Storytelling Geekery

IWSG: Twenty Abandoned Drafts

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. Writers who take part in IWSG write about our writing anxieties and check in on each others’ posts on the first Wednesday of each month.


At the weekend’s Oscars Jordan Peele won the award for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out. A racially charged horror-comedy was a brave choice for the subject of only his second feature film script, and Peele admitted in his acceptance speech that he stopped writing it around twenty times. It’s interesting that even someone as experienced and successful as Jordan Peele could have this kind of loss of faith – for those who aren’t familiar with his work, Jordan Peele is half of the hit sketch duo Key and Peele, and had been writing sketch comedy for MADtv since 2003.

It’s a reminder that anyone – even very successful and well-connected writers – can lose faith in themselves and the story they want to tell. Writers should always be trying new things, improving and moving forward, so it’s natural to feel that that this particular story is too ambitious, or beyond our previous comfort zones, or just to feel that there isn’t an audience for this particular story. And for the majority of writers who don’t have Peele’s record of success, it’s natural to also doubt our ability as a writer.

But that, to an extent, is besides the point. Writing is fun. Creativity is fun. It’s cool to be able to look back at a piece of writing and know that this was mine, that I took a collection of intangible feelings from the ether and sharpened them into something distinct, definite, and substantial. Often writing helps me to sort out and understand the ideas in my head, and to think through the things I believe to be true. Writing helps me to get a better sense of who I am. This is obviously true for diaries and journals, often written with the intent of making sense of our inner lives, without the intent of ever sharing the writing. But its also true of fiction – you should be able to tell a significant amount about a writer’s personality by reading their writing. Even if it represents a side to them that doesn’t often come through in everyday conversations.

Ideally, of course, most writers want to find an audience. The highest ambition for most writers – from my perspective – is to leave an impact on the reader, to write something that stays with them, that connects and leaves an impact long after its read. I know that I personally want to write fiction with observations that are new and insightful, rather than trite and obvious. Jokes that are cutting and funny, rather than vaguely rehashing tired cliches. Characters who are recognisable yet colourful, who cause the reader to look at the people in their life from a fresh perspective. But obviously all of that is hard – worthwhile works of fiction won’t often spring forth fully formed, and creating them will involve a number of dead ends.

Your doubts don’t mean that you’re a bad writer. It’s worth taking the time to make something creative, even if only for the effect that making it has on you.

2018-03-07 Twenty Abandoned Drafts

14 thoughts on “IWSG: Twenty Abandoned Drafts”

  1. I didn’t see “Get Out” because horror isn’t my thing. It is both comforting and terrifying to think that the doubt never goes away. I wonder if there are other professions so plagued with self-doubt?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good question. I’d guess at actors – there’s a similar creative focus and a need for external validation. I wonder if painters and sculptors feel the same, given that they are sometimes ‘copying’ real life more directly than writers do?
      I think the doubt is probably a side-effect of the freedom of creativity.


  2. “Your doubts don’t mean that you’re a bad writer. It’s worth taking the time to make something creative, even if only for the effect that making it has on you”

    Thanks for this. While I know it’s true, sometimes the lie is stronger.


  3. Maybe it’s a good thing that most writers never entirely lose their self-doubts, no matter how “successful” or accomplished they may be. Once a person gets too sure of himself and takes his ability for granted, writing becomes a run-of-the-mill job instead of a creative outlet.


  4. I read the comment by Jordan Peele in the LA Times and it struck me the same way, that even he was ready to tear it all up several times. Your post is well written. I have thought about the impact of my writing and if I should worry if I never become well known. I too think that even if I never do gain a lot of recognition it is very rewarding when even one person comments that my writing touched them.


  5. I really needed to read this after the creative dry spell I’ve had last month. I hadn’t watched the Oscars but now it makes me wish I had. Thanks for posting this!


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