Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On the Ups and Downs of Writing: A Writer’s Guide to Surviving the Emocoaster. Plus, How Reading Helps and Hinders Us.

Writing and self doubt go together like Nutella and a spoon.

Writers, naturally full of doubt, introspection, and self-criticisms, are often strapped in tightly to the emocoaster (emotional roller coaster). The range of emotions over the course of a writing project, or a period of querying or editor submission, or even a single week or day can vary wildly. One minute you’re in love with a project, it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever written no seriously I love this story, and the next, you’re ready to tear out your hair, gouge your eyeballs and drink a drano cocktail to rid the world of another hack writer (okay, a bit dramatic, but you get my point.).

The highs are high, the lows are low, the little self-doubt monster continues surfing on the swell of emotions that comes in droves, driven by the constant back-burner wrangling of fears: will I make it? Will I ever be good enough?

On a good writing day, you’re riding high, and it’s easy to banish the thoughts, but one little slip up: a bad writing day, a batch of particularly negative beta comments, an agent/editor rejection, a bad review, whatever, can send the emocoaster plummeting once again.

And then there’s those times where you’re stuck in one pattern or another, either sailing on the whoo hoo my writing rocks breeze or sloshing through the I suck sewers and just trying to get through the fricken first draft, when you happen to read a great book, one that grabs you and pulls on every emotion, has you rereading lines and whole passages because the language is that beautiful, but you’re flying through it anyway because the plot and tension are amazing too and you finish and put it down and are so smitten with the book that you broodingly stare at it and want to break down in tears because:

Damn it will I ever write like that?

Here’s the thing about reading. For a writer, there is nothing as useful as reading, and reading a heck of a lot. It keeps ideas fresh, keeps us current on what’s happening in the reading world, and, duh – writers are readers – it’s fun, too. Plus, there are things you really can’t just know or learn any other way. It’s one of those you’ll know it when you see it things. Things like story flow, plotting, pacing, dialogue, tension, action, emotion, relationships, climax, characterizations, sentence structure, plot structure, mythology, and gosh, the list could go on forever. These things soak in when you read, whether you're consciously looking for them or not.

But reading can hinder us too. I tear through books pretty quickly but I find that when I read too much, too fast, my head starts getting too crowded with ideas. If I’m really taken by one author’s metaphors, but the next book amazed by another’s tone, and the following week swimming in awesome voice and dialogue and next floored by descriptions… etc., I start looking at my ms like I need to fix everything at once. It’s overwhelming.

I know many of us do this comparison thing, so here’s what I’ve learned to remember:

When I am first drafting, I have to slow down my reading DRASTICALLY. Too many different voices interfere with mine, and if it’s anything even close to my genre/story, my muse is off balance, stumbling along like she sucked down way too many books at last call.

Also, when reading a published novel, it’s good to always keep in mind: it’s been written, rewritten, revised like hell (most likely) and edited by many industry professionals. Your book? The one you’re crying and thinking sucks? Most likely it’s a draft – go easy on yourself. Just finish the thing, then freak out.:D

Relax. Ride the emocoaster when you have to, allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel before letting it go. Like I tell my kids, we can’t control the outside forces that make us feel what we feel, we can only control our reactions to them. A rejection, beta comments that bring us down, or a beautifully written book we feel we can never aspire to. Whatever it is, let it soak in, accept it, have some chocolate/wine/cheese doodles/etc. and then move on. We all have our down days and rejection and writing can beat us up, but just keep pounding away at the keyboard and finish that draft so that someday, it’s your book people are sighing over and underlining in and putting on the shelf for a second, third or fourth read someday.

So up up up we climb again, until the emocoaster takes another dive.

(Reposted from April 2011)