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.
“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”
There seems to be a tendency, especially in Christian circles, to be reluctant to tell a writer they are in that second group.
Personally, I suspect I’m one of the ‘unlucky’ ones who’s a better editor than creator.
It is a good discussion about what if you hate your own writing? I too write. But it is more like writing everyday dairy. I still lack a story. I am writing about experiences, new ideas and I do not know what comes next. So at this stage it is difficult to make it a plot. I mean to say how to make an excellent novel from a dairy. So in this way I can say I hate my writing. I know these are excellent ideas and experiences but still something is missing.
Andrea Mock says
Or maybe you haven’t learned to modulate your inner critic…yet. It’s a skill that can be learned and practiced.
Tracy Campbell says
I agree with all you’ve said Mr. Ingermanson. Finding someone to critique your work who gets your writing is imperative. And sometimes fear of failure or success can be the stumbling block.
Thank you very much Randy for taking the time answer my question!
The day after I wrote to you I decided to take a short break from writing. Last week I was able to find someone to give me an objective critique of one of my works. She told me that my writing is still rough, but has heart and power to it and she pointed out the things I need to work on the most.
Since then I have written a little, but I’m still trying to take a break, as she advised me to do. I now don’t completely hate everything that I write, so the mood is passing. Again thank you, I’m glad to know from your advice above that I did what I was supposed to do in regards to finding someone to critique my work. I don’t believe for a second that I’m a fantastic writer, but it makes me feel better that I don’t suck as badly I was starting to think.
Thank you so very much for taking the time to give all of us advice. It helps a great deal!
Mari Lee says
Randy’s advice is definitely helpful. Although I haven’t ever been published, I am a writer, and I thought I’d toss in my extra two cents, for what it’s worth.
While finding someone who can give you an objective opinion on your writing is a route I’d also advocate, if you’re not happy with your writing, it can be hard to settle on a piece which you would feel comfortable showing to others. I’d recommend picking something that you think is alright (maybe you think that because it hasn’t sat enough to change your mind, that’s fine). It’s also helpful if that piece is one that has an underlying idea you’d like to explore, or something that gives you the drive to keep getting back at the subject.
When most people are faced with a work that they have to give an opinion on, if it’s good or bad, they have the urge to make suggestions for how it can be improved. For me, that would be more useful than a black or white answer about how good something is; all writing starts somewhere, and over time and work it gets better. Getting an idea how to proceed next on something can be more helpful than simply knowing where the piece is at now.
The most challenging part of critiques and suggestions is balancing out listening to reader reactions, but also realizing that you as the author have the ultimate say, and sometimes your readers might be taking a different direction then you want. But that’s getting more into the topic of revision.
In terms of hating your writing, while sometimes it’s helpful to take a short break, sometimes you just have to keep slogging away at it. Asking other people for feedback, or showing them what you’ve written can be a way to motivate yourself, both in making your writing better, and having something new to share with others. Even if your work actually isn’t your best, having a supportive group to encourage you on can be the extra motivation you need.
Taylor Stonely says
Autumn, there are a lot of websites out there where you can have other writers critique your work. One of the more well-known sites is:
You can register in the forums and meet other writers that you can connect with. Free critiques and then you will know if your writing is good or needs improvement.
I have several books on my website that you can read if you are needing to brush up on your craft. Check out my list at this link:
Good luck, and happy writing!
Mary Potter says
I’ve attended fiction workshops that addressed the 100-page roadblock and the muddle in the middle. I was relieved to find out that I wasn’t the only writer who got discouraged well into the first draft of a novel. This whole writing business is a long-term learning experience.
#1 Take writing courses, attend writing workshops and conferences, join national/local writing organizations (as your budget allows). Take advantage of every learning experience you can. Author readings at book stores are usually free and Q&A sessions may provide you an opportunity to inquire about the mechanics of writing. Self-doubt is endemic among writers as we plug away in isolation — seek fellowship among your fellow authors to glean what you can.
#2 Complete your first draft with the understanding that it will be bad and require revision. Make notes of needed fixes as you go, but don’t keep rehashing your early chapters. You’ll get bogged down in editing. Label it “S****y First Draft” if that will help. Just get it down. You can fix it later.
#3 Let it rest. Once the first draft is completed, set it aside. Not for a day or two, but several weeks, even months if necessary. Get some distance from your writing to see it with fresh eyes. I have many false starts that I dumped in a file when I felt as discouraged as you appear to be. Years later when reading these unfinished novels I found them better than I remembered and wondered where the stories were headed because they were more promising than I recollected.
#4 While your completed first draft is resting, begin your next novel or writing project.
Bad Writer? Bad advice. says
Or maybe your subject material doesn’t fit your mindset. I’m a terrible business writer because I have no respect for investment firms or the stock exchange. I suck at writing sports because I loath sports. I’m not a great technical writer. I’m a good research writer. I’m pretty damned good with poetry too. I’d shoot myself in the head if I wrote fiction. Maybe you’re a better non-fiction writer than another person out there creating more make-beleive and spin.
This advice is much better than the, “you probably suck at life” arrogance.
Bad Writer? Bad advice. says
Yea yea, typo on the bottom line. in my first snap.
I do appreciate the editor over writer advice. I think that’s my problem. I get so emotional in rewrite after refining rewrite.
Anon Y Mous says
Good to know it’s not just me that hates their own writing. I have a huge problem with getting over that hump and my beta readers and editor practically have to throw me out of my own projects in the later stages of things. After it’s “out there” I can’t even look at the first page of anything I’ve written because the words feel flat.
Now, I know they aren’t because there was time I liked what I was working on (oh, that fresh, new project feeling… how fleeting it is…) but after numerous rounds of editing you gain this ability to recite it. It’s very difficult to refrain from changing it all up even after you’ve been told to stop, it’s done… let it go, dammit.
All I can say is that saying about what makes an artist (…and a writer is an artist. Our medium is just different) what they are is if they’ve stared at their own work so long they hate it… is true.
I had someone tell me (can’t remember who… or if I read it somewhere. Stupid memory, it gets fuzzy sometimes) that the reason it feels flat to the writer is because they’ve stared at that work so many times and the familiarty has since bred contempt. But, to a reader who hasn’t read it, it’s fresh, it’s new… and perhaps (to them) it’s a little bit brilliant.
Let your readers, your beta readers and critique group… your editor… even your old English teacher… be the judge. Let someone on the outside look in and decide. The writer is too familiar.