Do you ever hate your own writing?

Here’s a dialogue I hear a lot in my head:

Brain: Wow, this book I’ve written is not good. It’s actually quite bad. No one is going to want to read this. It’s not publishable.

Optimistic Side: Every writer goes through this. Every writer has self-doubt. Don’t let it get you down!

Brain: I’m sure terrible writers tell themselves the same thing. Doesn’t make them any less terrible.

Optimistic Side: You’ve been doing this a long time. You know more about this than you think you do.

Brain: But that one guy hated it. Couldn’t even get four chapters in.

Optimistic Side: Maybe it wasn’t what he expected it to be/maybe he wanted it to be something else. Maybe he had no clue what he was talking about. You can’t please everyone.

Brain: It was the most critiqued entry in that Live Action Slush Contest I went to. Those people know what they’re talking about.

Optimistic Side: True, but that’s still just their opinion. And even you weren’t sure about that entry. You’ve made it a lot better since then.

Brain: I still keep getting rejected from magazines.

Optimistic Side: ALL writers get rejected. Has that really been your best work either? You’ve only submitted to 15 or so places, and you made the short list on one of them. Two others complimented your writing personally.

Brain: They probably do that with everybody. They’re just being nice.

Optimistic Side: They don’t have to be nice.

Brain: Even half my betas didn’t read it and I thought I could count on them.

Optimistic Side: People get busy. There could be a million different reasons why they didn’t read it that have nothing to do with the book itself.

Brain: Yeah, but if I wrote a real knockout, they wouldn’t need excuses. People make time for good stories.

Optimistic Side: It’s still a draft. And less complete stories get picked up by agents every day.

Brain: Most agents only take one new client a year out of 3-4k submissions. I am not that good.

Optimistic Side: It’s not just about being good. It’s about being the right fit. Remember how much Greg likes your story?

Brain: Yeah…

Optimistic Side: Well maybe you’ll find an agent just like Greg, who has the same interests. Maybe this agent is dying to see a pan-pantheon fantasy with diverse characters and he doesn’t even care about the flaws. He’s willing to work with you because he likes the potential.

Brain: That’s unlikely; my stuff isn’t that marketable. I can’t even think of anything to compare it to.

Optimistic Side: Sometimes uniqueness is a good thing. They’ll pick that over something formulaic.

Brain: The shelves at Barnes and Noble say otherwise.

Optimistic Side: Okay, so some agents like a safe sale. But you wouldn’t want to work with them anyway.

Brain: There are so many better writers than me.

Optimistic Side: There are still better writers than Stephen King. Doesn’t make him any less of Stephen King. You’ll never be the best, but you can be the best for some people.

I’m still not sure if I lean more with my brain or with my optimism. It’s hard to even listen to the optimism at all when everywhere I look, there are people telling me I’m not good enough, or that there’s something inherently wrong with the way I write. Hearing critique about my book is easy – that stuff can be fixed. Hearing critique about my intrinsic writing philosophies, about the style I am in my soul…that’s a lot harder.

Sometimes I wish I was just normal, and wrote generic deep POV paranormal romances or something. Or thrillers. Something that’s an easy sell. Something that doesn’t make this journey so much harder on myself. Being me makes things harder on myself.

But I can’t get too down just yet. It’s not like I’ve even queried this book yet. It’s not like I have any metrics to go on. I haven’t failed yet. I haven’t even begun. So maybe life will surprise me. And maybe the optimistic side will be proven right, and that I’m simply going through What All Writers Go Through.


11 thoughts on “Do you ever hate your own writing?

  1. We all go through this, especially during the first draft phase and again during the beta read phase. Over time we get better at knowing what we should listen to and change and what we think will genuinely work. I’m sure even the bigwigs regularly experience self-doubt. But self-doubt can serve a positive purpose: it encourages us to work that much harder. Well, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sounds good. ;)

    With all the books out there, I don’t think anything is an “easy sell.” If it were, there’d be far more success stories. But a book without an easily definable genre might be trickier to shop around to agents and publishers.

    • Funny enough, I dealt with it so much easier during my naive initial draft phases because I knew it still had a long way to go. “Oh I can fix that.” Now that I’m closer to the end and I’ve put myself out there more, it’s sorta like….erg. Is this really good enough? I feel like it’s as good as it can be, but what if that isn’t enough for the whole market?

      I think I have a definable genre, I just don’t have a good this-meets-that comparison. I’ve had people compare it anywhere from the Dresden Files to Percy Jackson to The Bourne Identity. I say it’s got the face of Supernatural with the heart of Doctor Who, but that’s basically just fandom pandering. It’s tough. I wrote it BECAUSE it was a concept I wanted to see that no one else had tackled. Usually that’s what all my writing is. So it’s hard to define it in a one liner – something that is so necessary for marketing these days.

      • “I wrote it BECAUSE it was a concept I wanted to see that no one else had tackled.”—Haha, I know that feeling. I did the same with Eating Bull. I couldn’t really compare mine to any particular titles either which means we have to find a new way to spin it.

        You’ll get there. Your dedication and hard work are obvious, and those two are critical in reaching the finish line.

      • And I should add, just as your optimist’s side points out, an opinion is just that: one person’s opinion. Another reader might feel the complete opposite. Even the award-winning books out there have plenty of one-star reviews. When I have self-doubt, that helps me push on.

  2. Did you know that Stephen King threw his first draft of “Carrie” in the bin because he didn’t think it was good enough? True story. His wife pulled it out of the trash.

    If you have the conviction that this is the book that you want (need?) to write, then stick with it.

    It’s when a writer tries chasing what she/he believes is popular that she/he writes the same thing that everybody else does. YA paranormal romance, anyone?

    Michelle, stick to your convictions and stick to the book that you want to write.

    I know I look forward to reading it!

    • I have heard that story before. Stephen King was an absolute mess in the 70s and 80s too. Sometimes I tell myself “if King could write a bestseller while coked out of his mind and sitting in a pool of his own booze vomit, I can probably do alright.” :P

      I feel like I can’t *not* write, so that even if this book doesn’t work out, another book will come. And another. I’ve read stories of some authors having to write 10 books before they write one that will sell. Playing the odds is pretty much how I’ve gotten ahead in all aspects of life so far. It’s not how I want to go – of course I want the book that I’ve poured two years of my life into to be The One. But even if it isn’t, I’m not going to stop writing anytime soon.

  3. I agree. Stick to your convictions and write the way you want to write. There are many great writers out there that I never have been able to get through. Faulkner, Tolkien,Herbert, RR Martin anyone? I like the way you write, not because I’m your Mom and I have to, but because you write the way I like to read. Some of my favorite writers have been HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne. These writers are what I call fast reads. Full of adventure but they don’t tax my brain trying to figure out how to pronounce weird places and names. They are very cinematic in nature-thus so many movies have been made from their works! There are readers for what you write.

    • Unfortunately, I feel like most of the writers you mentioned would never get published today. The gatekeeping has just become a sad mill of What We Can Sell To The Most People without any desire to market towards a specific audience. Books either cater to the most highbrow academics or the lowest common denominator. And every book has to have a “It’s like This Popular Thing From The Past 3 Years” tagline in order for an editor to buy it. If your style doesn’t match up with a “modernist” approach to narration and POV, you’re outdated and unsellable.

      So really, I don’t necessarily feel like I’m a bad writer so much as I’m a writer who was born in the wrong time. I write in a very traditional style, the same stile that Wells and Philip K Dick and Bradbury used. And I know that people still read and enjoy these authors, so it’s a bit baffling that the powers that be are so picky about style. But I guess it’s because they can afford to be. Publishing has really become powered by money in the past 50 years rather than artistic pursuit, and the more global the world becomes, the more people want to write. You used to be able to hail down an editor in an elevator and pitch your book directly to them. Now, editors won’t even look at an author who doesn’t have an agent, and there will be two sturdy guards preventing you from getting on that elevator.

      Basically, I can see why self-publishing looks lucrative to people, but that still requires one to find their own audience…which is easier said than done.

  4. It’s funny you wrote about hating your own writing, because I wrote something a year ago with nearly the exact same title:

    I totally get the uncertainty and hatred you feel. The manuscript, after all, is an extension of ourselves. We try not to let people’s opinions get us down, but there’s always going to be that one or two who did not love the work, and when we read/hear their opinions, time stops and the self-doubt sinks in. For me, it’s a constant balancing act between Writing with Confidence vs. Quitting Because it’s a Tough Sell. I think you and I write about things that may be not be “mainstream enough”, but we write what we write because it’s what we know is true. And if we write honestly, the audience will be honest, too.

    So hang in there. Go for a walk, watch some TV, and go back to the computer with your Optimistic Side turned 100% on.

    For what it’s worth, I loved your draft and I look forward to reading it in published form. :D

    • That’s nice to hear. And I totally agree about “time stopping” – that’s such an accurate explanation of how it feels.

      At the end of it all, I’d rather have been honest than a shill for the mainstream. Mainstream authors may have their big moments of fame but they may not last the test of time (except for the writers, like Stephen King, who defined what “mainstream” means). Honest writers, however, can surprise people in the best ways. And the funny thing is, I consider myself very accepting of the mainstream – I’m fine with materialism and commercial fiction. I don’t consider myself particularly deep. But I do try to be original, and tell stories that haven’t really been tapped – stories I want to read but I can’t find in the library. Perhaps I should see it as “writing for an untapped market” rather than “writing the unsellable.” There’s a fine line, and perhaps I’m on the right side of it.

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