Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Writers’ Insecurities

Last week I posted a comment on Christine Verstraete’s blog, Candid Canine. She had written what she considered the 7 Deadly (Writing) Sins and asked writers to name any other sins they thought of.

I added one of my own. At the time, I called it “Self-Conscious.” That’s not a good title and doesn’t really say what I meant. I think “Insecurity” might be better.

If you’re a writer, then you know that, unless you have a writing partner, writing is a solitary endeavor. Oh, you’ll eventually have people read and critique for you and, hopefully, an agent and editor, possibly a publicist, then reviewers, etc. But the actual writing of the book is done, for the most part, alone.

But you can’t stay a loner forever. No matter how scary it is or how intimidating, eventually you have to push aside your insecurities and reach out to and involve others.

Even as you write, you need to be learning from others. Sometimes you can do this indirectly – through reading other writers, reading “writing” books, reading blogs and magazines and how-to articles. Then you can stretch a little farther out of your comfort zone and network via the Internet, by commenting on blogs, joining Twitter or other social networks, adding to listservs and online discussion groups.

Then later you can go all-out, and this is especially important after the book is published. At this point you share yourself. It’s time to share all the writing, learning and growing you’ve been doing. If you haven’t already, start a blog and share with writers who haven’t reached your level. Speak at book signings, conferences, and in classes. Go to book signings by other authors and ask questions and introduce yourself. Introduce yourself and your book to booksellers.

It used to be that writers could write a book, publish it and let it sell. Now, you have to make it happen. You have to get out from the desk and into the world. And you have to leave the insecurities at home.

22 comments:

  1. The hardest part for me is letting others read my work while it's still in progress. I started out with two beta readers for this new Detective Jackson novel, then eventually stopped sending them pages. I'm not sure why. Fear that they would reroute my story? Fear that their feedback would be too discouraging? But I'm getting ready to print the first draft for my husband, and he's the toughest critic I have. Still working through insecurities.
    http://ljraves.blogspot.com

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  2. I know exactly what you mean LJ. I used to be in a critique group that met every week. I got a lot of feedback, but I feel I need more time to write, edit, ponder, develop, change, etc. before I start getting input from others.

    Not saying I don't need others reading. Just that I need to feel the work is ready for that.

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  3. For me, the first, most challenging insecurity to overcome is the voice inside my that insisted I had to pay attention to any criticism I received. It was very freeing to finally accept that I don't actually have to agree with everything a reader says about my work-in-progress. I'm now at the point where my sense of ownership over my work is strong enough that I can have readers at any point in the process. Raw, half-finished draft? If someone is willing to trudge through it, I'll listen, and evaluate their response according to my own vision for the work.

    My own critique group is very diverse, and it's not uncommon for me to get as many different critiques as there are members, at times conflicting. In such a case I have to pick and choose.

    Whatever criticisms I receive, I've learned that the writing remains my own. It's up to me to decide. I never feel any danger that the story will get pushed in a direction I don't want to go because I just won't let that happen. I accept that anything I write won't be for everyone, so if a criticism doesn't fit my vision for the work, then I accept that that particular reader is not in my audience.

    That said, I listen carefully, and more often than not I find readers help a lot. Early in the project? Maybe they help me see more clearly than I can myself what I'm attempting. Later, more likely they'll help me refine my own vision. But the work remains my own. I have the self-confidence to ensure that.

    Of course, will I produce publishable work? That's another matter altogether.

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  4. It takes a strong writer to develop the sense of ownership like you have for your work. If a writer doesn't have it innately, I think she develops it over time as she's involved in critique groups or have readers. As a novice, you sometimes absorb every criticism and try to make changes. But you learn to believe in yourself and your work and learn to filter.

    Thank you Bill for such great input.

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  5. I was painfully shy when my first book was published. Suddenly I was the expert, but I didn't feel that way inside. I had a lot to overcome and it helped that the writing community was so generous and compassionate. If you reach out, other writers will take your hand.

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  6. Deb, that is so true! I can't remember meeting a writer who wasn't supportive and generous. I have to say that most of my closest friends are writers, as well. It's a wonderful community to be part of.

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  7. I think it would be useful for writers to have a little set of guidelines for reading and critiquing other works. What is a good first-reader? What is a good line-editor?

    When I do a first-read for someone, I don't try to re-write the book even if I don't like the direction it's going. It's not my book. I just try to point out flaws or weaknesses in the plotting, or when the communication is hard to follow.

    But, I think other readers might get a bit too involved and this makes it tough on the author. I've seen authors crushed because their critique groups just got too picky about a plot.

    What are the various stages of a pre-publication that might require different types of reading focus? Are there guidelines, or is this another one of those skills we're supposed to be born with? Like parenting. (insert wicked grin)

    Would love to know, so I can become a top-notch reader because I do love doing it. I also think it's invaluable to the author to get solid feedback, that they can accept or reject as they please. Without the advisor getting their skivvies in a wad.

    http://blogbooktours.blogspot.com

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  8. Velda Brotherton8/12/2008 2:00 PM

    Yes, Helen, Most of us hanging around in the business for a while are aware of this. We cannot write well, though, without interacting with others. Being alone we soon run out of impetus.
    You said it all too well.

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  9. I think it's good to have a mix in your critique group -- someone who excels at line editing, someone who catches glitches, someone who can see the overall picture, etc. And people whose work you can read months at a time. When a friend and I put together a screenwriting group, we advertised and interviewed. Ended up with a wonderful, cohesive group.

    But someone who nitpicks and tries to change the direction of your story can be maddening. While in one particular writing group, I knew it was time to leave it when I kept screaming all the way home.

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  10. I don't let anyone near my ms in progress. Too intimate, way too personal. Like showing the state of my underwear. Yeesh. Even if fresh washed and put on an hour ago. But, yes, ya gotta go through all that you wrote about, and you wrote about it well. Good post.

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  11. It's 9 at night, Marvin, and you made me laugh. Your manuscript is like your underwear. You don't show it until it's clean.

    I love that!

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  12. I am my own toughest critic. I write something and think it looks wonderful, pick it up a week later and feel like it's utter toss. I think that has something to do with working on the same thing for a long time.

    The greatest piece of advice I've ever received, though, was from my ex-thesis advisor: write your head off. Writing is a muscle you have to develop callouses for. I started garbage writing (basically writing whatever is on your mind; did it when I was sad, most often than not) and it really got me going.

    But it's like exercise: if you don't keep at it, you'll never be good at it.

    My biggest insecurity is not letting people read what I've written; it's them reading what I've written about. I wrote an adult fairy tale and it does have me unnerved slightly to know that my nearly-70-year-old Russian teacher is reading it but oh well, what can you do? I won't be the first to write about that sort of thing and I definitely won't be the last and I bet she's read racier a thing before.

    I think we'll all be happier so what am I fussing about?

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  13. If you're having the problem of writing something you like then reading it a week later and hating it, then I suggest you wait longer before you re-read it. And I'm not trying to be funny. If you let something sit for a long period of time, then when you go back you can see it with a fresh eye. Sometimes it is almost as if someone else wrote it. Some things you may not even remember writing. And you will be less critical.

    It's always a bit scary having someone read your work. It's a bit like baring your soul. But I wouldn't be too worried about a prof reading it. As you say, he's not likely to be shocked. I used to teach on the university level and loved it when students presented new and unexpected material.

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  14. I'm now at the point where my sense of ownership over my work is strong enough that I can have readers at any point in the process. Raw, half-finished draft? The hardest part for me is letting others read my work while it's still in progress. I started out with two beta readers for this new Detective Jackson novel, then eventually stopped sending them pages.I know exactly what you mean LJ. I used to be in a critique group that met every week.Whatever criticisms I receive, I've learned that the writing remains my own. It's up to me to decide. I never feel any danger that the story will get pushed in a direction I don't want to go because I just won't let that happen.I got a lot of feedback, but I feel I need more time to write, edit, ponder, develop, change, etc.When I do a first-read for someone, I don't try to re-write the book even if I don't like the direction it's going. But, I think other readers might get a bit too involved and this makes it tough on the author.But it's like exercise: if you don't keep at it, you'll never be good at it.

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  15. "7 Deadly (Writing) Sins"!!!!!!!Did it horror articale??? Any way but “Self-Conscious " isn't bad at all but ur choice of “Insecurity” is batter....My own critique group is very diverse, and it's not uncommon for me to get as many different critiques as there are members, at times conflicting. In such a case I have to pick and choose.Deb, that is so true! I can't remember meeting a writer who wasn't supportive and generous. Would love to know, so I can become a top-notch reader because I do love doing it. I also think it's invaluable to the author to get solid feedback, that they can accept or reject as they please.But it's like exercise: if you don't keep at it, you'll never be good at it.

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  16. That's the key -- developing a sense of self, of learning what comments to consider or accept and which ones to reject. A writer has to remember that this is their work, not the critiquer's nor the group's. On the other hand, as you sit and listen to comments, it's best to try to distance yourself from your work for that moment so that you're listening and not putting up a wall. Sometimes it helps to record the session so you can listen later.

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  17. I used to poo poo writers groups until I joined two very supportive online groups, THe Lurking Novelists on Yahoo and The Writing Wombats on Gather. The critique I've gotten has been excellent, and the support and enthusiasm helped kick me out of a three year writing slump.

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  18. I've never heard of The Lurking Novelists or The Writing Wombats. Thank you for sharing! It's great to hear of wonderful writers groups, esp. online.

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  19. Helen,

    You are a great example of supportive writers! I've been reading your newsletter for years. And am enjoying your blog. You are so generous with your time and ideas! Thanks for all of the great advice you've shared!

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  20. You're too kind Karen. I'm so glad you're stopping by the blog. The more voices we hear from, the more we can learn and grow!

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  21. Trying my hand for the first time at writing something longer than an article (or a thesis), I have to say this was a terrifically useful post. Thanks!

    "Writing is a muscle you have to develop callouses for." So very, very true.

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  22. I'm glad you found it helpful.

    I dropped by your Victory Garden blog. Made me hungry!

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