I’ve been writing seriously for about 12 years now, and while a lot of things have changed along the way, one thing has pretty consistently remained the same: I always seem to feel dissatisfied with my writing life.
Sometimes I’m unhappy with the writing itself, but experience has shown me that almost all bad writing can be improved if you just work hard enough at revisions. What I’m really talking about is something different, something deeper. It’s an insidious feeling of never being where I wanted to be, of always striving to reach some goal, and then reaching it and still feeling like I didn’t get what I wanted.
It’s that time of year where I’m flooded with phone calls from panicked writers who are trying desperately to prepare for NaNoWriMo. For me, the end of October is always filled with these kinds of last-minute coaching sessions, in which I talk writers down from the ledge and convince them that all will be okay and that they CAN make it through NaNo.
From all these years doing all these frantic phone calls with writers, I have noticed a pattern. Writers who have done NaNo before definitely seem to have an easier time of it, because they already know the thing that first-timers have to learn on their own:
If you’re a highly creative person then chances are you’ve gone through periods in your life when you felt creatively stifled. Maybe you had a brutal work schedule or you were caught up in a bad relationship and your head wasn’t where it needed to be to make good art. Or maybe you had critical parents and you just never had the self-confidence to put your work out into the world. But no matter what the reason, all of us at one time or another have wished we could bring more creativity into our lives, and then we’ve gotten blocked on how to make that dream a reality.
Why is this? Why is it so hard to tap into our own creativity and make it work for us?
The first book I ever wrote was ugly as hell. It was raw, disgusting, weird, and twisted. In fact, when I first started writing it I didn’t even know what it was. I thought maybe it was a memoir, because it was all about a certain period in my life, but I could also see that it was so fragmented and exaggerated in places that thinking of it as an actual linear story was quite a stretch, even for my imagination.
I worked on it every week for two years but I kept it a secret. I hid the pages I wrote in a locked desk drawer and never looked at them. I was too embarrassed, and ashamed. I knew the writing was bad, that was one thing, but I also didn’t want to look at the demons that were showing up. I didn’t want to know what those demons were trying to tell me.
If you’ve been hit by a bad beta reader you’ll know it. Emotionally, at least. You’ll feel panicked, anxious, FULL of self-doubt, and lower than low. However, your rational mind will try to talk you out of it. Writers need to be thick-skinned, it will say. All feedback is valuable in some way, it will add. But your gut will feel otherwise. Deep down, you’ll know that something is off. Something is wrong.
And then, if you don’t find another outside party to confide in who can give you that reinforcement and validation you need to trust your gut, you can quickly spiral out of control and lose all confidence in your book.