May 18, 2011

second guess

Lately, when I tell people I finished writing my first novel, their reactions are typically the same: interested, complimentary and supportive.

In response, I find myself using this same phrase: "Thanks, but it's not very good."

I have not even submitted my novel to anyone in the publishing world — it's still out with a few friends who are reviewing it — nor received negative feedback, and I am already tearing my work down.

This is a big change from how I acted while I was writing it and in the days after I finished the first draft. I was excited and confident my story would find an audience.

Then, the more I thought about it and started revising it, the more I doubted my work. I became critical and negative. I questioned the characters, cut 11,000 words and the bulk of two chapters. I lost my confidence.

But why?

As a professional writer, I am no stranger to having my work read and critiqued by others. Ranging from a team of editors to the audience, criticism can come from a lot of places. Most of it is positive, but the negative is what always sticks with me.

After five years as a professional writer, you would think I would have a thicker skin when it comes to feedback, but I don't. I let the negative comments bother me and I obsess about it until I've reached the point I am at now. I'm the one giving myself the criticism, and not in a positive way. It's hardly constructive.

How do I become a more confident writer?

I posed that question to Google and found a series of blog posts and articles. My favorite is from "The Copywriter's Crucible," a blog by Matt Ambrose, a freelance copywriter. To gain more confidence and take pleasure in writing, he offered these tips:

1. Read a variety of genres and formats. Expand readership outside of your area of expertise.

2. Write a lot. It will help you relax if you do it more frequently.

3. Overcome your fear of criticism from others who read your work. (It's like stage fright and just as debilitating.)

4. Remember why you became a writer.

5. If you are a professional writer, appreciate what it took to get you to now. Savor the success.

6. Accept criticism as feedback. A fresh pair of eyes can help you identify areas for improvement.

7. Learn to accept praise.

8. Approach every project with maximum effort and treat it like it is a long-term business relationship.

9. Don't worry too much about being perfect. Aspire for perfection, but know you probably won't get it on your first try.

10. Appreciate that occasional doubt in your writing is part of the creative process and keeps you reaching for higher standards.

Reading the last two tips made me feel better about myself. I understand that some doubt is good and that perfection is a goal, but not the immediate reality. I should continue to strive for perfection, and understand that I will always have some doubt, but I can't let it rule my life.

I also need to remember that feeling of accomplishment after I finished the first draft of this first novel. It wasn't perfect, and it still isn't now, but I am still proud of it. Finishing it taught me that I could do it, and I need to keep that in mind.

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