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?