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a very scary squirrel saying discouraging things

3 Things I’ve Learned In A Year And A Half Of “Trying To Be A Writer”

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I’ve been trying for ages to finish whatever it was I thought I was starting in this post but screw it. I’m just going to do this Buzzfeed-style. Except Buzzfeed is all about brevity and GIFs and I’m all about rambling and also sometimes GIFs. Whatever, let’s do this.

3 Things I’ve Learned In A Year And A Half Of “Trying To Be A Writer”

1. I kind of hate writing

I mean, I love it. But I haaaaaate it.

I always sort of knew this might happen. I mean, it took me ages to start enjoying reading again after I did my Literature degree. I liked interior design a lot more before I moved into a flat that needed to be completely redecorated. Nothing is as much fun when you have to do it. But I don’t think I ever suspected how painful writing would be if I forced myself to do it.

I’ve been writing the same story on and off this entire time. I’ve written a handful of other things as well, including Bloody Zombies, but basically I’m working on Faustina. Last year, I wrote about two-thirds of it, one of the biggest chunks of writing I’ve ever done, then I rewrote it from third-person past to first-person present, then I threw it all out. That hurt. Now I’m at about the same point on my current draft. I don’t think I want to throw this one out but that last 20,000 words is coming an awful lot more slowly than the first 20,000. I’ve written most of the really fun bits. Also, I’m working in Scrivener (which I thoroughly recommend, by the way), which allows you to write scenes separately and juggle them around, so at the moment what I have is a collection of isolated scenes that aren’t joined together, so many of those missing words are just going to be transitions. Which are not that much fun.

When I’m in the mood to write, you can’t stop me. When I’m not, I will do pretty much anything to avoid it. “Hmm, I should really get some writing done to— What’s this? A mundane and unimportant task that could definitely wait until later? This looks like a job for WRITING AVOIDANCE GIRL!”

2. Nobody cares what I do (as long as I’m safe and happy)

When I decided to take a part-time job and spend the free time working on my writing, I felt excited for maybe a week. Then the squirrels of Anxiety started yelling in my head. (I don’t know where the line between being “a worrier” and medical Anxiety is exactly but I think I dance pretty close to it a lot of the time. And by “dance” I mean “curl up in a ball and cry”.) And the squirrels of Anxiety are mean.

a very scary squirrel saying discouraging things

I realise this looks kind of crappy here on the internets but I’m pretty sure now that I’ve drawn it it will haunt me forever so, before you say anything, please consider that I have been punished enough.

For a long time I was afraid to tell more than a handful of people what I was doing, because I thought they’d agree with the squirrels and try to stop me. I’m a pretty stubborn person and usually, if anything, being told not to do something makes me want to do it more. But this was something I felt really insecure about already, so I was afraid that if anyone challenged me I wouldn’t be able to defend it.

Of course, when I finally did start telling people about it, reactions ranged from “Oh, okay” to “Wow, that’s awesome!” and not one person expressed overwhelming concern that I would starve to death in a ditch somewhere before my thirtieth birthday. It’s not that my friends and family don’t care about me. It’s that no one will ever be as consumed with worry about the minute details of my life as I am – because, frankly, none of it actually matters. And that’s something I really needed to know.

3. I’m insecure

After all that stuff about squirrels you’re probably going to be thinking “Well, duh” but I generally don’t think I’m insecure. I don’t (usually) worry about my weight or my appearance and I don’t (usually) care what other people think about me and basically I think I’m pretty cool, if you like that sort of thing.

But I am all kinds of insecure about my writing. I guess I do think I’m pretty good at writing, but I never feel particularly proud of any of it. If I read some back and it seems kind of “meh” it’s because it’s terrible and I’m terrible and everything’s terrible. And if I read some and it seems pretty good, actually, then I just think that because it’s mine and anyone else would just be embarrassed for me. And if someone else reads it and says it’s good, even if they’re someone I’ve never met and have no reason to worry about hurting my feelings, then they’re just being nice.

In fact, I honestly can’t think what would break me out of the conviction that I suck. Publishing a bestseller? I’d be terrified that that was my peak and I’d never write something that successful again. Reaching JK Rowling levels of success? I don’t know, I think I’d just feel like I’d been lucky. Although I’d like to think that all the mansions and jetskis and magical wish-granting unicorns I could buy would distract me from the misery of existence.

A change like that has to come from within, really. I haven’t figured it out yet. I think I will, one day, I just hope it doesn’t take me too long.

unikitty from the lego movie: "I must stay.."

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23 thoughts on “3 Things I’ve Learned In A Year And A Half Of “Trying To Be A Writer”

  1. I agree about the last 20K words being slower than the first. I’m currently attempting a third draft that follows an Ah-Ha moment that necessitated an entire re-write and now I’m stuck in the middle…Good luck with Faustina!

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    • Good luck with yours too! I love/hate those Aha! moments so much. Like, on the one hand, this new idea will make your story SO MUCH BETTER. But then you probably felt that way about at least some of the writing you’ve had to throw out, too. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know you so I’m not trying to be nice (if I didn’t like your writing I wouldn’t bother commenting, or even reading your blog, I definitely have better things to do than following an author I don’t appreciate!).

    I really loved Bloody Zombie, I think you ave a lot of potential if that’s just a piece you did on the side, to have fun. It means that you are able to write great prose just while having fun, and if I may risk an advice I guess you should continue trying to have fun with your writing. If you try to achieve a masterpiece at the beginnings the risk is that you lose that fun part in writing. And if you don’t enjoy yourself then the readers might not enjoy themselves anymore either…

    If that’s helpful, I follow the blog of an American writer who has had a 40-year career and explain how he works, on a day-to-day basis. Here is the link if you want to have a look:
    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/

    He gives (in my opinion!) good advice for younger readers: have fun, do not put pressure on your writing, and do not rewrite, finish your story, publish it and then write something else. And by writing and writing you’re going to get better at it.

    When I read where you are with Faustina I fear that you might have rewritten too much already, and you don’t really have fun anymore. I can’t even begin to imagine how boring it must be to change the person and the tense for a full novel! Maybe you should just try to wrap it up as best as you can, but without trying to be perfect. Your readers would probably much prefer reading a novel with some imperfections than not reading anything! And sometimes what you might consider imperfections can be the very thing readers would be looking for, like your original voice! I think authors are the worst judges of their own work…

    Anyway, I hope you can go back to having fun and enjoying yourself, without too much pressure (I know, easier said than done…). At the very least it will be good for you to have fun, even if there were no interested readers afterwards, but I think that many readers would enjoy it as well.

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    • Thanks so much for such a thoughtful comment! I really appreciate it. And yes, I completely understand that you (and other people who have left reviews for Bloody Zombies or checked out my blog) are being sincere and that nobody has the time to pretend to like a stranger’s work! And receiving good feedback from those people feels amazing. The problem is that this kind of insecurity is impervious to logic, so even though I *know* all of that, there’s still that nasty, squirrely voice in my head saying “Sure, but you’re not REALLY any good, are you?” I really do think I’ll get past it one day, though, and of course encouraging comments like this are very helpful!

      I’ve read Dead Wesley Smith’s blog before, actually, but you’ve reminded me to check it out again, so thank you!

      You’re spot-on in your assessment of where I am with Faustina. I desperately want to finish it, but mostly just so that I haven’t wasted all the time I’ve put into it already! I basically keep trying to tell myself what you said: that it’s better to finish it imperfectly than to never finish it at all. I recently re-read one of my favourite books and realised that there were a few faults in it that I could pick at if I really wanted to, and that I would be obsessing over if I had written it, but as a reader I love it all the same. I just need to keep reminding myself of that.

      Thanks again! 🙂

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      • Thanks for your answer. It is great that you had a first-hand experience on how as a reader one can forgive flaws in a book, no book is perfect! Keep reminding yourself that!

        And to follow on Bronwyn’s comment, Dean Wesley Smith is also insecure. Not in a ‘I’m so insecure I’ll stop writing’ kind of way, since he’e learned to trust the process. But he says that he is a terrible judge of his own writing and never reads again one of his own stories. That’s his way of dealing with it, to avoid seeing the flaws in his writing!

        In July he did a challenge in which he wrote one short story every day. And he had to ask his wife (Kristin Kathrin Rusch, another great author) to read each story to judge if it was any good, since he couldn’t tell himself, and even thought that some of them were probably missed. She ended up liking all of them, even though some were very strange and different from his usual writing.

        So even after 40 years of writing he is still insecure, even if he has found ways to deal with the insecurity. And I would guess that if an author was not insecure they would stop learning…and probably start declining…

        I hope you’ll find a way to deal with your insecurity, so that we can read Faustina in a not too distant future, and then other stories!

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      • Thanks again for this comment! My commenters are awesome! 😀 It’s so encouraging to hear that successful writers feel this way too. I honestly wasn’t expecting this kind of a response when I wrote this post but I’m so glad I did because you guys have made me feel a whole lot better 🙂

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  3. Looking at the squirrel of anxiety’s little face is a guaranteed lol for me, or it has been last three times I looked. Well done you!

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  4. This may help…it might not. But I’m hoping it will. I know a couple very successful writers and quite a few mid-listers and several novices, oh, and me. We all have one thing in common. Unbridled, illogical, near-pathological insecurity about our writing. And we all have our own versions of the Squirrel of Anxiety. (Mine looks a lot like an angry senile nun I had as a teacher when I was in high school.)

    Okay, so two things in common. (Math is hard, yo.)

    But, anyway, you’re not alone. I think that unless writers genuinely start believing their own press, being insecure about what we create is pretty much business as usual. And, in some ways, I think it can drive us to keep improving our craft – as long as we don’t beat the life out of the story in the process.

    I think the best gift you can give yourself is falling in love with writing again, finishing Faustina, and moving on to the next story you want to tell. I guess that’s more like three gifts. But numbers. Whatever.

    I truly enjoy your writing – I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. I hope you can banish the squirrel long enough to finish the story that’s been in your head for so long and move on to the next one.

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    • Thank you so much for this comment! Lately I have been wondering whether successful writers feel this way too – especially once I realised that I probably wouldn’t feel much better even if I had a few successes of my own under my belt. But it’s wonderful to have it confirmed!

      I think the mistake I’ve made this time (and have hopefully learned not to make again) is that I HAVE beaten the life out of Faustina, at least to some extent, although I certainly don’t feel as bad about it right now as I have done in the past. I do feel like I can move on from this and do better next time, if I can only FINISH THIS DAMN BOOK.

      The nun sounds way scarier than my squirrel, by the way. My sympathies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You can. You can totally do this. And don’t worry about it being it being perfect–just get the words out, let it sit for a bit, then go back to editing it after you’ve written on something else for a while. That will free up the Faustina part of your brain so you can get the story where you want it.

        At least, the nun in my head doesn’t call me the Bride of Satan like the one in real life did. So…bonus?

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      • Thank you! 🙂 And… wow. Sounds like a win to me!

        Liked by 1 person

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