Friday, 27 July 2012

More on Writer's Angst

Writing for publication is, I always say, one of the most angst-prone things you can do. I bet even the richest and most-read novelist of the day, JK Rowling, has her worries about the forthcoming release of  The Casual Vacancy in September. Here is a handy cut-out-and-keep list of many of the ways Writer's Angst can get you:

  • The writers I admire are so brilliant, is there any point my trying to write at all? I'll never be as good as they are.
  • Isn't it hugely hubristic to believe that anyone will want to spend time reading something that is effectively no more than the contents of my mind? Who do I think I am?
  • Eek! It's going to be complete at 30,000 words. Way too short.
  • The plot's rambling out of control! 150,000 words already. I'll never reach the end!
  • No! I've come across another book written two years ago on a very similar theme. Everyone will think I stole the idea.
  • Supposing it's rubbish and no one wants to tell me?
  • Gah! A writer I respect was very critical about the bit he read. I'm doing it all wrong. Sob.
  • It must be rubbish because I've got all these form rejections from agents. They know what readers want, surely. Proper writers get agents and a publishing deal.
  • Supposing when I put it for sale on Amazon no one buys it?
And later:
  • My first book is a success, hurrah - has actually sold well, readers have said they enjoyed it, I've made good money - but I'll never be able to repeat my success because...
  • I used up all my ideas in the first book. Now I am but an empty husk, who will never create an interesting character or story line ever again.
  • This book is a struggle. I don't remember the last one being as hard to write. Probably because this one is No Good.
  • I've forgotten how to write! Every sentence is convoluted and awkward. Woe!
  • Other people write loads more words per day than I do. Why am I so slow?
  • By the time I get this one finished, the people who loved my first book will have forgotten my name.
  • Okay, so Book Two is out and doing rather well - some readers even prefer it to Book One - but I'll definitely never be able to do it a third time...
MORAL: Do not fret.

Everything will be all right. Do not be self-critical - in an imperfect world, you do not need to be perfect. No one else is. Lighten up. Keep writing, one word at a time. You can do it.


  1. So perfectly timed for me, thank you!

  2. Trying to post a comment for the second time; the first one got eaten by Blogger.
    Brilliant post and one I'll print out and keep handy.
    Talking to Catriona McPherson - who writes crime novels set in the 1920s. She has just had the eight in the series published - and she was saying she always thinks the book she is working on is rubbish and there is much wailing about the publisher not wanting it, she can't do it, etc... So, maybe we never learn to trust what we do or maybe we need the angst?

  3. Mary, I don't think we need the angst, though thin skins go with the territory so perhaps we are more prone to it. Those enviable super-productive authors don't fret the way most of us do, I feel sure.

    I invariably think all the chapters in my WIP are good, bar the latest. I come to appreciate it while working on the next chapter...

  4. Lexi, thanks for this post. I feel encouraged.

  5. Jo, Rod, Sarah and Abdullah - we should all celebrate from time to time how clever and creative we are. A bit of gloating over past achievements never hurts, either :o)

  6. Inspirational words for anyone who pursues anything creative...and very true.

  7. Onwards and upwards, fellow writers :o)

  8. What angst? I type my 15 to 20 words a day, throw out about 500 previously produced words and leave the enterprise refreshed and cheerfully suicidal.

  9. Alan, I'm worried about those 500 words. I bet they're pretty good, and you are being unduly harsh with them. They probably only need a bit of love and tweaking to shine.

  10. Thanks Lexi. I shall print that out and read it in between deep, calming breaths as I stare at the blank screen.

    Must go, got some gibbering to do in lieu of actually writing anything.

  11. Spin, don't gibber, swear. Much more motivating.

  12. These are why wine and chocolate were invented!

    Take care

  13. Muriel Spark said cats are good for your writing, too, because of their angst-reducing qualities.

  14. Muriel Spark probably didn't have a cat who gets jealous of the attention lavished on the computer and sits on the keyboard in protest.

    Mind you, his prose is better than mine.

    Swearing is all well and good but I'm trying to give it up and I've eaten all my chocolate so it's back to gibbering, I fear.

  15. Clearly you have an unusually non-literary cat.

    I used not to swear so as to set an example to the offspring. She went through a phase of swearing like a trooper anyway. Then I picked it up from a couple of my characters in Remix, and find I rather enjoy it.

    You don't mention wine...?

  16. Alas, I was a rotten student - I came of eight years in academia as teetotal as I was when I started. It's a terrible handicap for a writer. I can't even turn to absinthe to get the creative juices going.

    I think perhaps my cat is just too discerning to tolerate my scribblings.

  17. Spin, I want you to find the cat and look him in the eye. Now say this to him, loudly and clearly:

    "Cat, I'm good. You are only a cat, so cannot appreciate just how brilliant I am, both as a person and a writer. I'm creative, full of sparky ideas, amusing, kind, intelligent and gorgeous. I am particularly good with challenges; I cope with problems as they arise. What I start I finish. Now get off my keyboard, I have readers waiting."

  18. I tried that. He laughed so hard he got hiccups.

  19. Definitely a faulty cat. Have you thought of upgrading to a dog?

  20. Just occasionally after lunch I will select a favourite arm chair, open a bottle of Sauternes and settle down to read some of my own publications. Its the supreme form of indulgence and I can sometimes doze off dreaming of winning the Nobel prize ..... when I finish that latest research project!

    Writers needs to indulge themselves often. Only when you are relaxed and stress free can you produce your greatest work. LOL

    The cat comments reminded me of the Schrödinger cat paradox. A cat is placed in a closed box together with an explosive charge and a random radioactive trigger. The cat is in a mixed quantum state of being both alive and dead until the explosion goes off when it is definitely dead.

    Not sure why Schrödinger didn't like cats! LOL

  21. Q, I'm not advocating resting on our laurels, but a quick perch on them now and then does no harm :o)

    Possibly Schrödinger had aspirations to be a novelist in his spare time, but it came to naught because he owned a cat as sniffy as Spin's...

  22. Funnily enough, in my past life as a mediocre physicist I was in a five-a-side football team called Half Dead Cat Found In Box - RSPCA Seek Austrian Scientist (we nicked the name from a winning entry in a New Scientist headline competition).

    I don't think I would write any better with a dog. They never give honest critical feedback, they just tell you you're wonderful.

  23. That's a jolly good name.

    Re dogs telling you you're wonderful, what's wrong with that?

    I get critical feedback on request from the offspring and my lovely beta readers. When I'm writing, I like encouragement. I've got quite good at encouraging myself, for lack of obliging pet.

    Btw, this is good:

  24. My thanks to you for your continued encouragement - it works. The one that gets me from time to time is 'suppose it's rubbish and no one wants to tell me?'

    My cat was not allowed on my desk as her fur tended to waft around as she circled and padded across the keyboard. Her excited purring caused her to sneeze and splutter and so it was never long before she was put on the floor where the volume of her purring was turned up, presumably so that I would not forget her.

    But it's taken me so long to write my book that she is now known as one of the dear, departeds. I'm not sure if it is out of love, respect or guilt that she has been included in my book but she gave me enough hints.

    So, Parish Spinster, I do understand.

    Sorry, Lexi, was this posting about angst? I have focused on your moral: do not fret. I have lightened up! It works!

  25. I have fond memories of your cat from YouWriteOn days :o)

  26. Whatever is that comma doing after dear? (In my post above - not yours, of course.)

    The angst returns. I'd rather have the cat.

  27. You can have a some encouragement from me if you like, Lexi. I'll be your obliging E-mail pet.

  28. That's very obliging of you, Cassie - especially as I'm sure you have your paws full helping with the Great Kimberley Book Read.

  29. 'The plot's rambling out of control! 150,000 words already. I'll never reach the end!'

    As someone who passed the 250K mark ages ago, this one in particular made me laugh!


  30. I fall more into the category of thinking it'll be all wrapped up at 30,000 words. I rather envy you all those extra words to play with :o)