This month, for the third part of our Writers Ask Writers blog series, we have been asked the most difficult question yet. It was posed by a commenter on Annabel Smith’s blog, and though it’s the one most writers dread being asked, we decided to try and tackle it. And I’m going to try and be as honest as I can, although that means admitting that I’m not perfect, and that my writing is often far from it.
The question was: How do you maintain interest in your writing project during those times when you feel it is going nowhere, when you are discouraged?
It’s a difficult one because I don’t know the answer to it. There are times, and often it comes out of nowhere, when you would rather do anything than sit down and work on the book you are writing.
I find this very difficult to accept, when I have spent so much time longing to be a writer. I feel guilty about it: I can finally devote myself to what I have always wanted to do, and sometimes, it feels a little too much like work. But even when you do allow yourself to take a break, and follow the often quoted remedy of ‘leaving your book alone’ when you get stuck or discouraged, there is always that lingering voice which follows you. You should be writing now, it says. You are a writer. A lazy, lazy writer. And you are not doing anything at all. Where is this going to get you?
I wish I could switch of the nagging voice, but I can’t. So I spend much of my time avoiding it, trying to distract it, trying to get it to leave me alone. I hate to admit feeling like this, and I battle with it, because I love writing, don’t I? I’m ungrateful. If I had read this post before I was published, I would have stopped reading in disgust. She’s published. She has everything she ever wanted. And she’s moaning about it. I really hate myself for it.
I’m in one of those stages now. And I went through one with How To Be A Good Wife. Shortly after sending my second draft to my agent, I experienced a period of euphoria, thinking that it was all finished, that I could finally relax. But that was before I understood the process of editing. And before I received a long email detailing the new changes I needed to make, and thirty more pages of editorial notes. Which, of course, were exactly what the book needed and helped it to become what it is now. Without that input and that painful process, the book would never have been published. I look back on it now as an important period of realization for me, in which I learnt a lot about plotting.
But it’s easy, after coming through a difficult patch, to look back on it and be glad it happened. To see the positive with hindsight. But it’s not so easy when you are in the thick of one, unable to see the other end. What if I never finish this book? What if it isn’t good enough? Is this the book I am supposed to be writing? And that doubt, and those questions, were all the more loud and clear before I was published, before I knew that anything would come of the book. But they feel pretty hard to ignore.
That’s why, when I get asked how I overcome periods of doubt and uncertainty, how I keep going, I don’t know how to answer. I don’t know how I keep going when those voices get shouty and I can’t seem to get away from them.
I tell myself I’ve done it before, that I have to have faith that I will be able to do it, to make this the best piece of work it can be. I will try to do the impossible and close the gap between everything I imagine this book will be, and what’s actually there on the paper, the inevitable disappointment. I watch inspirational videos. I read about other writers, and how they cope with this. But ultimately, I have to find some belief that I can do it. And I’m also aware that if I don’t pick myself up and give it a damn good try, then it will set a precedent for the next time I feel like this. There will be a next time, that is something I have come to accept.
Nothing comes out perfect first time. And although everyone wants to be, I’m not the exception to this. I think I will try and find a kind of peace in that: that without these struggles to be better, without some kind of pressure, I would never improve. I have to take a deep breath, and rise to this challenge too.
To hear what my writer friends do when they’re stuck: click on the links below:
Dawn Barker: “I’m currently writing my second novel, and I’ve been through this cycle of euphoria and despair several times already.”
Sara Foster: “I’ve learned to try not to pay any attention to that painful little voice that likes to remind me that I’m a bit rubbish if it gets half a chance”
Amanda Curtin: “I’m still working out what is the best way, for me, of dealing with this.”
Natasha Lester: “Even writers with two published books under their belts, like me, have trouble.”
Annabel Smith: ”Painful as it may be, perhaps you need to abandon it, and begin something else.”