Have you ever been struck by an idea that inspires you to write without constraint or abandon and suddenly you’ve written a story so fresh and new and beautiful that you’re sure it’s the masterpiece you’ll forever be remembered by?
And then have you ever re-read that little masterpiece of yours right away and thought that it probably wouldn’t hold it’s own against a pile of horseshit?
We’ve all been there. Us writers can be unnecessarily hard on ourselves when it comes to our work, especially if we’re just starting out (and sometimes, in my case, even if you’re not). The problem is that it can be extremely hard to write down and capture the exact story you have in your head on paper and this is frustrating to no end. I can look at a story I’ve written that has received positive feedback from multiple people and still find reasons to despise it if it doesn’t match up exactly with what I wanted it to be.
But sometimes, there are actual moments when I get around that feeling, and can see my writing as something that, while it has its imperfections, isn’t just a steaming pile of hot garbage. These moments are golden. If I’m not busy crying over how much I hate my work and contemplating burning it all, I sometimes make an effort to do things that make me look at it more fairly. So I want to share some of them with those of you who also struggle with this. Because I promise you that unless you’re literally writing with poo, then what you’re writing is better than horse shit.
Time and Distance
I think this is one that is old, tried and true. Don’t read your stories right away if you can help it. Whenever I read the things that I write a day or two after writing them, I always find myself being overly critical, doubting my decisions, and my overall claim as a writer. I’m still too close to the story and still have that idealized version of it in my mind. Because of this I’ve learned to never trust that first read through. Instead, I like to give myself a few weeks or even months to forget it, work on other things, and come back to it with new eyes.
But even if you have read it too soon and decided you hate it immediately, not all is lost. In fact, when this happens, I find it easier to set it aside for a while and forget about it because my enthusiasm for it has waned. Sure, having to set it aside can be a bummer, but then, once I do find it again, I’ve usually forgotten most of what was written. This makes reading it a surprise.
For me, that surprise is the key to not hating a story I worked on. The further you get from a story, the newer it seems to you when you read it. And this newness helps you to look at it with more objectivity so you can approach it in the same way you might a new book — without any sort of preconceived disgust.
Reading Out Loud
Another little trick I have for not despising what I wrote is hearing it read out loud. You have a few different options for this.
First, you can just read it out loud to yourself. You have the benefit when you do this, of knowing exactly how you want it all to sound – the flow and speed of the paragraphs, the exact tone and delivery of the dialogue. Reading things out loud as opposed to in your head makes them sound different, unfamiliar. And again, it’s this unfamiliarity that can help you envision you story in a new way, so you don’t waste your time hating it outright. Not to mention, this is also great for editing.
Your second option is to have an online “narrator” read it. That is, you’ll listen to your work being read by some weird emotionless robot. Although it might be a little strange to listen to (and also a little hilarious for fantasy/sci-fi writers to hear the computer butcher your world names), removing the emotion from the reading process can help you see some of the bare bones of the story (and can help you catch some goofy spelling mistakes). You may have to tinker with a few of the options on these to get a voice that sounds the least robotic and reads at the speed that you want, but eventually you’ll find something you like. I usually use these sites if I’m opting for an online narrator.
Lastly, if your voice and robot voices just don’t cut it for you, you can ask a friend to read your story to you. This helps if you want to see and hear your work through someone else’s eyes. And because whoever reads it likely won’t read it in the same exact way you do, it’ll make your work sound new, unfamiliar, and hopefully, make it a little more interesting for you again. And a bonus for doing it this way: you’ll be able to ask your friend for some feedback on what they’ve just read, so you don’t have to go solely off of what you think.
Focus On the Positive
I know this one may seem hard, but one way to not despise what you write is to just try your hardest not to. Sometimes we get into the habit of disliking our writing so much that we feel like we have no choice in the matter. Well, you’re not pre-programmed to hate what you write. And if you feel that way, it’s time to rewrite the programming.
Instead of listing the things you can’t stand about your writing, how about just listing the things you do like about it. Are you particularly strong with dialogue? Awesome, focus on how you just killed it with that witty banter! Is setting your strong suit? Then admire how you crafted your world. Can’t think of anything? How about the fact that you actually wrote a story? And any story you do write, is one hundred percent better than one that you don’t write. So there, positivity.
Again, while it may feel natural to focus on all the bad stuff when it comes to our writing, taking a moment to look at what you’ve written and appreciating what you can do instead of what you can’t can be very beneficial. Hating your work ain’t going to get you nowhere, but being able to see it’s strong points in conjunction with its weaker ones sure will. No, it’s not easy, but honestly, what about being a writer is?
Know You’re Not Alone
And if all else fails, just know that you’re not alone on this struggle bus. Seriously, even some famous and seriously good authors have really struggled with liking their own work. To prove it (and if you’re the type of person who takes a special comfort in knowing that others who you really admire have the same problems you do) here’s some proof for you:
Octavia Butler hated her third novel Survivor so much that she repudiated it, didn’t allow it to be reprinted, and compared it to the “really offensive garbage” that she’d read when she was younger.
When Mark Twain began working on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he told his friend that he liked it “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may pigeon hole or burn the MS when it is done.”
Franz Kafka especially hated his work, and asked that all of his work be unread and burned upon his death. And even while he was alive, he apparently burned almost 90% of his work.
Feel any better about your own struggles now? Good. Just don’t go Kafka on us, and burn all of your work. Your writing deserves to live. Promise.
How about you? Do you struggle with liking what you write? Do you use any of these techniques when it comes to reading your work objectively or have any tricks I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know in the comments!
Photo found here.