Thursday, April 11, 2013

Some Thoughts Aimed at the Writer with Shaky Confidence

       I've been reading blog posts long enough now to have discovered certain things.  First, I find an amazing number of insecure writers out there.  Many of these are beginners and it's understandable that they would be a little daunted by the idea of writing a book, sharing it with others who might have negative opinions, and even actually publishing it.  When I started writing fiction, I did it because I discovered that I could, and because it was SO MUCH FUN!  I could be Tolkien's sub-creator -- I could make these characters do anything and suffer anything I wanted!  (I always loved to make my characters suffer!  I hesitate to speculate on what that says about my psyche!  Heh, heh!)
     And it never occurred to me that other people wouldn't want to read about my worlds and characters.  A couple of people outside my family read my big, long, first novel and one of those has always liked what I wrote.  The other one was someone I didn't know and she was lukewarm and didn't really peg properly what I was trying to do (I probably didn't get across).  She was quite picky about style and from her I mainly learned that I used the word "now" too much.  (I probably still do and I'm a bit sensitive about that, so I try to watch it.) 
       Anyway, it was a good six or seven years before I considered trying to publish.  This was in pre-internet days -- no email, etc.  I sent stuff out, I collected rejection slips.  I was just starting to get a little encouragement, like, "We don't need anything like this right now, but try us again later."  Or (in regard to my free novelette "The Blessing of Krozem" and the novel of which it was the Prologue), "I like this story, but it doesn't have enough magic in it."  (I've never been a big writer of magic -- I'm too scientifically oriented.  I need a rational explanation for everything that happens.  It's either science or some inexplicable, external god-force with me.  I feel uncomfortable with earthly magic -- wave a wand or utter your "abracadabra" and something happens for no discernible reason.) 
       About that time, I was forced to stop writing for some 17 years, so nothing ever came out of those early days.  But it certainly wasn't a waste of time -- I read somewhere way back that you need to write a million words before you can call yourself a writer.  I certainly did that because I'm nothing if not prolific.  And when I picked up writing again in 2000, I think I had improved 500% -- again, I don't know why.  Maybe it was just an increase in age and experience, and the fact that "now" I had plenty of free time with no interruptions.  I still write by instinct and you can quibble all you want about stylistic points, like too much reliance on dialogue or too much repetition in certain parts or too much explication and display of facts, but I stand by what I write.  I have never suffered from lack of confidence about the quality of my books.  I'm not saying they couldn't be improved -- I'm just saying that they do what I intended them to do.
      And that's what puzzles me a little about some insecure people who are fairly experienced writers; they've written non-fiction pieces and published them, they write terrific blogs that are sometimes hilariously funny (I'm no good at comedy writing) and sometimes insightful or downright poetic; they may even earn their living in an editorial capacity.  And yet the idea of writing an organized story with a plot that has a defined beginning, middle, and end; some complex and captivating characters; and a series of minor climaxes building to a major climax -- it just seems to petrify them. 
       My advice is -- don't be petrified!  Just let your imagination flow like a fountain of Irish creme!  Let it trickle out through your fingers on the keyboard!  You're a Creator!  Make those characters love and laugh, make mistakes and get into trouble, find relationships and have adventures!  Make them grow and change and reach a finality, be it sad or happy!  Make 'em suffer -- heh, heh!  It's so much fun!  If you really feel what you're writing, other people will, too.  Don't just write wooden, empty sentences like this --
       "He walked out the door and saw a man with a dog sitting on the curb.  He got into his car, but it wouldn't start, so he got out and said to the man, 'Can you help me here?' and then he walked over and touched the man's shoulder and the man fell over." 
       Instead, write --
       "Michael walked out the door with his car keys in his hand and looked around.  Something didn't feel right.  There was strange cast to the light, as if the sun were veiled, and yet the sky was clear.  There seemed to be a sound on the edge of Michael's hearing, but he couldn't define it or even tell where it was coming from.  Michael hesitated, then shook his head to clear it, and walked to his car.
       "It was then he noticed the man sitting on the curb, with a dog at his side.  The dog was resting its head on the man's knee and its muzzle was hidden.  Again Michael hesitated -- was the man all right?  But Michael was late, so he settled himself behind the wheel of his car -- and found the engine wouldn't turn over.  He swore.  Jumping out, he called to the man, 'Hey, can you help me here?  I need somebody to keep trying the engine while I tinker with the motor.'  The man made no answer, although the dog looked around and bared its teeth slightly.  The teeth seemed unusually red.
       "Uneasy, Michael nevertheless approached the man.  'Did you hear me?  Are you OK?'  He reached to touch the man's shoulder.  Instantly the man fell over and everything changed.  Lights flashed, a gong began to clang deafeningly, and Michael passed into another world."
       Hey, that's not so bad!  I just made it up on the spur of the moment and I have no idea what happens next.  If any of you people out there who are low on writing confidence would like to take this beginning and run with it, be my guest!  :-)


  1. Well said! Insecurities are easy, but taking the jump and going for it is fun. :)

  2. Thanks for stopping by, John! Yes, I've always said that if writing stopped being fun, I would quit writing.

  3. It's not about being scared for me. I'm not scared at all; it's just that these agents and editors haven't figured out just how GOOD I am. ;)

  4. Sounds like a nasty little beginning for a story--you should totally run with that (or from it. . .)

    As for insecurity--are you familiar with the Imposter phenomenon? That's the pervasive sense that one is actually playing a role--ie, the role of a successful writer--and at any moment, someone will pull back the curtain and reveal that you're actually a fraud! People in many fields suffer from this sensation, but I think writers are more prone in part because so many people think they could write a book, and every literate person has the physical skills to do so (can pick up a pen or open a laptop and write).
    So there's a sense that anyone *could* do what we do--even if they wouldn't or wouldn't do it well. So what makes us so special? Even Edith Wharton had a great quote about her surprise that, after her first book of stories came out, someone could go into a bookstore and ask for it "and the clerk, without laughing, would hand it over."

    1. That Imposter phenomenon could very well be in play with some of the people I've encountered on blog posts lately who display this sense of insecurity. I never felt that. When I started writing, I didn't know anybody else who was writing, or wanted to (no internet in those days). I just found out that I COULD write a story, and it was so much fun, as I said in the post! I never compared myself to anybody, although I never told anybody I was writing either, at least not right away.
      Now at this point of my life, I don't care what people think. I haven't sold a lot of books, but I've never received a really bad review and several people have really enjoyed my writing. I'm confident more will do that as time goes on - again I preach patience! Let me hasten to add, not everybody will like my writing or my style. But I am sure I will continue to find people who are geared to my approach, and I'd love to have lots of people at least give it a try. And btw, remember, you don't have the full impact of The Termite Queen until you complete v.2.

  5. Interesting.

    Guilty of lacking confidence, but I think I also lack the skills, the dedication and the discipline.

    I love stories, both reading and making up stories. It's just that something happens with my stories on their way from my brain to paper/screen.

    There are countless stories residing in my head. I've written down some of them and I've posted a couple of them on forums and my blog. They haven't been received badly. I haven't experienced them being viewed as garbage. It's more on a personal level. When I read my written down stories, they appear dead. It's as if some of the magic has disappeared.

    When I make up stories on the spur and tell them they become alive and they captivate. When I write them down, they lose colour and they kill pieces of my soul.

    Maybe it does come down to lack of confidence and fear. I've always been a below average grade type of student, been told my grammar is bad and my sentences too horrific to see the light of day.

    I guess I should try writing more of them down on paper. For myself. As practice.

    1. Maybe you should have lived in a time of oral transmission - you might have made a good Bard! :-) But it sounds like your problem really is technique and a lack of writing skills. Now, you can learn grammar, and how to construct a decent sentence, and to put paragraphs together and how to structure a chapter, etc. You may only need a good copy and content editor for those things - somebody with the time to work with you. But how to make your stories and characters live - that's something else. There are writing instructors who do know how to teach that, I think, but it's not something I know how to do.