Don’t Believe Everything You Think

My Inner Critic's Name is Sheila and she's an asshole

Don’t believe everything you think. Go ahead. Reread that sentence a few times and let the idea marinate inside your cranium for a bit. It’s an interesting concept.

Don’t believe everything you think.

Sounds easy, right? Not quite. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Especially if your inner critic’s an asshole.

About a week ago, I started working on a new writing project–a romance novel that I’d set aside about a year ago. Elements of the estranged sister story that I’d been planning out at the tail end of last year were eerily similar to that tossed aside romance, so I decided to go back and finish the original story. With a little searching, I found the file on one of my flash drives and read the close to 30K words that I’d written. It’s the start of a crappy first draft, but some of it’s really not that bad. However, I hate the opening scene so I’ve decided to scrap it and write a brand new one.

Beginning a story is something that I struggle with and it’s when my inner critic–aka Sheila–is most active. Here’s how a typical writing session goes:

Me: After ten minutes of staring at a blank Word document, types the word “the”, stares at it for five minutes, deletes it, continues to stare at blank page.

Sheila: “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

Me: Types the full name of main character. Stares some more. Notices the thick layer of dust that’s blanketed every surface in the room. Contemplates searching for a Swiffer duster.

Sheila: “Can’t figure it out, can ya?”

Me: Squirms around in seat, sighs heavily, deletes main character’s name.

Sheila: “You’re never going to pull this off because you CAN’T write. I only tell you this because I’m your friend and I care.”

Me: Closes Word document, shuts down computer, goes to bed and lies awake agonizing over the thought of not being able to write. Decides to give it up.

Sheila: “I knew you’d see the light. You’re no Nora Roberts and you never will be. Come to terms with it and move one. You’re a bad writer and no one cares what you have to say.”

Me: “Go to hell, Sheila.” Four hours later I fall asleep. Wake up next morning, hop in shower. An idea strikes!

Sheila: “You’re wasting your time.”

Me: Takes world’s fastest shower and races to computer. Opens up Word document and types the following:

No matter how hard she tried, Kate couldn’t shake the shroud of impending doom that had plagued her all morning. 

Sheila: “Whoa…wait. Where’d that come from?”

Me: “Not bad, huh?”

Sheila: “Meh. Though I will admit you’ve piqued my interest. But you’re gonna have to come up with more than just one measly sentence. And I doubt that you can.”

Me: Rereads sentence, decides it’s a good enough start, and begins tapping away on the keyboard. Over the next forty-five minutes, three pages emerge.  They’re rough, but it’s a start. I sit back and smile and I’m feeling pretty darn good. “Hey Sheila, how do ya like me now?”

Sheila:  Radio silence.

That’s actually a watered down version of what happens.  Sheila can be brutal.  Sometimes it’ll take days for me to come up with the right words to begin my story and, more importantly, silence Sheila.

The point is, no matter how harsh my inner critic tends to be, I have to ignore it, otherwise I’d probably never leave the house.  Reminding myself that it’s nothing more than my own insecurity rearing its ugly head allows me to distinguish between what to believe and what not to believe.

Sheila will always be there, invading my thoughts, trying to keep me from moving forward.  There’s nothing I can do about that.  Ignoring her, telling her to fuck off every now and again, and proving her wrong are the best defense I have against falling for the BS and believing what I think.

 

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How To Write A Novel-Part 4: Just Write

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. _ Louis L'Amour

Yes, folks.

Just write.

That’s how a novel gets written.

It’s as simple as that.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it. For most people, myself included, writing is the hardest part of the whole process. I’ve only written short stories. Writing a novel is overwhelming, and that’s one reason why I’ve never come close to completing a novel. Self-doubt is the other reason my goal has yet to be reached.

What if I suck? What if my novel is the biggest piece of crap ever written?

In all likelihood, I will suck and, I hate to say it, you probably will, too. The first draft of anything almost always sucks. Accepting this fact is the key to pushing forward on those days where the words aren’t flowing or every sentence that you’ve written sounds like garbage.

What if it takes years to finish my novel?

If you really want to write a novel, it shouldn’t matter how long it takes. If you have a story in you, get it down on paper. No matter how bad your writing sounds, it’s only a draft and it can be fixed later. Stop reading about writing. Stop thinking about writing. Stop talking about writing and just sit down and write.  Set aside time every day, even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes. No matter how you do it, get that story out of your system and keep going until you reach the end.

As for me, I think it’s time I take my own advice and just write.

How To Write A Novel-Part 3: The Outline

PlannersgonnaPlan

I’m a planner. My house is littered with five million notebooks filled with lists and snippets of ideas – weekly menus, shopping lists, to do lists, story ideas. I jot things down as a way to organize my thoughts, as well as to help guide me in a particular direction.

When it comes to writing stories, I’m a person who prefers to know where the story is going before I begin writing.

There are plenty of ways to go about outlining a novel. If you’re a minimalist, a simple one-page bullet list of key scenes might be enough to get you started. There are some writers who create complex, detail-oriented outlines that are fifty or more pages long. Personally, I’m looking for an outlining method somewhere in between. It’s very easy for me to linger far too long in the planning stages of a story. I think it’s just my way of avoiding the inevitable – writing the draft.

Here are a few articles I’ve found explaining different ways you can outline your next novel:

For me, the outlining process is a way of fleshing out the original idea and figuring out if I can form that idea into a full-fledged story. I think it’s where I’m the most creative in the whole writing process because the ideas just seem to continually flow.

Knowing ahead of time where the story is going gives me a much needed boost of confidence that moves me from the plotting phase to writing that first draft.