Monday, 1 November 2010

Self Doubt

I've just returned from a very relaxing holiday in North Norfolk, but I appear to have lost the motivation and positive attitude towards my writing I had before I went away. Any ideas on how to get them back will be appreciated!

While I was away, I read the latest Persephone Bi-Annually (No 8 Autumn/Winter 2010). Persephone (www.persephonebooks.co.uk) reprints neglected classics by twentieth century writers (mainly women), and I love them. This edition of the Bi-Annually featured extracts from the journals and notebooks of Dorothy Whipple.

In 1933 she wrote of her novel, They Knew Mr Knight: 'I have only to start writing a novel to become flat and stale. A short story invigorates me, a novel depresses me during all the weary months I'm writing it.' And another entry in the same year: 'I began the second draft of my book. The first is very scrappy. I don't see my way with the book yet...I don't like having to concoct plots, I like doing people.'

Same here, I thought. I like inventing characters and writing about them. Plots are a boring necessity. Something has to happen. People are so much more interesting!

Writing about They Were Sisters in 1942, Dorothy says: 'I am terrified of the badness of this book. I am off my natural bent. Sadness, ugliness throughout is not my line. I wish I didn't start on themes without proper thoughts.... But I worked well and fast. It seems as if I have to ponder on a situation for several days, seeing no daylight, then suddenly it comes clear and I can write again.'

Yes, I can identify with this too, except that I 'ponder on a situation' for several weeks! When my head is clear and I can see where I'm going with my novel, then I write very fast. Trouble is, I can rarely see clearly where it's going. I guess as writers, we have to go up several blind allies before finding our way. Ever the perfectionist, I feel I have to get it right first time and berate myself when a scene doesn't work.

However, I keep telling myself that words written are never wasted in that we learn from every sentence we write.

6 comments:

Spangle said...

I'm having the same problem at the moment and have just blogged about the exact same problem. If you're interested there's a new initiative called NaNoWriMo, which is encouraging writers to get their books finished. If you would like to read more go to my post: http://theolivareader.blogspot.com/2010/11/for-those-who-write.html

Oldrightie said...

I reckon it's a kind of accumulative fatigue. Like any other, a complete break from the activity, (flying was the case for me)is essential. by complete, it has to be no thinking, internetting, nothing in the slightest bit connective with the subject to be refreshed. Not easy but possibly a solution.

JohnMac said...

It's not just novels. Any substantial project (and let's face it, few people tackle anything more substantial than writing a novel) inflicts those "dark nights of the soul".

Before you start, imagination makes it wonderful. When you finish, you get the catharsis and satisfaction of a job well done.

It's the middle where it's messy and complicated...and so much still remains...

Joanna said...

I understand well the desire for perfection. It's a bit of curse, the need to get it exactly right. And it can be self-defeating.

I remember reading about a actor who suddenly developed dreadful stage-fright. Night after night, he sweated in the wings, despite years of experience and huge popularity. He became convinced he wouldn't be able to perform perfectly. So his wife eventually suggested that he go on stage with the intention of simply doing the job, aiming to be no more than average. Once he stopped straining to be perfect, his nerves vanished. And his performance was completely fine too.

I think that writing is a bit the same. We can lose our nerve in the struggle to get it all perfect. When I write without thinking too much about getting it right, it comes straight from the heart and is often better for that. Of course it needs plenty of editing, but the raw quality, the essential core, is there if I've 'let go' a bit and not tried too hard.

I find it helps to not re-read it immediately. I don't look back until I've finished a short story completely. I put it away for a while and then read it with greater detachment. I can see what needs changing and deleting then. But it might be different with a novel, where you need to keep track of more threads and characters.

Jo said...

You are so right, Joanna! The trouble with novel writing is that it's so patchy. I read it all through yesterday and there a sections that I think work really well and the writing is of a fairly decent quality, then there are sections which sound so wooden and clunky. I have to keep saying to myself, 'Just get it down!'. It is so different from short story writing in that you're thinking in terms of plot much more and writing from the heart becomes more difficult. That's my experience anyway!

Sally Zigmond said...

I know exactly how you feel Jo (and can so empathise with Dorothy Whipple.) I am currently in that bad place and it stinks!

Word Ver is 'repaging'--very apt!