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Rules for Write-icles: The Author’s Life

by | Oct 20, 2018 | Tips & Tricks, Writing

There’s an old joke that goes like this:

Give someone a book, and they’ll read for a day.
Teach someone to write a book, and they’ll spend a lifetime mired in paralyzing self doubt.

Truer word were never spoken.

Personally I think that 90% of what it takes to be a writer is overcoming crippling self-doubt. Getting up off the couch, putting your butt in the chair, and your hands on the keyboard. Do that and do it consistently, and you can be a writer.

It’s funny. I’ve been published by a major publisher. I’ve worked with New York Times bestsellers. I’ve won writing awards. I’ve had a short story be the very first story in an anthology, the coveted pole-position. And yet, with all that, in the semi-darkness of my writing cave, facing the stark white glow of the empty screen, I wonder if I really know what I’m doing.

Case and point. I just finished a book last month. When I was writing it, somewhere around chapter 25 out of 34, I began to have the sinking feeling that things weren’t coming together. This book was extensively outlined, because it was a fantasy novel about a con game. (Yes, I’m weird.) Con games are intricate and, when done properly, have a lot of surprises. The thing is, you have to spend a lot of time setting everything up so the payoff will delight the reader. I’ve written mysteries before, but never something requiring this level of planning and detail. As I wrote, I began to think that the excessive setup was slowing the narrative to a crawl. Newsflash, nobody cares how cool your destination is if the journey is boring.

Long story short, I hiked up my big-boy pants and pressed on. “I’ll fix it in the edit,” I said. All through the remaining chapters I had the same nagging feeling. I felt lost in the denouement chapter, having to re-write it three times to get it right. When I finally typed that magical phrase “The End” I should have felt elated. Instead I was trepidatious. I knew, knew mind you, that the edit would be torturous and extensive and that’s depressing when you just finished 110K words.

So, I took a few weeks off. I always do this before an edit. I find that if I go right back into a story I just finished it’s harder to catch problems because I still remember the story too well, I know what I meant and that tends to obscure what I actually typed. With a couple of weeks off, I can come at the manuscript with fresh eyes.

Last night I finished my edit pass. When I read the magic words, “The End” this time, I was elated. I’d made a few corrections for names I changed during the writing and a whole pile of grammar and spelling corrections, but the largest amount of text I had to rewrite was about four paragraphs. To my utter surprise and delight, the story came together exactly as I had planned it. (I’m always surprised to discover that I’m pretty good at this writing thing. You’d think after years doing this I wouldn’t be, but I am.)

Now I don’t mean to blow my own horn, readers might still think the story stinks, but I’m happy. Really happy. It’s some of the best, and most ambitious, work I’ve ever done. If I’d listened to the voices of self-doubt, I never would have finished it.

So to the old adage, Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard, I’d like to add, and muzzle your self-doubt. It’s an unfortunate reality that there will be plenty of people in your life that will be happy to tell you that you aren’t good enough, don’t let yourself be one of them.

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