom that you just cannot gleam from frenetic worrying and anxiety.

But there are also times when the Universe (or God, or Fate, etc. etc.) just ups and smacks you on the nose.

Take this morning for instance: I expressed to my husband how frustrated I was that I couldn’t translate the story in my head into coherent words on the paper for my current WIP. I was also second-guessing my finished novel, the one that I already submitted to two writing contests. I was feeling discouraged, to say the least.

And then this quote of the day popped up at the top of my Gmail inbox:

“My dear friend, clear your mind of cant.”― Samuel Johnson

To be perfectly clear, Johnson was not speaking of “can’t”; he was addressing the hypocritical way in which some people speak. (Politicians often cant about family values and fiscal responsibility, but then pass bills that promote neither.)

But as I read it in my head, I changed “cant” to “can’t”, because that advice also works. The more I stress over what I can’t do, the more true that becomes. If I tell myself I can’t do something, then I won’t be able to do it. I need to clear my mind of that awful word, “can’t”. Yes, I can develop a complex personality for my character. Yes, I can create a more vivid setting. Yes, I can figure out how to plug that plot hole.

I think as writers, we all have those moments of doubt, when we believe we can’t produce something worthy of public consumption. We just have to push through it, or to put it in military parlance, “Embrace the Suck”. If making the decision to chase my dream of becoming a published author has taught me anything, it’s taught me that this field is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those who can’t be honest with themselves, who can’t handle the hard work, who can’t see past that first ugly draft. So just clear your minds of “can’t”, my dear friends, because:

“you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”Stephen King

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The Inevitability of Confidence and Doubt

Ever read a book and think, I can do this! I can write like this! (or if you’re feeling particularly arrogant, I can write better than this!)

Then read another book and think, Crap, I can’t do this! I’ll never be this good!

I am recently experiencing the latter, having just finished T. Torrest’s Remember Trilogy (Remember When 1, 2, and 3). I was initially intrigued by it because of its humorous references to the 90s. The female protagonist graduated in 1991, and I found myself dying with laughter at the relatable references. Part 1 takes place during her senior year, and I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that at the end of the book, the class graduates. It killed me to read her description of having to say goodbye to everyone; it honestly felt like she had pulled those words out of my own shredded heart at the end of the summer after I graduated, when my friends and I parted. I could relate to so many of the insecurities in Layla, as well as the abandonment issues, and while I didn’t have a high school sweetheart who became a movie superstar, I still have fond memories–and regrets–about the loves I did experience. In the book, Layla describes it like this:

There was nothing like being a teenager in love. You never get to have that gooey, gaga craziness ever again.

She nailed it.

There’s a raw, painful, sweet, love story at the core of these books. The sucker I am for romance, I was sucked in. And as I work on my own romance novel, my first real one, I’m hearing that voice–the bitchy one with the nagging doubt–telling me I’ll never be this good. It’s an effort to remind myself that I’m only on the first draft, and yeah, big chunks of it do suck. But that’s what revision is for, right? To write is human, to edit is divine? But man, the way Torrest crafted her sentences had me agog to keep flipping the pages, despite it being 2 a.m. (e.g. “During late August in New York, the heat was practically a solid. A thick, squishy, gelatinous muck rising from the blacktop of the street and the grates in the sidewalk, only to be inhaled into its inhabitants’ tired lungs.” —Oh. My. Gosh. Talk about “show, don’t tell”!)

The thing is, I can read books by the greats, both classic and contemporary–King, Fitzgerald, Blume, Irving, et al–and not feel insecure. I’m not trying to write the Great American Novel, whatever that really is. I’m just writing something for others to enjoy, to share my passion, to leave something behind that my kids–and I–will be proud of. And because I just need to empty my brain of the stories that ping around in there. Imagination is a lonely thing if you don’t share it with others.

But when I read books like this, that achieve what I want to achieve, I can’t help but let that little critic take up space in my head. I have to refuse to let her stay too long, to get on with this business of writing my heart out, with confidence. Because confidence and doubt are the flip sides of the same coin. Some days you toss the coin in the air and it lands on the wrong side. You can either cry about it and let that stupid coin lay there forever, or you can pick it up and flip it over to the right side yourself. I’ve discovered that if I wait for someone else to flip it for me–to give my ego a boost–I may end up waiting a really long time.  I’ve let it lay there on the wrong side for too long too many times to count, and I’ve wasted precious YEARS because of it. Maybe my book won’t be as good as I think Torrest’s is, but that’s ok. It’ll be all mine. And that’s what matters.

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