So you’ve been writing a novel for a while and you suddenly realize that you hate everything you write. Is that normal? Is that bad? Are you going to die? Or are you a Great Suffering Artiste facing the customary doubts of all great Artistes?
Autumn posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’ve been following your blog for just under a year now and your advice has really benefited me and helped me grow a lot as a writer in that time. So thank you very much for that!
My question is: what happens if you reach a point when you just hate everything you write? I’ve been working on my novel for a long time and I can’t get even five chapter in. Not for a lack of ideas or writers block. I can sit down and write for an hour or more and walk away feeling darn proud of myself. Then I come back to it later and I just hate it! It’s a complete 180. And recently I’ve been doing that with everything I write, not just stuff for my novel. Short stories that I write just for fun I’ve felt like crumpling them up and tossing them.
Is this a phase that all writers go through? I can’t give up writing, it’s in my blood and I have to do it. But I just don’t know how to handle this…
Thank you very much for your time.
Randy sez: This is an excellent question, Autumn. It’s one most writers ask at some point in their career.
I’ve met only a few narcissistic writers who never questioned the dazzling brilliance of their work. About half of them were extraordinary geniuses and the other half were irretrievably awful.
So are you really good or are you really awful?
There are several possible answers:
- You might be a terrific writer suffering from the usual “my writing sucks” doldrums that many terrific writers wallow in all their lives. (This is the price of writing that some very good novelists must pay and they never, ever get over it. They think they’re awful but they’re massively wrong.)
- Your editing skills may have outpaced your creative skills for the moment. This is not unusual and it passes with time, if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you might always be a better editor than creator. That’s one of the hazards you face in writing. It might just mean you’re a perfectionist.
- Your writing might actually be awful. Again, this is one of the hazards of writing. If you’ve got some talent as a writer, the solution to this is to get some training and some good critiques from people you trust and just keep developing your craft. In a year or five or a hundred, you’ll reach the level of craft you need to make yourself happy. Let’s remember that not everybody has talent, so there are no guarantees here, but hard work does tend to pay off.
Now which of the above is the real answer for you, Autumn?
There’s absolutely no way for me to know, because I don’t have a sample of your writing in front of me. Because of the extraordinary demands in other areas of my life, I only do critiques at writing conferences and in my local critique group. So I’m not the guy to tell you if your writing is any good or not.
But there are hundreds or maybe even thousands of good freelance editors out there who can tell you. And there are thousands of published novelists who could also tell you. (It usually only takes a page or two to know if a writer is really good. It only takes a paragraph or two to know if they’re awful.)
So Autumn, your homework assignment is to find somebody who can give you a good objective opinion of your work. If you’ve got a community college in your area that teaches creative writing, the teacher could probably do this. Most writing conferences have many faculty and staff members who can do a great evaluation. There are any number of freelance editors available online (a very few are listed in my blogroll).
If the only question you have is, “Is my writing any good?” then just about any of these folks could give you an answer pretty quickly.
If your question also includes, “How can I make my writing better?” then you would need to pick your evaluator with a little more caution, because not all critiquers are equally adept at all categories, so you’d want to look for somebody who “gets” your kind of fiction. (For example, I’m not all that good at critiquing romance or women’s fiction, but I know the suspense category cold and I can almost always pinpoint exactly how to fix a thriller.)
So get an expert opinion, Autumn, and keep writing. Good luck!
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.