3 Ways We Writers Are Too Hard on Ourselves

Are you butting heads with your characters? LET GO.

Are you butting heads with your characters? LET GO.

Writing a great short story, or a novel that is engaging and inspiring enough to touch SOMEONE and make just one person’s life a little more fruitful…. That’s what we aim for when we write fiction. At least, that’s what I hope my fiction might accomplish.

And that is the beginning of the problem, at least when it comes to my approach to fiction. Writing is wonderful, and a worthy aim, but it is not an easy hobby or job, for a number of reasons.

It doesn’t help that–if you’re anything like me– we often make writing harder than it needs to be. Today, I wanted to address three ways writers are often too hard on themselves.

1. OUR GOALS ARE NOT DEFINED ENOUGH. THEY ARE ABSTRACT AND IMPOSSIBLE TO MEASURE.

 That’s the problem with the “goal” that I mentioned above. Oh, it’s definitely fine–and very good!– to hope that we touch someone, and to relate writing to a higher purpose in life.

BUT, if that is the only way we think of writing, and the only goal we set, we will get frustrated because there is no way to gauge that goal. Remember, there is DEFINITELY no way to touch someone before we put our work out there–and getting the work “ready for prime time” is the hardest part of writing. Without concrete goals for each step of the way, we will lose focus and grow exasperated. Try setting goals like this:

  • I will write X number of words this week or month.
  • I will write for thirty minutes without stopping to edit or reread what I wrote above.
  • I will edit this chapter by the end of the week, focusing on cutting fluff, or focusing on bringing out this character’s emotion, or focusing on explaining this point that’s still unclear.
  • I will fix this plot hole…. either by adding information or (if possible, even better!) cutting material that causes the conflict to begin with, if that’s an option in any way.

The important thing is to set goals that (1) have measurable results, (2), are achievable in a reasonable amount of time, and (3) are limited enough to involve only one aspect of the writing process, such as writing, editing, publishing, or marketing.

2. WE LET THE CHAOS OF A BAD FIRST DRAFT GET TO US.

All our first drafts are pretty much big stinky piles of stinky stuff. That’s just the way it goes. It’s tough to admit that about our own work, but it’s not out of the ordinary that a first draft is awful, and it’s not as sign that you can’t write or that you have no potential.

I’ve written before about chaotic first drafts and the mindset we need to deal with the choas in a healthy, fruitful way. The chaos is your raw material. Just remember: you have made a HUGE advance in having a big pile of chaotic plot and characters with gaps in their story or personality. You could have no plot or no characters at all.

A choatic draft is a chance to think outside the box to find a solution that will excite, motivate, and energize you to make your story something better than you ever envisioned before. The chaos just might be the spark for the grand idea that brings everything together…. an idea you otherwise would never have found.

3. WE TRY TO CONTROL EVERYTHING.

By “everything,” I more or less mean “characters.” We can’t control other people in real life, and we should try to think of our characters as people with their own wills and goals. When they conflict with what we want, we should at least take a moment to consider their arguments for why they want something different than what we want to give them.

My characters have “convinced” me a number of times to act differently than I wanted, or than I foresaw them doing. And I think they are more rounded and feel more “real” because I chose to hear them out instead of forcing them to do what I wanted–which wasn’t necessarily the choice THEY would have made as real people.

So, do you struggle with these three obstacles? Or are you hard on yourself and your writing or different reasons, in different ways?

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12 responses to “3 Ways We Writers Are Too Hard on Ourselves

  1. Thanks for this post! I’ve been muddling through a revision of a novel lately, and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who goes through this sort of thing. I wish I had read this post sooner actually, #1 and #2 would have been hugely helpful when I started out. But good advice is good advice, regardless of when it’s heard. So thanks again! 😀

  2. I despair over #2. To me, “workable draft” is an oxymoron. The manuscript undergoes multiple revisions before I turn the book over to my beta readers. Then I revise the darn thing several more times!

    Next would be #3. I never tell my characters what to do or how to act; their personalities dictate that. Unfortunately, readers have certain expectations for characters…and if we fail to meet those, they might not like our fictional people. It all depends on the genre.

    I’m curious to find out how other authors–including you, Victoria!–strike a balance between pleasing ourselves and trying to please our readers.

    • That’s a fantastic question!!! It all comes down to who your target audience is. None of us can ever please everyone. So it comes down to, who are we writing for? What are THEY expecting? Like you mention, it has a lot to do with genre sometimes. Also, I tend to write for ME. I wanted to write something that was set in a fantasy world but also explored deep moral issues and themes like redemption, the power of sin, and doing the right thing even when that is tough and/or we aren’t sure what the right thing is in a situation. So I guess I write for people with interests similar to mine: people who like fantasy with depth and who appreciate the value of traditional morality

      • You answered my question as I’d hoped, Victoria. I write for people who share my philosophies about family, life, and love, but who also enjoy stories with a paranormal twist. My characters might not be entirely human, but they are even more human that most of us.

  3. Cate Russell-Cole

    Hi Victoria, just a heads up that I have moved my blog address to a cheaper, more migraine-friendly address. You are very welcome to stalk me there. I will do my utmost to get back here and both support and share your work as often as I can.

    http://cateartios.net/CommuniCATE_Blog/

    Have an awesome week.

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  6. Thanks once again Victoria. Your post sare not only timely reminders but very helpful. I’ve been hard on some of my characters too but you do need to listen to them! One character (in Crossing Paths) went away for quite a while (from the storyline). I just couldn’t get him back but ultimately I realised that this behaviour was correct. Something awful had happened to him and he needed to be alone for a while. I was just surprised for how long!

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