After months and months of hard work, you’ve finally finished writing your first novel. Pride, excitement, relief – these are all the things you should be feeling. But now you’ve reached the finish line, you feel anything but that. Suddenly, those character you cared for dearly have become nothing more than meaningless scribbles. When your friends tell you it’s one of the best books they’ve ever read, you convince yourself they’re lying to make you happy. You even start contemplating throwing your manuscript in the recycling bin, because hey, at least then it’ll have some use, right?
“I’m not a real writer, no one would want to read this.”
“I don’t have a story to tell. I’m not worthy of telling the story.”
“Embarrassing and awful.”
These thoughts haunt us. Most writers hate their writing at some point. But for some, the hate is ever-present, and it whittles down their self-confidence and convinces them to put the pen away.
I was one of those self-deprecating writers. I deleted sentences in shame and reshaped paragraphs again and again as if they were some grotesque creature beyond repair. I felt disgusted at everything: how I phrased sentences, the words I used, the imagery, even the way I crafted my dialogue.
Some writers wear rose-tinted glasses when reflecting on their work. I had the exact opposite problem. Flaws jumped out at me in every sentence, even if there weren’t actually flaws there. I had days where I couldn’t bear to look at the work I’d done. It was as if my work was Medusa, and if I stared for too long, it’s hideous appearance would turn me to stone.
Ironically, not staring is the thing that truly turned me to stone; I stopped writing for weeks, sometimes months at a time. In an exceptionally bad period (a four month long hiatus from writing), I knew something had to change. I had to change my outlook. I had to learn to love my writing, no matters how atrocious it seemed. Fortunately, with the help of fellow writers, editors and many late nights at the library, I discovered ways to overcome my feelings of inadequacy, and learnt to look my writing directly in the eye and say, hey, you’re not that bad.
So, buckle up. I’m going to share with you the ways you too can become a confident writer and combat your inner critic.
Recognise the Difference Between Genuine Flaws and What You Believe to Be Flaws
I used to look at my work and pick at it like a kid playing with their food. I didn’t really bite it whole, rather, I spent most of my time staring at a sentence, swapping its words, changing its length, deleting parts of it or adding new parts. But no matter how I changed the sentence, it never felt right. It always felt flawed. Of course, the more time I spent frustrating over this one sentence, the less content I became with my work as a whole. I would think to myself if I’m spending this much time over one sentence, how the hell can the rest of my work be any good?
At the time, what I didn’t realise is that I was seeing flaws which weren’t actually there. That sentence I spent hours over? My editor took a look at the original version. Completely fine. He loved it, but I had convinced myself there was something wrong with it. That’s when I painfully realised that the reason why I spent hours trying to “fix” it to no avail, is because there was nothing to fix!
Recognising the difference between genuine flaws in your work and perceived flaws will help you become a confident writer.
Genuine flaws mean you can improve on them: you can make the amendments and see your work becoming better. You can put your finger on what’s wrong with it, and explain the issue easily.
Perceived flaws are those aspects of your story which are completely fine, but haunt you due to your self-doubts. You can’t “improve” them and you don’t truly understand why they feel flawed, so they’ll always be in the back of head making you feel like you can’t write.
The easiest way to learn how to tell the difference between genuine flaws and perceived flaws is by having a friend (preferably an avid reader like yourself) read over your work. Tell them the parts you’re worried about and hear what they have to say. An objective reader can really help put into perspective whether you need to change that one sentence that’s been gnawing at your thoughts.
You’ll find that as you receive more feedback on your work, the easier it’ll be to differentiate for yourself a genuine flaw and a perceived flaw.
Understand You’re Desensitised to All Those Clever Twists and Surprises in Your Story
We’ve all been there: you set up a fantastic plot twist no one will ever see coming, throw in a few red herrings and surprises, and you’re pretty proud of it. Only the next time you read your novel draft, it feels…off. Nothing catches you by surprise. Those ingenious plot twists suddenly feel predictable and have lost their charm. Now, you’re novel seems dull and pointless, and you feel yourself stepping into the “I’m not a good writer” void.
But stop. Don’t step into the void just yet. The reason why your clever twists and surprises seem so dull now is because you know they’re coming. You expect them so your brain can’t be surprised. No writer is going to be surprised by their own work. Even the great Agatha Christie wouldn’t have been shocked at her own plot twists!
Take a deep breath and accept that you’re never going to be looking at your work with a pair of fresh eyes. Those clever twists you worked hard on are still damn clever.
Just Because You Hate Your Work, Doesn’t Mean Everyone Else Will
According to The New York Times, Franz Kafka loathed his work, even The Metamorphosis. He burned around 90 percent of his work, and nearing his death, he asked a close friend to burn all his unpublished works and make sure they were never read.
Yep. Even one of the most influential writers of all time hated their own work. So, if you’re the type of person who hates their work because you feel it’ll never be something people wish to read, think of Kafka. Keep writing. Remind yourself that to others, your work could be a gem they’ll treasure forever.
You’ll Only Become a Better Writer by Writing
At the end of the day, the only way you can become a better writer is by writing. Learn to forgive your “poor” writing and realise you’re on a never-ending journey of improvement.
If you stop writing, you’re cutting that journey short and you won’t be honing your craft nor growing as a writer. Put simply, learn to love the the process of writing, rather than the final product. If writer’s block is something you struggle with, we’ve made a handy guide that will help you overcome it.
Combatting our inner critic is tough; self-doubt is ever present. But hopefully, these pointers will guide you on the path to finding value in your words. Remember: there’s no such thing as a “real writer”. If you write, you’re a writer, and you deserve to tell your story.