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.
This is intended to serve as my introduction to the Insecure Writers’ Support Group – a group ran by Alex J. Cavanaugh over on Blogspot, to give other writers and would-be writers the support we need to get past our debilitating and often idiotic insecurities.
I’ve written a few times in the past few weeks about my often irrational insecurities, so it’s something that definitely makes sense to me.
I’ve wanted to write fiction as long as I can remember, and even started writing a few scifi epics when I was a kid. Even back then, I don’t think I was great at keeping my focus all the way to the end. Though it may be because back then my plans had the habit of expanding much faster than I could write – as a writer’s hint, the other way round works better.
Somewhere along the line, I’ve gotten into the habit of beating myself up when the quality of my writing doesn’t meet the standards I want.
The characters don’t ring true. I’ve not set the scene properly. The plot doesn’t make sense.
While all of these are valid problems that need to be fixed (or compensated for with other strengths) for a long time I’ve allowed them to paralyse me. For instance, I’ve had an idea for a series of space opera short stories that I keep abandoning, and a sitcom pilot script that I’ve returned to again and again but never finished.
I’ve written a few short things of course. There’s a couple of thousand-ish word short stories here on my blog (under Read My Fiction); flash fiction; and short things for various competitions. There’s even been a couple of times I’ve started to write a novel chapter by chapter. My hope was that, by not being weighed down by the theoretical potential of the stories I’ve invested a lot of time and emotional effort into, I’d feel freer to write what came to mind.
Unfortunately, this idea didn’t really work out.
I’m much better at plotting than I am at actually writing, using formats like Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet and the like, and a piece of software called Anthemion Storylines to plot out a fairly detailed story structure. (If you’ve ever seen stories plotted using a series of post-it notes, or little pieces of paper attached to string, that’s basically what Storylines is. But it has the added benefit that the notes don’t fall off the wall.)
I’d even been using a character building idea to put together a detailed picture of each of my main characters.
So by November, I had a detailed story arc to follow, and I knew a lot about my characters, ready to use NaNoWriMo to get this thing finished.
Though the plan was in place, I actually waited until November 4th before starting. Because, as I’ve detailed above, I’m an idiot.
But, I got underway, finding the time to write, sometimes as much as 3,000 words in a single sitting. For those with more consistent writing habits that may not seem like a big deal, but to me it is.
I got close to the end of the first draft, over 20,000 words, after three weeks, but left it another week before going back to finish it off. That instinct inside of me, that says all my cool ideas should be left alone in case I ruin them, just wasn’t giving up.
But, at the weekend, I returned, adding the few more details needed to the end. I then went through, rewriting what I’d done, and finding myself pleasantly surprised at the quality of what I’d written.
I now have a 28,000 word short-story, and I think it’s pretty decent. There’s a central mystery-action story, character conflicts, betrayal and deceit, enemies being forced to work together, moral dilemmas, a dramatic confrontation at the end.
I don’t want to get big-headed, but I think this story’s pretty decent.
It’s something that infringes on a number of copyrights, so it won’t be publishable, but it’s good to at least have written a coherent story from start to finish.
However, I actually think that this may be the longest piece of fiction I’ve written from start to finish for over a decade, so I’m pretty chuffed about that.
Once I find the time, I’m pretty upbeat about the next story.
PS To anyone from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group who’s found their way here – I may be away from my desk for a large part of Wednesday. Apologies if I don’t get round to reading many other posts on the day, but I promise I’ll read and comment on the blogs of anyone who posts here!
The neurotic author is so much of a familiar idea, it’s became a stereotype. The writer self-conscious about sharing their deepest, most innermost thoughts. Despite it not being as much a stereotype, I’m pretty sure the same applies to non-fiction as well – at least it does to me.
I’m getting to the stage where I feel like I’m hitting brick walls, or writing things to no real effect. There is, for whatever reason, a strain of both ‘what do I know?’ and ‘what’s the point?’ invading my thoughts as I sit to write.
Writing non-fiction means writing things that address the real, wider world (by definition) and so there’s a more than decent chance that there’ll be a lot of people out there who both know the subject better than I do, and will be able to point out numerous flaws in my writing.
I write a regular ‘Lower League Week’ feature for Bornoffside.net, which concentrates on the events surrounding the clubs in League One and League Two.
I think it’s a niche that’s underserviced, but i do feel at times that I’m not doing the subject matter justice, or that this time will be the one that I trip up and say something stupid and plainly false.
And there’s also the feeling that I’m running up against brick walls – no-one has yet seen fit to offer me money for the kind of things I’d write, meaning that, to a certain portion of my mind, the things I produce are valueless.
Of course, there is value beyond money.
And reducing all value to financial value is foolish and quite dangerous.
But it’d be nice to know that the things I create help bring in an audience, who bring in advertising potential, and that my work alone has enough value to justify giving me a few coins in return for what I’ve done.
I suppose it’d be different if I were writing in my day job, developing my skill and seeing it appreciated even if on mundane topics. But as it is, the skill which I think of as being my best, has very rarely been rewarded.
It’s only natural that this gets frustrating after a while.
In addition, a lot of the time, when what I write has been checked over and submitted, I get a sense that it’s ‘over’.
I would love for my writing to have more of a regular audience, to actively feel that my things are being put into the public domain, that they are not just technically out there, but actually inspiring discussion and debate.
Of course, particularly when writing about football, there’s the tendency for people to look at anything even vaguely critical of their club and see it as trolling, biased, or clearly wrong, without justifying why this is the case.
But a well-written article placed in the right place, can become almost a living thing, an embodiment of an idea or ideas, that prompts others to gather round it, take in the ideas, mutate them into something slightly different that the responder believes to more closely resemble the truth…
I’d quite like to be the inspiration for that kind of reaction.
This has sort of happened to me, once – in around January. I wrote a piece for Denofgeek, about the glut of Sherlock Holmeses, about them being different aspects to the classic character.
Unfortunately for whatever reason I wasn’t able to log into my account with the site at the time, so I couldn’t properly respond and join in the discussions below the piece.
(As I remember, what I read was almost entirely good-hearted as well, which makes my inability to join in all the more frustrating.)
But I think, essentially, my problems stem from not producing things on a regular basis.
I need to get to the stage where people can think to themselves, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the site that does the plots of movies, according to Blake Snyder’s thingie’.
I need people to come in, like what they see, and feel confident they can come back later for more of the same.
There will be plenty of writers of non-fiction who feel that they get back more than they put in. The access to creatives and sportsmen, the ability to talk with those ‘on the inside’. Talking with a stranger, whether in real life or online, who read the argument you put together, and have them tell you they thought it was wrong, but thought-provoking, and thank you for writing it.
As it is, right now I’m pretty much nowhere. I intend to get somewhere, to at least reach the point where I feel like I’m getting more back, in terms of the energy I receive as a result of my writing, than I put into it.
So, what am I doing wrong?
It sounds incredibly unromantic, but I think that a great deal of success as a writer depends on being consistent, reliable, giving people some sort of fixed, scheduled, reliable product. I need to do that more – here on the blog in particular. I do intend to return more often to ideas I’ve started to play with in the past.
Of course, as well as being reliable, there’s an incredible amount of room for creativity, wit, invention and subversion inside of that.
But it all starts with showing up.