Grab a cup of coffee and a blanket everyone, this is about to get a bit snuggly.
In chatting with a few Camp NaNo partners this week, a topic was brought up about how certain things we did not anticipate made us anxious about our upcoming projects and how vocal we are being about our craft. Sometimes things you feel confident and become less so when you are faced with a huge amount of data, a deadline and a gnawing writer-demon telling you that you just aren’t good enough.
We can’t just swipe those writer-demons away. They are like mosquitoes- they keep coming back to nag you just when you thought everything was going to be ok. We need some bug spray over here, preferably in the scent of coffee grinds and vanilla.
We also accept blankets and baked goods.
Addendum: I am not a professional author. I have never published a book, but I would think these kinds of concerns are relatively universal because they speak to general human nature and our appreciation of art.
1. Compliments from other writers.
One of the main insecurities discussed in this chat group was the growing concern over how one took the compliments, critiquing and advice of the other writers. A writing buddy of mine who has been through two previous NaNo’s with me said
“I have realized that I am super shy about compliments from other writers.”
The consensus among the group was that yes, we all felt this way. Sharing what we were writing had become easier, but we presented it with the expectation of having it torn to shreds by one another– even those of us who post our snippets or chapters regularly and receive positive reader response. Postive writer response is completely different.
This is not to downplay the role of the reader, but think– what artist presents their work in it’s beginning, rough stages to anyone? Very few, because the nature of art is that it possesses an essence of the creator. Just like a painter or a sculptor, there is a part of us, a vulnerability, that appears when we share a plot twist, explain a reference, reveal dialogue in its unfinished form.
We are showing our process, not the secrets of it, but the dogeared corners and scratch marks that mark our craft- and we are doing it with the hope someone will help us point out a flaw. That flaw may or may not be us, or a part of us, or the part of the story we thought was most important of all. We build up walls for this. We present expecting the worst because a fellow writer will have the critique a reader may be unwilling to share or the time to break down and suggest.
Then, we get compliments instead and well-intentioned suggestions. Our walls are breached not by spears and ballasts but a soft summer breeze willing the doors open, like a ghost. Think of it like summer love, the moment you notice when someone is looking at what you love the way you do and seeing it for that value.
In real life, we would accept that feeling. In the writing world, we assume something must be wrong– and in truth, there is something fundamentally wrong.
We, the compliment receiver, are wrong. We are wrong for assuming what we present will not warrant positive response from our peers, especially when we know how we would react to the same providing their work to us. Learning to have confidence in our place among our peers is paramount, and it is one thing that projects like Camp NaNoWriMo fosters.
2. Insecurities relating to ability compared to other writers.
Another friend in this same discussion replied to my oldest writing buddy, lamenting the fact that she also felt the same, and then added the following:
“I am super nervous because I feel like my writing just isn’t as good as you two.”
This is connected to our first point– why compliments from fellow writers, especially those we look up to, can be so shocking. The old adage “You are your worst critic” is not an exaggeration. We are our worst critics, and quite often, our own roadblocks to success.
On the interstate of novel writing (which winds upward through mountains and back down into the valley, it’s quite pretty), those pesky little writer demons like to throw in a few falling rocks called self-doubt, distraction, insecurity, and value. We try to swerve to miss them instead of pressing our foot on the gas and racing past them. They tell us we are not ready to tell a story so detailed, that we are not being aware enough of the audience we write for, that our vocabulary is too limited to create something beautiful.
The writer demons are wrong. We are none of these things. We just allow ourselves to believe we are because the negative words are sharper and pointier than the good ones, and they pierce right trough that bubbly marshmallow layer to land in our heart. The only way to build a shield is to keep writing.
No one starts out a great writer. I look back at some of the older things I have written and I am ashamed they are available online (I will not link you, no. Shame on you). They are terrible, but because I kept writing I have become better. Because I keep reading, I learn new techniques and words. I’ve identified styles I enjoy and learned how to master them into my own by using the areas I am confident I am skilled in.
Every style is different and unique; I think all writers understand this. We support it in others. So why can’t we support it in ourselves?
3. The willingness to share
Now is the tough part. In reading what my fellow Camp Nano-ers were saying, I felt it was time to explain one of my own insecurities.
In our small group, I have made a concentrated effort to share all parts (planning, plotting, research, and prose) of my new novel for a few different reasons. I’m working on an original novel this time around and the entire cast of characters are in a time period and country I am not. I am writing completely out of my comfort zone and I feel obligated not to just mash the words together haphazardly but to represent the time and people as accurately as I can.
When I write fan fiction, it is easy for me to share. I post up stories, I bounce my ideas off others, I give updates and snippets without fear knowing I am only building upon an existing fanbase who already knows and loves these characters. I have enough confidence in myself to know that I can write them in a way fans of the canon will enjoy. There is no fear– if anything, I overshare and ruin my surprises.
It’s not quite that simple with original fiction. My first manuscript was only shared with one friend during the NaNo process until I had finished the month, and then I posted it to an obscure website while I worked out the rest of it. Then I barely touched it again, even with the sparse praise it received, because I reread it and was embarrassed I ever thought it could become a real novel.
Seriously. I fell right into my own trap before I had even given it a chance to be something more.
This time, I am so tentatively excited about my idea that I want to build up my confidence with other writers, so I can ensure I have given it every effort possible. If it is successful, I am also hoping my tenacity will inspire the others in my camp to be more open and passionate about what they are writing as well. Passion is what pushes us through those long hours of no sleep and high caffeine, right to the finish line.
4. Writing outside of culture or demographic, and doing it right.
This one is tricky, because if the novel you have chosen to write is outside of your own personal experience and culture, you cannot possibly write it without talking about it with others. Research will only get you so far; at some point you will need to convince someone to help you locate that one obscure piece of information you didn’t realize you needed until it was too late, and they will need to know enough about your story in order to give you the correct information. Writers write, but we are terrible communicators.
Must be all those metaphors and similes we like to use. Can’t just be straight forward, can we?
To add to the difficulty, if you do not know the language of the people you are writing about, the resources at your hands for research are very low. You can get key points, but to do the digging you need to flesh out the story you need a partner who can translate and has just as much motivation to help you craft your story as you do. How do you motivate them?
By discussing what you are writing, and allowing them into your creative process.
5. Writing about writing.
This brings me to my final point; that as easy as writing a story may be (and that’s an exaggeration I know writing is not easy), when it comes time to write about writing (or even speak about writing), it suddenly becomes daunting. Those pesky little writing demons make us trip over our words, blur the images we once saw so clearly, make us question the validity of what we are doing. Maybe no one else will understand what we are saying, because suddenly we don’t even understand it ourselves.
Remember the road? Well, instead of a rock slide now you have an avalanche and the snow is blinding. Guess what? That is the best time to talk about writing.When we discuss writing at these confusing points with other writers, we get the hard questions out– and are forced to look at our story from an outsider’s view. These are the moments our stories become more defined.
If you cannot convey what you want to another writer, it is likely that the execution in your story also needs revision and direction. That is okay! Use the probing of your peers to enhance your story and speak to the gaps in your planning that may later become the source of your frustrations and disappointment. Other writers will ask and direct your thought process until you can dig your way out of the snow and come out into the sun again.
There is weird weather on this mountain, okay. It’s called drama and tension. You know, those things we always try to include to keep our readers hooked?
We only become better writers by partnering with peers, seeing the struggles of others and identifying with them in our own writing life. It’s not an easy thing to do, it involves baring parts of ourselves and being willing to accept the positive (remember that) and the helpful all at once. Being open to what you will receive back and then honing the feedback is what it takes to create confidence in your craft.
And sometimes, it’s also the key in the ignition to start your car and continue up that mountain so you can get to the other side and slide to the finish.