There is a dichotomy in the brain of every writer: I need to believe in myself to even publish my work anywhere in the world, but for quality’s sake, I really need to develop quality self-criticism. So we have a possible over-confidence or over-positive view vs a negative mindset that questions every word produced.
So let’s read self-criticism as: The ability to criticize my work not myself. Does that make it a little healthier?
Does it sound like an oxymoron if we add: Writers need to develop a strong will to create and have a strong belief in their ability to create something of interest plus have a strong objectivity about what they write? Is that over confident or just right? If a writer is too tentative about their own writing, then will the work ever get published? So adding adjusting that inner critic into a bit more positive and a bit less negative should be just about right, right?
You don’t need that critical voice when writing the first draft, or the second. The third draft, it comes in handy as long as the criticism is directed to the words on the page and not the ability of the writer, the focus of the writer, or the creativity of the writer.
What’s a writer to do?
So what do we do to work towards solving the contradiction?
One thing is to kill that inner critic until the first draft is written. If you are critical about your opening page, or first paragraph, or first sentence, you’ll never finish that first chapter, let alone the book. There is a great article written by Barbara O’Neal that was published in one of our newsletters last year. Click here to read it in full.
James Scott Bell said one dam that kept him from pursuing a writing career is that he kept hearing, “You can’t learn to be a great writer.” Talk about Negative Nellies! With friends like that, who needs enemies? He read every book he could get his hands on about writing craft. “Lightbulbs started flashing,” he said. He overcame that stall in his career caused by bad and negative advice by “…realizing that scenes should have an objective, obstacles, and an outcome that is usually a major setback.” He learned how to be a great writer, and he learned how to teach others how to be great writers.
It isn’t following a formula, it is constructing interesting stuff that has proven to work well to satisfy readers. Once we’re in the groove, it shouldn’t be too hard to regulate the inner critic. What do you think?
Financial returns are low
Another debilitating thought that drives up the pressure that holds down creativity is when writers continually beat themselves up thinking about the incredibly miserable financial return on our dollars, time, and effort. That dam will stop creativity in its tracks. When we realize that the financial return will never equal the investment in time, effort, energy, heart, and soul that goes into creating a book, and we write in order to quench the burning flame to write, for the enjoyment, and the pleasure of sharing our creativity then we see a flood of creativity.
So there are a few who are compensated very well for their time, effort and energy such as James Patterson, Stephen King, and others. But compared to the millions (plus millions) of qualified authors in this world, those are a pitiful few. Writing is generally a thankless, tough, grueling, bleary-eyed job.
The average sales for any author is about 250 books sold. Some sell a lot more and others sell a lot less. Sounds kind of depressing. Why do we even do it?
What are some major setbacks or creative dams that you’ve faced? Have you overcome them? How? What advice would you give an author who is facing some of these career stalls?