Egotism

IWSG: A Writer’s Insecurities

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, which cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016I 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.

21 thoughts on “IWSG: A Writer’s Insecurities”

  1. Sorry, I’m on my mobile and finger slipped! I tell them to let go a little. I plan my novels loosely, but then I let the characters take over and my plan goes through many changes. I try to go with the flow. Keep writing. Your post was pleasant to read. The language flowed well 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the compliment! One of the things I like about blogging is that it’s reassuring to get little bits of positive feedback, or just satisfaction that a blog post turned out okay, to remind myself that I’m not totally awful as a writer…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to worry about getting every word right the first time I wrote it. Only when I started listening to advice like King’s to just get the first draft done did I learn to write faster and keep at it every day. Trying to get it perfect kept me from writing every day.

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  3. Yeah, perfectionism is a killer. I suffer from it too. I once had a professor tell me, “You can’t have perfection, you can only have excellence.” Sometimes it helps me realize that something I think is awesome is perfect enough to move on.

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  4. One way to help with the insecure feeling that your writing isn’t good enough is to find a critique partner or group. They can point out what is working and what needs improvement and you can do the same for them.

    Stephen King is my favorite author, but I’d have a different point of view on the research angle. My first book I wrote before doing any research and it was a mess. For the second I did the research first (it was a historical novel) and things went much smoother. Someone on Stephen King’s level can hire people to do the research and send him a report on what specific things he needs. Plus his type of writing is so plot and character driven, research details are usually just that in his books–details.

    Welcome to the IWSG from one of the co-hosts!

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    1. I hadn’t actually thought about the different needs King has as a plot and character driven writer.

      A lot of the stories I try and write are dependent on the details being right, so I’m definitely a little different to him.

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  5. I actually have a writing exercise where I try to write as poorly as I possibly can. It’s something one of my English professors had me try in college. It gets me around that paralyzing perfectionism you mentioned, and even though you end up with something that is (deliberately) terrible, it’s still a useable starting point for a proper first draft.

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    1. I’ve never tried a deliberately bad version, but I do something where I just try and dump as much of what’s in my head down on the page as quickly as possible – it’s an idea that’s meant to get the brain into writing mode as quickly as possible.

      It sounds like a similar idea.

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  6. I look at writing as being two different parts: The creative, imaginative part where the words just flow and your make it up as you go along and you just have fun with it it; and the craft part, which is the research and the revising and the outlining, which (at least to me) feels a lot more like work.

    Most people are better at one or the other, or at least certainly enjoy one of them more. This affects which one you do first and how much time you spend on each side. For me, I find it actually works better in some cases to do like King suggests and write the story, then do the fixing afterward. On the other hand, it’s way more efficient to do the groundwork first so you don’t spend so much time rewriting afterward.

    I’m still trying to decide which method works best for me. If you figure it out, let me know. 😉

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    1. I think the nature of the story also comes into play – how much I need to know in advance to understand the mechanics of the plot, the psychology of the characters, and so on.

      It’s a difficult thing to figure out!

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  7. The more you write, the easier it is to push the perfectionist critic to the curb. For me what helped was embracing the flaws in the first draft and knowing nothing I put down is permanent until I say so.

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