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How do you write through a confidence slump?
Maria Granovsky
Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2012 11:19 AM
Joined: 1/10/2012
Posts: 28

This isn't a writer's block. I have a story arch, characters, and even settings that I like and want to write about. But I'm finding that for the past several weeks, every time I sit down to write, a little voice says "what's the use? You're not a good writer."

So I leave the computer and do other stuff. And another day goes by without a single word being added to my manuscript.

Anyone else experienced this? Has solutions?

Thank you.

Danielle Bowers
Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2012 11:47 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

I tell myself that writing is like a muscle.  It needs exercise to become strong and defined.  Tomorrow I'll be a better writer than I am today, but first I need to write today. 

Maria Granovsky
Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2012 11:58 AM
Joined: 1/10/2012
Posts: 28

Thank you, Danielle.  That's a great approach - concentrating on the process rather than the current status.  I'll apply it today.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012 12:43 AM

This isn't a writer's block. I have a story arch, characters, and even settings that I like and want to write about. But I'm finding that for the past several weeks, every time I sit down to write, a little voice says "what's the use? You're not a good writer."

 Okay, let’s assume you’re absolutely right, and you aren’t a good writer—yet. So fix it. There are lots of people we call no talent hacks out there making a living at writing. What do they have that you don’t? Focus on identifying and fixing that and the writing will improve.

I looked at your novel and it’s not a matter of your talent or potential as a writer. Nor is your story a problem. From what I see it’s that you, like me, and most people, assumed that since we’re voracious readers, and learned writing in school, we have the tools we need if we, as Danielle said, above, exercise our writing muscle to develop it. But can that work? It seems to me that if that’s all we need most of our new writers would be new high school grads who love to read, and the rejection rate for manuscripts wouldn’t be so high.

What I’m getting at is that there is more to it then desire and dedication. There are the tricks-of-the-trade, and all the things that once you hear them make you say, “Damn, why didn’t I see that for myself?

Here’s an example: At least half the novels in your library have something different about the first paragraph of every chapter. It’s obvious, and we’ve been seeing it all our lives. Do you know what it is? I didn’t, till it was pointed out. In fact, many of those novels that display the feature have the same thing happen after a scene break or a white space.

The answer is that the first paragraph of a chapter often isn’t indented. Most people don’t notice, and many, when they look for the difference don’t see it because it’s something we don’t pay attention to. And if we miss something that obvious…

Here’s another, larger point: On the stage, and in films, the story is acted out, not told. We never see the author, and films in which a narrator speaks, usually limit that narrator’s role to introducing a scene. Is that how you present your fiction, by placing the reader on the scene, so they’re seeing what the character is seeing, and reacting as the character might? Or are you, as yourself, telling the story from the comfort of your present, as if you were on stage or at a campfire?

Most new writers present the story as if they’re personally telling it. Do your favorite authors do that, or do you feel you’re actually living the scene as you read?

What I’m getting at is that I’m guessing that the reason you’re feeling disappointed in the story is that when you approach your work as a reader you see problems but are unable to identify the cause because you’re missing the knowledge and toolset of the pro. As Sol Stein observed, “Readers don’t notice point-of-view errors. They simply sense that the writing is bad.”

But handling POV is a learned skill, as are many of the compositional skills of the fiction writer. It’s not better, or worse, those skills are just different, and take as much time to practice into perfection as did the nonfiction skills we learned in our schooling.

So there it is, the secret of fiction writing: It’s all a trick—a series of tricks. Not everyone can do them well, true, but everyone can learn them. And if you haven’t, you’re facing the problem Mark Twain outlined when he said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

So here’s my prescription:

1. Read this. It’s a PDF download, part of a book called Don’t Murder Your Mystery. In it he explains why you need more than the general skill we call writing. www.bellarosabooks.com/PDF/DMYM_Excerpt.pdf

2. Try these articles on for size:


They can be a little like trying to take a sip from a firehose, because there’s a lot there, and it’s a very different approach to writing, but when presented with the problem of eating an elephant you do it one bite at a time.

If it makes sense, you want to pick up one of two books.

The first is the one the author of the first article suggests, Dwight Swain’s, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It is the single best book on writing fiction I’ve found. If it has any drawbacks it’s that it goes deeply into the subject and some people find it a dry read.

An alternate is Deb Dixon’s, GMC: Goal Motivation and Conflict. She was one of Swain’s students, and the book covers much the same ground, though she has some unique insights of her own. The writing is warm and easy, though not as detailed as Swain’s book. Either has the power to turn your world upside down, though in a good way. Neither will make a published writer of you. That’s your job. They will, though, give you the tools with which to become one.

Hope this helps. Sorry for the lecture, but that’s a hot button issue with me ;–}

Maria Granovsky
Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012 11:17 AM
Joined: 1/10/2012
Posts: 28

Thank you, Jay. This is very helpful and I will read the documents and the books you pointed me to. This is what I came to Book Country for - to learn the tricks of the trade.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2012 4:39 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

I agree with Jay, but even though you may work on the "tricks" he mentioned, I have to add that persistence is the key. Even if you are going through the confidence slump, writing is a job. Sit down in front of your computer/notebook/napkin (or whatever) and just make marks. You have to train yourself to do it everyday. Form a habit, if you will. If I don't write at least every other day, my fingers start to itch like they need a fix. That is what you want to happen. Once you do that, then your body forces you to work on your work, whether its editing, a few new paragraphs, or research. Make writing a habit.
Maria Granovsky
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 12:21 PM
Joined: 1/10/2012
Posts: 28

Thank you, LeeAnna.  I forced self to write every day while on vacation for the past two weeks, and I must say it pulled me right out of my slump, and I'm now psyched to write again.  I used notebooks and napkins, rather than a computer, so perhaps a change of medium and venue is good for this, too.

Maria Granovsky
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 12:27 PM
Joined: 1/10/2012
Posts: 28

And thank you, Jay, again.  I've been reading the materials you suggested (including Swain's book), and have had countless a-ha! moments about the mechanics and the craft of writing.  Now I can't wait to apply these principles to cure what ails my novels.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012 12:32 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

I get what your saying, Alberto, but I must disagree. Yes, devouring books like your life depends on it is fantastic if  you want to write, but I think you should question what you read. Even though I feel most of what I read, I still try to think about how this person achieved it; I try to learn. I read "Combray" from Proust's In Search of Lost Time and learned how to blend memories and musings together seamlessly while I got sucked into the narrative. I learned that time in a story is irrelevant. You can crunch years into seconds. That is what I learned. (I hope to read the rest someday on a vacation when I get to sit on my ass all day.)

Another thing that must be remembered is that writing has evolved because writers criticized other writers. Dreamy Romanticism gave way to Naturalism and Realism. Dour Modernism gave way to the sometimes absurd and sometimes irreverent Post-Modernism. Literature through time is one gigantic argument. Not only that, but loving/liking or not loving/not liking are only the first step of criticism. To be a good writer one must be active when they read.

I get that you're trying to say that a writer should have a passion for the written word, but if your a member of Book Country, I'm going to assume that you do. Persistence, practice, study of technique, and passion are all required. So many people negate one thing thinking it unimportant. I LOVE reading. I used to break the straps on backpacks as a kid because of all the books I used to carry around. I have a degree in it, yet if I didn't sit down and write as much as I do, I would not be where I am today. I read, and study, and practice to learn. A writer, an artist, must always be a student.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012 3:00 PM
• I've been reading the materials you
suggested (including Swain's book), and have had countless a-ha! moments

Here's another trick. Use what you've learned for several months. Then go back and reread the book. This time, having a fair idea of where he's going, and what it entails, you'll get as much out of it as you did the first, refining and honing what you've accomplished.

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012 3:21 PM
well you know, all people that write forget the most important
thing - writing is not about (sitting and) writing; writing is about
(laying and) reading.

It is perhaps impolite of me to ask, but, has that technique worked for you? You don't have any work posted, so it's hard to judge what the result of your suggestion looks like.

After all, we're all voracious readers, and do exactly what you suggest. Were your hypothesis workable in the real world, it would seem that the acceptance rate at your average publisher's office wouldn't be less than one percent.

I know of no profession for which you require no more training than we get in your primary schooling. Did our math make us a mathematician? Of course not. How about history. Again no, and the same for biology, chemistry and physics. Why then, believe that the general skill called writing is all a professional writer needs? Eating in a fine restaurant does not give us chef's skills. Attending the cinema doesn't make us screenwriters. Nor do the skills of the journalist come to us by reading the newspaper.

Talent is a necessity, of course. But from what I see a trained talent is what it takes, in any field.

I tried being a doctor once, using the philosophy you suggest. After all, I've been sick a lot and I know what they did to help me. And I've watched a lot of doctor shows on the television. But the first three patients who came through the door all gave me a problem. I no sooner put the blood pressure cuff around the patient's neck and pumped it up then they died on me, right there in the office. Talk about bad luck...

Brian Lowe
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2012 12:01 AM
Joined: 1/31/2012
Posts: 16

You ask if anyone else has experienced this, and the answer is that we all have. And still do. If you ever believe that you are a "good writer," and have learned all you need to know, you will only have achieved being a boring writer. That "I'm not a good writer" is what keeps you trying.

One of the worst ways we sabotage ourselves as writers is by comparing our work to others', particularly people we know. If you rate your ability as a writer by comparison with your friends/writer's group/published writers, you will always fall short. I know many people who have been writing far less time than I who have better careers. If I spent my time worrying about that, I'd never write again. But if I look back on my own career, I can see how far I've come, and that gives me hope that I will continue to improve.

You're always going to wonder if you're "good enough." But the only way to improve is to ignore all those voices and say, "I may not be good enough today, but I'm better than I was yesterday, and I'll be even better tomorrow."
Blakely Chorpenning
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2012 11:43 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 26

I definitely have these same moments. If it's really bad, I take a few days off to right my head. 
But sometimes I use a technique that I actually learned in my high school theatre classes and have, through the years, fit it into my writing process. When I get frustrated or feel like my writing just isn't good enough, I paste a chapter or two into a new document and have fun with it. I make everything waaay over dramatic. Sometimes I add a million completely horrible -yet funny- bathroom humor lines in the craziest of places. I exaggerate all of the characters' emotions and actions. I'll butcher it with terrible grammar. I'll add two hundred cliches. On and on. When I'm done (laughing like a crazed lunatic), I go through and read the entire thing.
My next step? I let my jaw hang open and laugh, all the while thinking, "Now THIS is actually crap!" 
The next day I get back to the real manuscript and I'm ready to work. 
This may not work for everyone. But sometimes over-exaggerating your worst fears brings your anxiety back down to earth, where you can tell it to shut it's little ugly trap!  

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Friday, June 15, 2012 6:43 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Yes, we all have the Imposter Syndrome Imp on our shoulder at times.  Your goal is to write anyway--even with the Imp whispering in your ear.  Sometimes tricks help.  Try any one or all of these:  1) Affirmation before you start, several times a day, even.  Look in the mirror and say, out loud:  "I am a writer.  I am a good writer."   (It's not easy--I did that.  At first I couldn't get the word "writer" out louder than a tiny whisper.)    2) Answer back that internal voice, the Imp telling you you're stupid & untalented.  Say "Shut up" and "Go away" and " You're a liar."  Go on writing immediately.  3) Get some ugly little figurine and a box.  When the Imp bothers you, put the figure on your shoulder, take it off and look at it, saying "Go to jail" and put it in the box with the lid shut.  4) Set a ridiculously low goal for yourself...five words a day, say.   If the imp is too loud for you to think of five words related to your story, type in "I am a good writer."    5) Conversely, when you can't think of anything but how rotten a writer you are, type that...don't stop, keep going with whatever comes into your mind.  "I can't write.  I'm a lousy writer.  I can't think of anything.  My characters are stupid, the plot is pathetic..."  Some minds become bored with this and finally give up some story material.  (Mine, for instance.  One page of dumping syndrome typing and my brain will sigh deeply and realize I won't let it off the hook until we do real words.)

It is important to be present...to show up...so if words come, you're there to catch them.  Commit to sitting in front of the keyboard for an hour a day.  If nothing comes...don't get up, don't turn to the internet, don't read.  Just sit there.  Your only choices are "type something" or "sit there."  Again, the bored brain will eventually give up and relinquish some words.


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