You write a book, you leave it for a few months, you reread it; you hate yourself. Rinse and repeat.
This, my friends, is the life cycle of a writer. Or at least, the life cycle of a journeying writer. There are probably times where even the best authors hate their work, but I’d imagine it would be way more difficult to hate your book if it was a NY Times Bestseller.
The point is, as writers, we are our own biggest critics. Whether it’s a poem or short story, right through to our novel-length manuscripts – there’s no escaping the self-criticism. And by self-criticism, I mean burning hatred for anything we write.
Fear not though, for this boat is filled with many others just like you.
Is It Really Worth It?
When it comes down to it, the only upside to being hypercritical is that your manuscript ends up getting lots of useful rewrites. But, that’s only if you can manage it. Sometimes your self-criticism will be way over the top, causing you to hate your work and everything about it.
When this happens, when you can no longer find any parts in your book that you think are good, chances are you’re going to give up. You’ll delete the file and start afresh – if you’re lucky. Many by this phase would give up entirely.
This is not the answer. Getting in an emotional fizz and deleting your work is not the answer. And neither is repeatedly smashing your face off the keyboard, for that matter.
So What Is the Answer?
In short, there isn’t one. At least not a definitive answer. But, I have some steps to follow that are bound get you travelling in the right direction.
Good Things Take Time
And effort. And caffeine. Lot’s of it.
If you’ve been working on your book for less than a year (that’s writing and rewriting,) please don’t expect it to be amazing. By this point, you should be working around your second rewrite, which means you have another two or three to go at least. Forget about perfection at this stage. Right now, it’s not about perfection, it’s about progression.
For every issue you fix, no matter how big or small, that’s one less issue that exists in your book. Think of it this way, and you’re already switching to a more positive mindset. Don’t be angry at yourself because the issues are there, be happy because you managed to spot and amend them.
The best writers aren’t those whose work has no mistakes, the best writers are those who manage to correct them.
All Books Have Mistakes
You ever heard of a guy called Stephen King? Don’t worry if you haven’t. He’s nobody major, just some weird guy who writes books. He writes good books, though, and that’s the important part.
The last book of King’s I read was End of Watch, and would you guess what? I found at least three mistakes in that book, and that was the most recently published edition.
Think about it, that book has been reviewed by a team of no less than ten editors. It has been read, reread and reread again – so many times that the pages are probably getting quite worn. It hits the shelves, finds its way to my bedroom, and boom – I find some mistakes.
I may be an editor, and have a slight upper hand when it comes to spotting errors in writing, but nevertheless, the mistakes were there to be spotted. In the last ten traditionally published books I’ve read, I think there’s only one in which I found no mistakes.
The point here is, if a book that was written by a professional author – and was reviewed numerous times by a small army of industry professionals – still has mistakes, what makes you expect your four-month project that you’ve reread once to be perfect?
Don’t Beat Your Soul to a Pulp
There are enough critics in this world without you being hypercritical. It’s good to be self-critical, it’s good to be calculated and precise in your rewrites and criticism, but being excessive and hating yourself for making mistakes is the worst thing you could do. The world is rough enough as it is, there’s no need to make the journey any worse for yourself.
The only thing you’ll gain from beating yourself up over a few bad drafts is an ability to never write again. We both know you don’t want that. Instead, you have to take a gentler, more calculated approach. Attack each rewrite with a specific goal and focus all your attention on the things that matter.
The moment you start to doubt or dislike yourself, say the words, “I’m a writer. I can do this.” And actually say them. Like aloud, to yourself. Say it a hundred times if you have to. Then say it a hundred more.
And don’t act like you don’t talk to yourself already…
You are a writer. And guess what? Beating yourself up over nothing is a sure-fire way to change that. Telling yourself you suck and hating your work isn’t going to get it finished any faster. If anything, you’ll just elongate the process and make it way harder for yourself.
Instead, free your soul and your spirit and let that smile shine through. Repeat those words again, give yourself a neck rub, drink some coffee, and write the book the entire world needs to read.
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