Dealing With the Doubts

A couple of months ago, I blogged about having written an entire 75k-word draft of Incarnate3 . . . and tossing it. If you recall, in that post I was super excited about starting over on Ana Notitle. So much freedom! So many new things to explore, so many opportunities! I started tinkering with a new synopsis immediately.

A week after I wrote that post, INCARNATE magically appeared in stores and on ereaders. And I’m not going to lie to you. I spent most of that time very stunned, because I suddenly had trouble believing any of those magical appearances were real. And that people liked my book. You know, the story I wrote for fun. The one that came out of my brain.

That shock lasted for about two weeks, leaving me incapable of doing anything remotely productive. But when I finally got the courage to work on my synopsis again, it felt great. I was excited to start writing again.

I finished my synopsis, had chats with Editor Sarah about it, revised it, made friends brainstorm with me, revised it some more . . . But when I started writing the actual draft, I felt weird and disconnected. I could make words, but they weren’t the right words. And my heart wasn’t in them. I was following my synopsis, but I just didn’t care about it, because I wasn’t writing with Ana’s voice. Or anyone’s voice. It was just meh.

A few weeks later, I finally had 12,000 words! Anyone who’s ever seen me write a book before knows that this is not what it looks like when I write a book. I tend to write first drafts in fits of passion, working 10 to 12 hours a day. Most of my friends know by now that I become the worst friend ever when I’m writing a first draft, because I can’t focus on anything but the story.

But that wasn’t happening, so I asked myself, What is different? Am I just incapable of writing a decent third book? Book two is pretty darn good (if I do say so myself), but book three is an ending, and we all know endings are hard. And then I remembered INCARNATE came out. (Sometimes I go whole minutes without thinking about it!) There are people who like INCARNATE. There are people who really like it. There are lots of expectations about the next two books. I wrote (and revised) IN2 while there were still only a few people with the ARC of INCARNATE. But after the book’s release, there was suddenly a lot more pressure to make IN3 spectacular.

So I wondered, Am I broken? Has the pressure broken my writing brain?

It’s not a secret that a lot of writers feel immense amounts of pressure when a book comes out. They (we — meep) want to do better than the last one, please all these lovely excited fans, but still surprise them. They (we) worry a lot about disappointing the people who loved the first book.

Am I broken? Am I going to write this draft, revise it a little, and turn in a draft neither my editor or agent likes? Will I disappoint a lot of people?

I had The Doubts. I doubted myself, my story — everything. I mean, I’d written this whole synopsis, and my editor didn’t hate it, so whatever was wrong, it must be me.

After a few days of stressing myself into knots, I stepped back and had a talk with a friend. I reread my first chapter. My first chapter wasn’t so bad. But in the second chapter, that disconnected feeling returned. I complained to my friend about this. I complained about chapters two and three and four. I told her something had to change.

And she agreed. She made a tiny suggestion that snapped me into thinking about the story in a different way, and I deleted 10,000 words. I kept the first chapter. I deleted everything that came after. That day, I wrote 1,500 words. The next day, I wrote 5,000 words. The two days after that, I wrote 3,000 words each. It felt right. I was in Ana’s head again. I was writing with her voice. The story was exciting to me again.

It wasn’t very much different from my synopsis, but there were enough changes to to have a big effect on how I looked at the story, and how I felt about it. In just a few days, I’ve already more than made up the words I cut.

Here’s what happened: I forgot that it’s possible to write the wrong story. I can try and try and try, and even though sometimes pushing through a rough patch of writing is the right answer, sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes, the right answer is to listen to the story (okay, that’s always the right answer) and stop doubting myself. Stop letting myself be paralyzed by fear of failure.

We all get The Doubts sometimes, no matter what stage of our writing careers we’re in. Doubts we’ll ever have a worthy idea. Doubts we’ll ever finish a book. Doubts we’ll ever get an agent, get published, revise the book to everyone’s satisfaction. . . . And it doesn’t end there. There’s always more.

It’s okay to have The Doubts sometimes. Just don’t let yourself get lost in them. (And if you have a friend to knock sense into you, even better. I recommend that 100%.)


Dealing With the Doubts — 10 Comments

  1. I’m proud of you for dumping it and trying again! That moment when you dumped it must have felt like FAILURE but it’s not! It’s a chance to try again. Good work, Jodi!

    I’ve been having these doubts about Book 3 and I keep coming back to it, re-reading it and thinking, “no, it’s actually pretty good!” It’s just that I’ve hit a depressing part of the story. I knew it wasn’t going to be sunshine and rainbows all the way through, but still, dealing with that is hard.

    • Dumping and trying again does get a little bit wearying, but when it works . . . it’s worth it. :)

      And yes, I know the feeling about having doubts, then looking back and realizing it’s not bad at all! I think I do that with every book. We’re just so used to thinking our stories need to be rewritten to make it better, but sometimes things really only need to be tinkered with. :)

  2. Perfect. Thank you so much for writing this. This is where I am this morning, as Book One goes to Line Edits and I’m ready to send in the synopsis for Book Two. And nothing is even published yet! Doubting. Fearing to disappoint, or fail. And this is not a good place to be writing from. It helps to know I’m not alone with this.

    • You’re definitely not alone. Not at all.

      I know it won’t help to have me say try not to worry about publication or failure while you’re writing, but . . . that’s really the best thing I can tell you. Write the book. Think about the book. Find that love again–the reason you started writing it in the first place–and hold onto that. That is more important than publication.

  3. Gosh. I feel like a total spaz some days because I’m in the first draft of my second novel – no agent, sometimes not even thinking that I’ll ever have one – and I feel as though I make it all about myself and my doubts about ever getting out there.

    Hearing that you have these worries, even after publication, is humbling.

    • Kaye, keep on it. You’ll hear a lot of stories about people getting agents and ridiculous deals with their first ever manuscript, but remember, those are the exceptions. Most people write a few books before they get an agent and a deal, ridiculous or otherwise. INCARNATE was my seventeenth manuscript.

      It’s different for everyone. Don’t measure yourself against others; it will only hurt you. :)

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