This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, which cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.
I have a complicated relationship with the writing process. I love to write. I love the creative process of playing around with fictional characters and scenarios, drawing on both the real world and other stories to create something original. I love using descriptive prose that has a sense of beauty all of its own, regardless of the purpose it’s used for. I love writing clever, sharp dialogue that I’m not quick enough to think of in the moment, or that only work because I provided a setup that the real world wasn’t kind enough to give me. Moving into non-fiction, writing helps me to make sense of my complex, messy, seemingly contradictory thoughts, whether of a personal nature, or just thoughts on a book or film I sort of love and hate simultaneously. There is a lot about the writing process I absolutely love.
But on the other hand I’m held back by a load of idiotic insecurities. Chief among these is the frustration when the things I want to write don’t turn out as well as I’d like them to. I’ve read the term ‘paralysing perfectionism’ used to describe this trend, and it’s certainly an accurate one to describe my experience. When I begin to construct a story, I can generally work out an overall outline, and a few key scenes, in my head. In my imagination, a perfect version of this story exists. An idyllic vision, untainted by my flaws and limits as a writer, which hasn’t had to come into contact with the real world. I have a tendency to lose faith when this happens. Another that tends to hold me back is the feeling that I don’t know nearly enough to get started. Stephen King, in his book of writing advice On Writing says that he writes his first draft before doing research. He gives an example of a time he went to interview detectives on a local police force to give details for a novel he’d already written the first draft for.
When adding in background details this makes sense – looking for the correct terminology and so on. But I’ve started to write in genres that I realise I’m only passingly familiar with, or in a time period where my knowledge comes from other fiction, rather than an actual understanding of what the period was like. When preparing to write, there is an endless, near infinite potential for research.
Having said that, writing has its own, immediate rewards. Sitting here and jotting down some brief thoughts on my insecurities as a writer has set off other thoughts – giving me inspiration for other blog posts, a little idea for a short story, and dug up a fragment of poetry that I was playing around with but never wrote down. Writing is different to more immediate, particularly verbal communication, in that it allows time for thoughts to be properly evaluated and considered before being expressed; and ideas can be moved around within a larger argument as it’s being constructed.
I’ve read several writers say that they hate writing, but love the feeling of having written, and being able to look back on something they’ve made. This isn’t quite true for me, as I enjoy writing itself as well (at least when I can get into a flow) but there is a satisfaction in being able to look back on things I’ve written in the past and – once I’ve gotten past the initial cringe of not daring to look out of fear of confronting my ineptitude – realising it’s not that bad. In fact, some of the things I’ve written are actually relatively good.
I just need to more regularly push back the doubts and insecurities that stop me from writing regularly, and get round to actually writing something, rather than worrying about how bad my writing will be. As part of that aim, I intend to return to the habit of blogging regularly here. (At one point I was regularly writing half a dozen or more posts a month, but before today I’d written only one blog post in the last 18 months).
So hopefully you’ll be seeing more from me in the immediate future.