Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writer Problems: 5 Mantras to Conquer Your Insecurity

Insecurity seems to be a fundamental trait that writers share. Whether the craft is fiction, poetry, screenwriting, essays, or even copy writing, writers worry about their writing. Is it good enough? Is it the right style? With others read and enjoy it? Will I be mocked? Is it worthy of publication?

Recently, a few of my writer friends have been particularly plagued by insecurity. For them, I try to be the cheerleader. I provide an optimistic, outside perspective and offer words of encouragement or tips for improvement. However, I would be the biggest liar on this planet if I said that I didn’t feel insecure from time to time (read: most of the time). But fretting over every detail and talking down to yourself won’t help you. In fact, if self-fulfilling prophecy has anything to say about it, it will probably make you a worse writer. Therefore, the next time you are feeling a bit shaky, try remembering these five mantras:

harry potter1.) You are probably not the next J.K. Rowling (and that’s okay!).

Feel free to substitute whichever hit-it-big, rich writer you choose (mine would be Nicholas Sparks). Look, more than likely, your work will not be an international, multi-million dollar, movie empire success. Could it be? Of course. But realistically speaking, most books sell under 500 copies in their lifetime, and the ones that are a huge success nowadays tend to be so more because of marketability than literary genius (Fifty Shades, anyone?). Your work is your work. You have your own, unique style and someone, somewhere will appreciate it. You don’t have to write the next Hunger Games to be a worthy, successful author. There are thousands of mid-list authors who achieve a full-time income and/or loyal fan bases without becoming a household name. There is no shame in this.

2.) You are probably not the next Hemingway, either (and that is STILL okay!)

Again, feel free to substitute the critically-acclaimed author of your choice (mine would be Faulkner). Just as your work will probably not make you ridiculously rich, you probably won’t go down in history as one of the greatest writers of all time. Could you? Of course. But again, realistically speaking, you’re probably not one of the greats, and that is fine. Literature is subjective. You could have a million readers who believe you are the best writer in the known universe, and someone will still hate your work. In someone’s estimation, there will always be a book better than yours, and there will always be a book worse than yours. As long as you are happy with and proud of your writing, that is all that matters.

snowflake3.) No one else can write like you.

In regards to rules one and two, you may not be like other writers, because every writer is unique. You have your own voice, your own perspective, and no one can take those away from you. It is useless to compare your writing to others’ work, because it is like comparing apples and oranges (or Whitman and Shakespeare). Sure, it can be done, but you can never account for the billion little idiosyncrasies that make you unique as a writer and an individual. As long as you stay true to your voice and write from your authentic self, you will be the writer that you are meant to be.

4.) There are no rules.

This is my favorite. Grammar lovers, cut me a little slack on this one. Seriously, you can write your book or poem or essay however you like. Do you want to divide your novel by parts instead of chapters? Fine. Do you want to exclude all punctuation from your poetry? Fine. Do you want to write an essay entirely in the second person? Fine. While there are some established guidelines necessary to win over a traditional publisher (or achieve success as a self-published author), if all you want to do is express yourself creatively and experiment with new forms, then just do it! For real, what’s stopping you?

freedom-102409_6405.) You can do whatever you want with your writing.

If all else fails, remember: your writing is your intellectual property, and you can do with it what you will. Do you want to try your luck with agents and publishers? Great! Do you want to build your own author-entrepreneur business and independently publish? Nifty! Do you want to let a few friends, family members, or random internet strangers read it? Awesome! Do you want to crumple it in a ball, set it on fire, and release the ashes in international waters? Cool! At all times, you are in complete, creative control of your writing. Do with it whatever makes you happy.

As unofficial sixth point, let me reiterate: you are not alone. All writers face insecurity in some form at some time. And sure, 99.9% of us won’t be insanely rich or achieve literary acclaim. But we all have a unique voice, the right to determine our own style, and complete control over our creativity. So pick up your pen or put your fingers on your keyboard, shove that little ball of terror or self-loathing in your desk drawer, and write what you want. You have a story worth telling inside you, you deserve to write it, and the world deserves to receive it.

If you’re working on your first novel and worry that it will suck, read this. And, as always, leave your comments, fears, and encouragements below!


Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

NaNoWriMo Update: The Adventure Begins!

As I am writing this post, it is still October 31st. However, when it hits the world wide web, it will be November 1st. Ah, November 1st, the day that strikes fear and excitement and anticipation in the hearts of NaNoWriMo writers (or Wrimos) everywhere.

NaNoWriMo participant 2014Throughout the month, I will be posting updates on my NaNoWriMo progress. At the very least, I intend to write weekly updates. However, if I manage to scrape up a surprising amount of free time (doubtful), I will update more frequently.

During these updates, I’ll report my word count and state of mind, share the motivation and inspiration that kept me going, and also tell you about my biggest triumphs and setbacks.

For now, here is how I’m feeling about the impending NaNoWriMo 2014:

I feel like NaNoWriMo is a creepy old man hovering over my shoulder and breathing hot coffee breath on my throat. I’ve been so confident and logical all October, but now that the hour is near, the nerves are setting in. However, I’m also excited. Like, really, really excited.

When I was in university, I had this same stomach-twisting sensation whenever I had a long essay to write. As I brainstormed the essay, I knew my ideas were great. Then, when it was time to sit down and write, I would get a little sick feeling and a little nervous. Especially when I procrastinated — which was more often than I like to admit. Once I finally forced myself to the keyboard, I would trudge through the organizational process, and then, slowly but surely, I would pick up speed and blaze through my essay. When it was done, I would blink and scroll through the pages, like I was waking up from a trance. Then, I would turn it in to my professor and everything would be fine.

That’s what I’m hoping NaNoWriMo will be like for me. Given this very specific knot just behind my belly button, I think I’m in good shape.

successHowever, NaNoWriMo holds something for me that university papers never did. You see, now that I’m out of university, I feel a bit aimless. I have decided to wait a year or two before graduate school, because I’m not interested in rushing into an MFA program just yet. I have a good job with benefits and all that real-world jazz, but it is not anywhere near the field I want to be in for my career. The one thing I do know is that I want to get out of my cubicle and into a career as a full-time writer. And trust me, I know that this will probably take a good five years to accomplish. Once I start, that is.

And that’s why NaNoWriMo is so important. Because if I can learn to make creativity a priority and teach my loved ones to take my writing seriously this month, I can continue that pattern on a regular basis. NaNoWriMo is my bootcamp, my two-a-days (for anyone who did a horrible high school sport). The pace is more rigorous, but it is the brutal beginning that will whip me into shape for the years ahead. I’ve heard more than one author on the podcasts I frequent credit their true beginnings to NaNoWriMo.

Why not me, too?

The sooner I get started, the sooner I realize my dreams. It starts with a hastily drafted — but complete — manuscript.

It starts today.

Join me on my NaNoWriMo journey on my NaNoWriMo page or follow me on Twitter @KateMColby for more frequent updates!

How are you feeling about NaNoWriMo this year? Feel free to share your motivations, fears, and encouragement below!


Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writing Fears: The Manuscript Monsters

Every writer is closely acquainted with the blank page. You know the one: that ghostly white computer screen with the mocking black cursor, or that sickly pale paper one with the dizzying horizontal lines. When we, as writers, are confronted with that blank page, we face the beautiful and mysterious possibilities that our ideas hold. Will our words weave themselves into lyrical masterpieces? Only time will tell!

In equal measure to this euphoric hope and optimism is the overwhelming negativity and fear. The blank page is not only a welcome friend; it is also a threatening foe. Will our words wrestle against our authority? Like stubborn teenagers, will they curse and stay out past curfew and laugh at our attempts to corral them? Or will they become something worse?

Will our manuscripts turn into monsters?

ghostThe Ghost

The Ghost is perhaps the most terrifying manuscript. It is the idea that we fell in love with too hard and too fast. The one that we raced to the keyboard to type, only to sit down with a look of bewilderment, like someone awakening from a daydream. We abandon our beloved, leaving the page empty, white. The Ghost is the blank page manuscript, the one we never birthed. It proves to us that we are commitment-fearing, lazy, unambitious fools. It haunts us.

The Mummy

The Mummy is the manuscript that we (want to) believe is perfect. We treat it like a fallen Pharaoh. We wrap it in bandages to keep it together. Then, we wrap it in the most beautiful prose we can muster — each adjective becomes a ruby, each verb a sapphire, each word of dialogue a diamond. We encase it in a golden cover, our beloved Pharaoh, hidden away in its sarcophagus of jewels and gold. We go so far as to build a pyramid in its honor — each Tweet, each Facebook post, each proud remark to friends and family becomes a brick in the impressive structure that will hold our manuscript. Others come from miles around to admire it. But when they crawl inside the pyramid, pry open the sarcophagus, and peel back the bandages, all they find is a rotting corpse. The Mummy is the manuscript that we desperately try to make perfect and imposing, but that is still horrid. It shames us.

demonThe Demon

The Demon is the manuscript from Hell. It is the big idea, the one that has been simmering down in our subconscious, the one we know we can’t handle, but we summon anyway. We lure it out to the crossroads and try to seduce it into doing our bidding. The Demon pretends to agree, and it behaves, for a while. But then, halfway through, we realize that we were never in control. The ideas are beyond our grasp, every word burns our  fingertips, and it feels like we are not the one writing. And we aren’t. The Demon is the manuscript that we attempted too early, too hastily, too thoughtlessly. The Demon is the manuscript with a mind of its own. It possesses us.

The Vampire

The Vampire is the manuscript that drains us. It is the one for which sit down in front of our notebook, open the proverbial vein, and  bleed onto the page. We pour ourselves, the very essence of our humanity into it, and instead of fulfilling us, it makes us woozy and pale. The Vampire is the tiresome, long-winded, overemotional manuscript. It sucks us dry.

Frankenstein’s Monster

Because, as writers, we know that the Monster has no name, and Dr. Frankenstein is Frankenstein.

frankensteinThe Monster is the manuscript that makes us feel like Gods. When we write the Monster, we feel powerful and omniscient. We manipulate our characters with ease, building them from pieces of forgotten friends, stitching them into our ideals of perfection and imperfection. We create a world of our design. We tell a story for the world. And then, before we know it, the manuscript takes on a life of its own. It runs away from us, lashes out against us. And when we finally glimpse it in the moonlight, we see that it is not the manuscript we created. It has become vile, uncontrollable, grotesque. It is nothing like we planned. It is Our Monster.

At the beginning of the writing process, we all fear our manuscripts will be monsters. We want so badly for our words to morph into a respectable book instead of some Halloween creature. As much as we try to prevent it, at some point in the writing process, our manuscripts will likely become monsters. In fact, if you feel like your first draft is turning into a monster, it probably is. But that’s okay. Keep writing and finish crafting that hideous beast. Then, when it thinks it has won, give it a good revision to whip it into shape. The worst thing you can do is let your manuscript stay a monster.

No matter what, don’t let your fear of bad writing stop you from writing. Now, right now, grab that demon by the horns and get to work.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Your First Novel Will Suck

2606380637_51aaf290f8_zImagine a budding writer sitting down to write her first novel. Put yourself in her shoes, or put me in her place, if that’s too painful (Universe knows I hate envisioning myself this way). Now imagine that freezing terror, that sinking gut, that unshakable certainty that whatever you write will, without-a-doubt, suck. 

After all, pretty much everyone in the writing community has been telling you this for years – either online, through interviews about their own career, or in person. It is a fact among writers: the first novel will be bad.

But, hey, Kid, it’s okay. We all go through it. It’s a (w)rite of passage. Just get that steaming pile of crap out on the page and get onto to your second novel. When you’re a best-seller and the interviewer asks you about that first book, just laugh and say, “Oh I was young, I was inexperienced, I had no clue what I was doing!” It’ll be fine.

Now go back to that image of me, sitting down to plot a story. I have a list of novel ideas in front of me, all in different stages of creative development, and all I can think is…which one do I sacrifice to the alter of sucky-ness?

It’s like the writers’ version of Sophie’s Choice: all of these novel ideas, these characters, are like my children. Each contains a piece of me, a tribute to a loved-one, a gripping social statement. Which one can I afford to let suck? Which ones should I save for when I’m a better, more-experienced writer? What if I choose the wrong one, only to realize 10 years from now that I could write it so much better then?

These concerns have been at the forefront of my mind lately for two reasons. One: “The First One Sucks” guarantee was recently reiterated on my favorite podcast, The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, which usually dismantles unfortunate writing “rules.” Two: When my wedding is finished, I plan to write my first novel. I’ve got about three weeks until it’s my time. Yikes!

So, I did what I normally do. I shared my concerns with my fiance during what he would call one of my “Kate spirals.” Daniel sat me down, and in true testament to why I am marrying him, fixed everything. He helped me re-frame my perspective in a positive way, and quite frankly, I think we (yes, this involves you!), should change the “The First Novel Guarantee.”

Instead of “Your First Novel Will Suck,” I am proposing the following creed:

8387187808_7823babc7a_zYour First Novel Will Be Good (It Just May Not Be Your Best)

First and foremost, know that your first novel will be good. It may not be literary genius, but it will be good. If it helps, do a downward social comparison. Your first novel may not be the best novel ever written, but it will not be the worst novel ever written. There will always be someone better, and there will always be someone worse. I believe this wholeheartedly, not only because the odds are in your favor, but because literature is subjective. Someone, somewhere, will always be perceived by someone, somewhere, as better or worse than you.

Second, let’s face it: we’re not all Harper Lee and S.E. Hinton. More than likely, your first novel will not be immortalized in the literary world, and you won’t be a one-hit-wonder. You’ll write more and more and more. And, maybe, your first novel will be your best work. Then again, maybe it won’t be your best work. In fact, wouldn’t the true definition of sucking be if your first novel were your best work, and the only way you could go was down, not up? (If you feel that is your situation, see the subjectivity clause above).

I can’t say if this new creed will help cure your fear, if you worry about your first novel being garbage. Hell, I don’t even know if it will work for me. But, you know what? It doesn’t matter. That first mountain must be tackled so we can traverse the range. I’m doing it, whether the first one sucks or not. Now who’s with me?

Have you heard “The First One Sucks” rule? Does it make you apprehensive about your first novel? If you were to amend this “rule,” what would your new rule be?