Guest Post: Battling ‘Deluded Egotist’ Days by Tim Bedford
Battling with ‘Deluded Egotist’ Days
During the process of writing my first novel I had a number of these, when the ability to maintain the momentum needed to actually get the nuts and bolts of the work done was severely hampered by the feeling that the book was ‘not good enough’ or that I was basically a ‘bad writer’. These feelings, I’m quite sure, are not confined to self-publishing authors. A good friend of mine who is published by one of the big traditional companies assures me that even with a six figure advance in the bank she had plenty of them. Despite the fact I make a living as a copywriter, which should prove to my self-doubting self that people are willing to pay good money for my ability to manipulate words, these days can come with a alarming frequency. Amongst the quotes that I have permanently on display in the virtual pinboard in my ‘necktop’ is the saying “write every day, without hope or despair” (courtesy of Isak Dinesen). However, deluded-egotists-days still come thick and fast when you’re writing a novel, especially if you intend to self-publish. So how do you combat them?
Diminishing (or no) Returns
Most self-published authors, or those planning to self-publish, will know roughly (if not exactly) what I’m talking about. Perhaps the root cause is buried deep in the nature of writing itself; writing is, after all, a very isolating process. I’m not one of those people who can dash off a novel in a coffee shop – in fact when it comes to the hard graft of editing and proofing and re-editing and re-proofing a novel (or any piece of writing of the commercial variety) I need monk-like solitude and silence. The isolation itself is probably enough to send you a bit ‘la-la’, but the problem – specifically for self-publishing authors – is that you’re investing one heck of a lot of time in a product that may offer no return at all. You’ve hours of re-working, editing, re-editing and proofing in front of you and what for? Add to that the weeks, months (and possibly years) you’ve already put in, plus those that stretch into the future and you’ve a recipe for cold feet that’s more effective than walking bare foot across the Arctic.
Hopeless Writing and Despair Free Days
Dinesen’s argument that we should write without hope or despair has a lot going for it. While hopeful thoughts are excellent, they can be distracting. One minute you’re wiping the coffee stains off the desk and preparing for a hardcore editing session; next you’re receiving your BAFTA or OSCAR for your part in creating the latest hit movie script or your ‘based on the novel by’ bit part. Then, of course, you realise the coffee stain is still there, the editing awaits and you’d rather, to be honest, cleaning the oven out. The despair, already detailed above, is even worse. You’ll prevaricate by checking Twitter, you’ll prevaricate by reading blog posts like this one. You’ll do anything but go back to that god-awful manuscript that you know, quite truthfully, to be appalling and unreadable. Prevarication is a well known occupational hazard for writers; I’ve renamed it ‘dusting the keyboard’ in my own case. It’s useful to be aware of these traits and to be able to spot them quickly if you are to ‘write everyday’. The moment I find myself ‘dusting the keyboard’ I immediately give myself two hundred lines; they can be on any subject – even why I’m sat there dusting the keyboard – but the point is to get me writing again as quickly as possible.
The saying goes that variety is the spice of life and, in the case of writing, it’s a crucial ingredient. Vary how, when and where you write if you’re getting really stuck. Faced with a particularly awkward section to re-work I bravely gave up; I knew that I had to come up with a solution of how to get from A to B for my characters. I needed them to tell a section of the story for themselves but I couldn’t find a way into that story. I also decided that it was no point trying to use a crowbar to break in and came to the decision that they’d have to work it out for themselves. I printed off three chapters that needed a fine proof read and took them, a trusty fine-liner and highlighter, out into the garden and got on with something completely different. The result was I came back in at half four in the afternoon and got down to the hard graft of writing the section I’d left; while I was in the garden not thinking about the problem, a solution had evolved. Of course, that meant my working day was extended considerably and I found myself still chained by a group of enthusiastic characters to the keyboard at half seven – but some days you just have to go with it.
Many of us craft our work on the assumption that our readers will agree to suspend their disbelief. While we’re writing it’s useful to take a leaf out of their book and suspend our disbelief in ourselves. Self doubt will crush creativity; you just have to ignore it and plough on regardless. I also find that it’s not helpful to edit as you go. Get the words out first, however appalling. Editing, reworking and editing again, will all help to make the piece better, it will also, hopefully, help you to fall back in love with the work even if you’ve barely been on speaking terms with it for a while. Writing everyday, with neither hope nor despair can be a big challenge but by suspending both, but by avoiding too much prevarication and saving your critical faculties for editing you should just make it through.
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