Writer Appreciation

Do you know how hard it is to admit that other writers are better than you?

Self-esteem is one of the biggest problems and benefits a writer has.  It races upward and plunges downward in mere moments as you get a good criticism, then a bad criticism; as you read through a part that you love, as you start writing a part that you hate.  Writing is full of these twists and turns, making you revel in the joy of creation and sending you to burn in doubt and self-pity.  Hateful?  Yes.  Everyone hates it.

But when it comes to comparing ourselves to others, we push all this aside.  We put on the face of confidence and assuredness.  Yes, I might be stuck in writer's block and my critique partners are a little too confused about the story, but I'm still a writer.  I've come this far.  I am learning, and growing, and already quite competent.

When we see another writer, however, this changes.

They just finished a novel, or a short story, or something.  They're sharing it with the world.  They're obviously euphoric and proud of themselves-- good for them.  They should be.  You've been there, you know how it feels, and even though you're stuck in writer's block, you're happy for them.  And then you actually read what they wrote.

And it's good.  Not just okay, or a good start, but it's solid.  Flaws, yes, but everyone has flaws-- this thing could probably query pretty well as it is.  You blink at it.  Then you blink at your writer's blocked WIP.

You start comparing.

Some comparison is healthy.  If you use the Plot Twist In-A-Box (guaranteed to get a reaction out of 99% of readers), and a published author uses it better, you can compare the two to see how you can improve.  If you think your setting is taking too much space, you can look at another writer with a massive setting and see how they handle such a problem.  Comparison works.

But you'll notice I mentioned specific things.  You aren't comparing your entire novel with A Tale of Two Cities.  You aren't comparing your life experiences with those of Alexandre Dumas.  You're comparing characters with characters, or descriptive style with descriptive style.  You're comparing elements of the whole, not the entire thing.  You are comparing with the goal of learning.

When you compare yourself with another unpublished writer, it's often not that simple.  You aren't comparing to learn, because you've been around much longer than this other writer.  Or, you aren't comparing to learn, because they've been around longer than you and that would give them a big head.  You're comparing because of pride.

We see a published author and think, Since they're published, they must have a lot to teach.  I'm going to learn from them.  We see an unpublished author and think, I'm not published yet, they're not published yet, but who's closest to it?  We learn from the people who have finished the race, and compete against the ones who are still running.  But publishing isn't a race.

Everyone can teach you something.  You can learn philosophy from a child.  You can learn nursery rhymes from an octogenarian.  It doesn't matter who they are, they can still teach you something.  We know this when it comes to published authors, but unpublished writers?  People who just started a manuscript yesterday and already have prose more polished than us?

Yes.  You can learn.  Everyone can learn from everyone.  Instead of looking at it with the competitive mindset, look at it with appreciation.  When you compare, you realize how good they are and despair about how you measure up-- just lose the last part.  Realize how good they are.  Say how good they are.  If we build each other up, we create a community of unpublished writers that is healthy and strong.  We create a community that can push more people toward publishing, rather than hold most back while a couple shoot to the top.  The goal is for everyone to be published someday.  That's not going to happen if you keep comparing yourself negatively.

So what if someone learned in a month what it took you years to learn?  They're going to have other struggles, that you also had but overcame already.  They're going to look at you and try to learn.  It's your job to encourage them.  It's your job to encourage yourself.  You're both learning, you're both headed for the same goal, and there's plenty to go around.

Comparison can be healthy, but appreciation is so much more so.  Enjoy what other unpublished writers write.  Revel in their progress just as much as you do in your own.  Positivity is so worthwhile.

~Captain America

The Emotional Ups and Downs of the Writing Process

Writing is not for the faint of heart. I'm talking here more about an emotional courage that's required, though there are physical perils as well (paper cuts are no joke). I'm talking about the times when you're thrilled with the glory of your creation and you resemble this guy as each brilliant word flows effortlessly from your brain to your keyboard:
You're a wizard and your book is soon to be an international bestseller!

And then you hit a snag. You realize a character, a plot point, or the whole concept is just not working. You're worthless and so is everything you have ever written, including last week's grocery list. You feel like this:

If you're a writer, chances are you've been there- both places. And chances are equally good that anything I am about to say isn't going to make you feel any better if you're in the slough of despond right now about your work in progress. But these ups and downs, these swings from elation to despair, are all part of the rich emotional pageant that is the writing process, and the sooner you accept that, the better your chances are for survival. And publication.

I chatted recently about this sort of writer-specific bipolar condition with a friend of mine. She's a YA writer and a teacher, and, like most teachers, she doesn't usually get summers "off"; most teachers I know work some other job over the summer, and she's no exception. This summer, though, was the first in over a decade that she wouldn't be teaching. It was The Summer of Writing and she was so excited about it. 

At first, after some rusty starts at reacquainting herself with her characters and her story, the full-time writing life was the bliss she had anticipated. With no other job to worry about, she could focus 24/7 on her story, and it was exhilarating how quickly, easily, and varied the ideas came. By mid-July, she had two hundred pages written and pages of notes and a thriving Pinterest inspiration board. She swears even the neighborhood birds chirped around her like that scene out of Disney's Snow White.

And then it stopped.

Doubts began to creep in. Had she started the narrative in the right place? Were the characters interesting enough? What was going to happen next? Dear God, had she been mindlessly producing a string-of-pearls plot* all summer long? Panic set in followed by despondency and sleepless nights. Until one night she woke up and knew what she needed to do, which she remembered had happened to her with an earlier manuscript (now a real published book), which reassured her. The solution, however, did not.

She had to scrap all two hundred pages and start over again.

And that's what she's doing. She's opened up a new file folder on her desktop for this version and trying not to feel like those two hundred pages were a waste of time. Because they weren't. They led her to the realization that is - hopefully - going to make this a better and stronger book in the long run. And as any writer knows, to create something worthwhile and lasting, you have to play the long game.

So if you've hit a snag in your writing, don't despair. Take a break. Work on something else and let the problem percolate in the back of your brain until the solution comes to you. In this way, writing is very much like scientific inquiry: there's a lot of trial and error, no matter how carefully you outline and pre-plot and prepare. Sometimes you just have to go back to the drawing board and see all the previous experiments as learning experiences. Because that's what they are, though it's not easy to remember that when you're clutching your laptop and weeping.

Drop the Team a line about a snag you hit and how you've overcome it. In the mean time, I'm going to talk the Other Guy out of destroying his work in progress and his laptop just because Natasha pointed out that the "it was just a dream" plot twist had been done a few times before. He's not big on the whole "trial and error/learning experience" thing.

Until next month. Banner out.

 * a "string of pearls plot" is called this because while lots of stuff happens to the characters - problems arise, problems are solved - none of the events really move the story along or contribute to any overarching theme. You can read a good definition here.