Monday, 5 August 2013

Don't let the voices hold back your writing!

Writing is tough.
Getting any semblance of good writing polished and ready to be read by others is difficult. It takes time and dedication, not to mention a good dose of talent. Oh, and a lot of hard work, of course.
Writing a novel is so hard it makes my toes curl. It consumes you. You have to plan it, then write a draft (which takes months or even years), then edit it, then edit it some more and redraft, then listen to people's comments about it and all the while you can hear the niggling voice of doubt whispering (or shouting) in your ear. "Your book is rubbish! Nobody is going to want to read it! Your characters are not likable. Your plot is thin. The story doesn't make sense."
I am still working on my first novel and I am currently in the phase where I have completed the first draft and I'm editing it to make it better. And I hear that voice of doubt everyday.
One part of me loves the book and my characters. I marvel at how I have managed to write almost a hundred thousand words (that is a tenth of a million, people!) and stay more of less sane. And those words actually tell a story, that actually makes sense!
But another part of me - the insidiously scared and pathetically weak part - thinks it is probably all a pile of crap and I should get back to doing something I do well (like singing in my band, perhaps).
I am sure every writer has these feelings of self-doubt (there are countless blogs and accounts of this phenomenon), but I don't know why we always have to question our abilities. Does it make us somehow better? Do we strive to improve because we question our skills?
Talking of singing, as I did rather incongruously a moment ago. For many years in my teens, I would sing and the default response from people would be to criticise me. "Stop singing - it's going to rain!" was one of my particular favourites. It really knocked my confidence and it took me a long time to understand that those people were not criticising my singing (I could, and still can sing well), they were just saying something negative as it is easier than saying something nice.
Think about it. We all do it.
It is easier to put someone down than it is to boost their morale. I think the voice inside our heads telling us we cannot do it, or we are not good enough, is just the same thing. It is so much easier to assume the worst than to praise our own talents.
What we need to do is use that fear to push us to improve our writing. We should never give in to the negativity. That way lies madness, unpublished books and broken dreams.
If we can learn to listen just the right amount, the voice can help us improve a weak plot point, or give a character more depth. But if the voice is holding you back, and you are paralysed, unable to submit your manuscript, it is time to tell it to shut up and just get on with it.
Things are rarely as bad as the voice would have you believe!


  1. Matthew, I can wholly sympathise with you. I am in the process of rewriting book one of a trilogy I have written. The redrafts went into double figures as the story struggled to escape my imagination. Then it went to an editor who (out of kindness and respect) tore it to shreds so I could salvage it in a rewrite. I am nearing the end of a personal edit now, following feedback from beta readers. It seems a never-ending slog of self-doubt and depression. Ultimately though, you are right. If we turn the fear around and face the challenges, we find our true story; a publishable and marketable story that we love. Passion drives us. We are literary batteries, changing negative charges into positive outcomes. It is torturous and magical at the same time.

  2. Onward and upwards, Elaine! I just had a look at your blog and realised I read a post you made some time back about getting arrows shot at you!

    It looks like you have been going through a similar process to me. Editing at the moment looks like an insurmountable task. I am going through the 95,000 word manuscript marking up areas to change, but I'm sure it will be better for it in the end. The same will be the case for your novel.

    We seem to be tackling similar time periods, so I await news of your progress with interest.

    Best of luck.


    1. It does indeed seem that way Matthew.

      Funny to hear you read my earlier blog about Saxon combat. It was an exhilerating experience to say the least! If you haven't already been in contact with a decent re-enactment group, I would certainly recommend it. It's invaluable research to not only talk to these people, but also to handle clothing and equipment first-hand. It has added so much more to my writing knowing how things 'feel'.

      As to the time periods, I'm in love with Saxon, Viking and Danish periods of English history, my current trilogy covering 5th, 9th and 11th Centuries. I look forward to hearing more about the Bernicia Chronicles.

      Bright blessings,

  3. Hi Matthew- just keep plugging away: the only way through is through! I am full of admiration for novelists- it is a vast task that I couldn't imagine tackling. My own literary life is taken up mainly with publishing (the easy bit) and publicising/selling (the most difficult thing I have ever attempted) the work of a handful of brilliant novelists. I am in awe of their hard work, imagination and encyclopedic knowledge, as my own writing (for local theatre and radio) is on a much smaller scale. I think this as I work on my latest project, the re-publication of Kathleen Herbert's Dark Age Trilogy- set in a similar time and place to your books- although Kathleen prefers the term Heroic Age.
    Good to meet a fellow toiler in the Dark, so to speak. I shall follow your progress with interest- and yours too Elaine.
    Best wishes and good luck

    1. Thanks for the uplifting comment, Connie.

      I like the term Heroic Age, it sums up much of the way people viewed things at the time. (By the way, I just noticed a small mistake on your blog page about Kathleen Herbert where you mention the Heroic Age is between the sixth and seventh centuries BC (I presume this should be AD).)

      I had not heard of Kathleen Herbert (and judging from the old covers of her trilogy, I might have been put off - how shallow am I?), but I will add her to my "to read" list.

      All the best,


    2. Oops! Thanks for that- will correct immediately! Your response, and mention of the older cover designs really gladdens my heart. It suggests that there are people who haven't yet heard of Kathleen's work, who will I hope enjoy it, and find it as inspirational as many other writers in the same period do!Perhaps I ought to start compiling a list of authors who write about Britain's Heroic Age, and publish it on my blog?

    3. Sounds like a great idea. Also, how about a guest post on my blog? It would be nice to have some input from you on your quest to get Kathleen's books back into print and your progress.

    4. Thank you so much Connie. I've visited your blog and will add it to my 'follow' list on blogger. You seem to share a love of my favourite things such as reading, painting and knitting.

      I too, had not heard of Kathleen Herbert and I think it is wonderful that her books are being re-issued. The old covers are feminine and Goddess-like and I feel for a modern audience 'Bride of the Spear' is a stronger title. I shall certainly look out for her work in the future. 'Spellcraft' looks particularly interesting, as I incorporate a lot of magic into my writing as it was an intrinsic part of life in the times I am portraying.

      I love the ideas of the 'Heroic Age' blog and Matthew, yes please!

  4. I'll add it to my ever-growing to-do list. perhaps you can help me out by suggesting candidates for my list?
    ... And thanks for the invite- I'd love to. What time-scale are you thinking of? Perhaps we could do a swap, with you writing about the Royal house of Bernicia, who feature in Kathleen's Northern Kingdoms. Oswy is the hero of Queen of the Lightning.

  5. Such a timely post for me, Matthew. I have tweeted about this very subject this morning!

    I share a lot in common with you - including being a singer - and I have currently lost all faith in my first novel attempt. I wrote more than 50k for Nanowrimo last year, then took it up to more than 60k over the next few months, but feel like I have written myself in to a cul-de-sac and just can't escape the sense that it is derivative and overly complex.

    I have continued to write, including several short stories, so I'm not falling back on the old 'Writer's Block' excuse, but I already have another couple of novel ideas that are trying to tempt me in to doing Nano again this year.

    Good luck with your WIP and congrats on finishing the first draft.

    Kelly's Eye - Writing, Music, Life

  6. Glad you found the post interesting, Wayne. And thanks for the congratulations. There is still a long way to go, but each draft is a real milestone.

    The way I managed to complete the draft was to set myself a goal for a number of words each week and just make sure I hit that, or was close to it. It sounds to me like you have allowed yourself to falter at the draft stage and my advice (based on the incredibly limited experience I have and all the stuff I've read about it) would be to just keep writing and get the words down and complete the novel. If it is derivative, you can edit it and improve it later. As Chuck Wendig ( said in a post recently, "you can't edit a blank page", or something like that!

    I think it is very tempting to stop and hone and improve as you go along, but that undermines the goal of completing the novel. As you got so far, I would push for those last few thousand words and at least complete the draft and then see where you are.

    Best of luck to you. Let me know how you get on.

    1. Thanks Matthew - I can't bear the idea of just throwing away 60 plus thousand words away, anyway. I think I am just venting and giving myself some distance from it before I go back.

      I don't edit as I go along, but I do feel that to be able to even get to the end of the first draft I need to go back a few thousand words to my last 'fork in the road' and put things back on track. At the moment it just doesn't make ANY sense!

      PS - Chuck Wendig is full of great advice, as well as new forms of profanity!

      Happy writing.