Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Wall of Self-Doubt

It's official; Simon Cowell has come to visit my brain - and he's brought a bloody great pile of suitcases with him. For the purpose of progressing with my writing, this is Bad News.

This week I finally trundled over the hill that is 50,000 words of Draft Two of The Renegades (now at 54,500 actually.) While I realise that, for the 'professional' novel writer, this ranks in terms of achievement roughly equivalent to getting up in the morning, for me this is a big deal. It's the furthest down the novel-writing road that I've ever travelled. So right now I should be doing The Carlton Dance while simultaneously trying to high-five myself, right?

Mmmmm... yeah, not so much, as it turns out.

I've seen all those talent shows Mr. Cowell has created. The ones where some people - not all, but definitely some - strut in front of him, brimming with the confidence of their own awesomeness, and then indulge in the most godawful spectacle of self-delusion a human could inflict on three minutes of other humans' lives. And when Simon systematically (and some might say, for the sake of humanity) tears their performance to pieces, they stand there wide-eyed and uncomprehending, as if they're not quite sure if they're dreaming all of this.

"He surely can't be serious, can he? He can't possibly be saying that about what I just did - it's obvious I am the most freakin' amazing bucketful of sheer, raw talent he's ever seen... "

Whatever they're hearing when they open their mouths and make sounds come out, it sure as hell can't be what everyone else hears. And they believe in their own hype too; like conspiracy theorists, there is no logical argument you can present to them to sway them from their conviction that they are fabulous and all the naysayers are just insanely jealous...

By the same logic, I could well be the writerly equivalent of those people. And, like them, I wouldn't even know it either.

Since I passed the 50,000 words mark of The Renegades Draft Two, more and more often I've found myself thinking "what if this really is just a gigantic pile of suck? I might think it's coming together okay, and that it makes sense and I've come a long way as a writer because of it - but what if I'm deluding myself? What if, when I've finally finished this thing, it becomes the solid, cast-iron proof that I'm actually a terrible writer who'll never get any of her novels published ever because every novel she writes is a steaming mound of horse-poo?" And then the Simon Cowell currently squatting in my brain does That Face at me, which really doesn't help.

Apparently this is what's known as A Typical Thing among writers. Apparently Number Two: I'm even  having this Typical Thing at a Typical Stage of the Writing Process. The Fear of Being Judged is tiptoeing away from the cozy sanctuary of fantasy and edging ever closer to becoming kick-in-the-guts reality. And yeah, it's blimmin' scary. After all, just because I've gone through large portions of my life expecting to be told I suck doesn't mean I learned to like it at any point...

But other writers have got past this. They've admitted that they too hit the wall of self-doubt - but they just kept on going anyway, until they got published... and then they kept on writing more stuff after that. If I'm not willing to let my novels be judged, I'm never going to finish writing one; I already know that's true from the stacks of half-finished and just-begun attempts languishing in W-I-P Hell on my hard drive. My personal Brain Simon may be right; in the end, even after a metric tonne of rewrites and polishes, The Renegades might turn out to be a legless donkey. And I'm sure, if that's the case, it'll hurt when I actually hear people tell me so.

But... it's a bit of a First-World Problem really, isn't it? There are worse things that could happen. The Fear of Being Crap is a powerful thing, but many of my fellow writers (god bless 'em) have assured me that not only can it be beaten, it must be. I've got through it with writing lyrics, and I've got through it with writing short stories - now I have to suck it up and deal with it when it comes to writing novels.

Does it end? Is this just a phase every writer goes through at a certain stage in a novel's lifecycle, until they come out the other side and say "Hell yeah, let's start submitting/self-publishing this puppy?" Or is it one of those things that pops up on a regular basis to mess with your head - like PMS, but with less chocolate consumption? (Ohh.... alright then, in my case, roughly the same amount of chocolate consumption...)

Perhaps I should just get myself a t-shirt with "I'm having a Mid-Write Crisis!" printed on it.

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