Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stuff I've Learned: Trust Yourself

One of my clearest childhood memories is of playing school with one of my babysitters.  I wrote a poem -- a beautiful poem, I thought, about summer and gardens and roses and... okay I don't actually remember what it was about but my memory says it was brilliant.  I painstakingly decorated the page with climbing roses and presented it to my babysitter.

She took it, read it, and used red pen to change the first letter of every line to a capital letter because, she said, every line in a poem has to start with a capital letter.  I was crushed.  And infuriated, since even then I knew she was TOTALLY WRONG.

Stuff I've Learned: Trust Yourself

You have to trust that you know what you're doing (even if you don't).  You have to believe in your vision, in your talent, in your skills, and in your own unique voice. 

Thanks to all the books you've read, you already have an innate grasp on dialogue, pacing, characters, and story.  Thanks to all the years you've lived, you've already developed your own worldview and preferences and opinions, even if you haven't consciously articulated them.  You are already a special snowflake.  Trust that.  Trust yourself.

Except when you're wrong.  But that's what revision is for.

One of the hardest things to do when you sit down to write is to take that leap of faith that it will all be okay.  Especially when there are people telling you that it won't be okay, you won't make it, you can't do it, you're not good enough, you're not smart enough or funny enough or whatever enough.  Especially when the person telling you all that crap is yourself.

But it will be okay.  You will figure out the ending and the main character's motivations and that funky little bit of pacing in the middle and the voice for that secondary character and what happens in that part of the outline where you wrote "something cool happens next."

Or maybe you won't and then you'll go on to write another story that's even better.  And that's okay too.  You can still trust that if you write enough and read enough and live enough, you will get better.

And you don't need to capitalize the lines in that poem.

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At 10:58 AM, Blogger Priya Sridhar said...

Thank you, Sarah. Really needed to hear this.

How do you remind yourself to trust in every story, even if the next isn't as good as your previous one? What keeps you going when waiting to hear what other people say, especially if they're reading multiple drafts?

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Priya: Glad to hear it was useful! My two cents on your questions...

"How do you remind yourself to trust in every story, even if the next isn't as good as your previous one?" You remind yourself that it's unfair to compare an early draft of a new work to the finished draft of an old work. The old work has had time to seep into your heart. The new work... it's a seedling. You have to try not to judge it too harshly for not being a flower yet.

"What keeps you going when waiting to hear what other people say, especially if they're reading multiple drafts?" Write the next story. Pretend the old one doesn't exist and throw yourself into the next one. That's what works for me.

At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Stephanie Burgis said...

I *LOVE* this entry. Thank you so much! I really needed to read it right now.

Also I winced - with huge sympathy and recognition - at your babysitter story because it was so similar to one of my own. The older guy (a senior!) that I was crushing on in ninth grade asked to read the opening of my novel, which I had with me in Spanish class. I passed it over to him, waited in agony as he read it...then watched him take out a pen from his backpack and make a correction.

"You misspelled something," he said kindly as he handed it back over.

I'd written "the hansom cab driver" (meaning the driver of one of London's old hansom cabs) and he'd "fixed" it to "the handsome cab driver". I was sooooooo torn between embarrassment (because he thought I'd make such a dumb mistake) and outrage (because I hadn't)!

It didn't take away the crush, but it was definitely a painful moment. ;)

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Sarah Golden said...

Faith in the story has never been too difficult for me, but faith in myself as I write the story is another matter.
Once I took a novel writing class, and encountered my first real experience with criticism, I had to learn how to take it with a grain of salt. It's funny, because I continue writing groups and work shops with friends when we have the time, and I still get that moment where I doubt what I'm writing and whether or not anyone else will enjoy it.
For me, it helps to think that the reason I'm writing a story, whether it is good or not, is because I can enjoy it.
I'll admit that I need to work on my self esteem, but writing has always helped me feel like I've accomplished something.
Thanks for this encouraging post Sarah! I will work on my confidence, and forget my other drafts when writing my current one.
I have a question for you: When you write, how do you turn the editor off? I had to do a project in class with this, and I failed because I was too hard on myself, and constantly edited everything.
Many writers say that this ruins the creative flow when you're writing, and it's really difficult for me to turn that off. I feel my writing suffers as a result.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger LinWash said...

This brings tears to my eyes. You can't possibly know how much I needed to read that today. Because I've doubted my ability to craft a compelling story. I've allowed criticism to nearly bury any desire to complete my novel. So, thank you.

At 4:20 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Stephanie: Ouch! Definitely a lose-lose situation. Also, hilarious.

Sarah: I know some writers who always write with the internal editor turned on, and it works great for them. Personally, I need to have it completely off for the first draft (or two). One way I do that is to set specific, small goals for each draft. For example, I'll tell myself that for the first draft, I only need to sketch out the plot. I don't need to have the character's voices right or pretty prose. That way, I don't end up trying to fix everything at the same time. I'll do a blog post about this soon... Great question!

LinWash: So happy to hear it was helpful! Don't listen to the criticism, especially before the novel is done! That's like yanking up a daisy to see how well it's growing and then judging it for not flowering as well as others who weren't rudely pulled out of the nice, warm dirt.

At 2:30 AM, Anonymous nfl jerseys cheap said...

Sounds really good. Great pick! And I would enjoy it!!!


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