Here’s what I tell myself when my writing is not going well…
“You will not solve the problem if you are not sitting there actively trying to solve the problem. Being afraid you will never solve the problem is not a way to get yourself to sit down to try to solve the problem. Telling yourself it’s too difficult to solve is stupid. If you sit down and work on it, you will chip away a tiny piece and feel a bit of success and that is good. A little good here, a little more there, and slowly but surely you will build momentum. Eventually, it will become less painful to sit down to try to solve the problem. Then you’ll chip away larger chunks of the problem. Sometimes, you may actually get a breakthrough. None of this will happen if you are wrapped up in fear, afraid that you will not be able to solve the problem.”
If you have not done much writing, this will be difficult to believe. If you attempt to solve the problem enough times, you will solve the problem. And you’ll feel better about life, your work, and your worth as a human being on this planet. If you don’t sit down to try to solve the problem, no matter how thorny and Gordian knot-ish the problem may be, you will begin to feel terrible about yourself, and wish you lived in a dark, dirt hole where no one will ever find you, talk to you, feed you, or love you. The longer it takes to sit down to attempt to scale the Eiger, your sense of worthlessness will increase logarithmically.
You may be the kind of person who can walk around thinking about baseball scores and old boyfriends and the problems you have with your parents, and suddenly the right idea for your story will pop into your head. I am not that kind of person. I can only think about writing when I am either dictating (like now!) or sitting in a chair with a computer in front of me or a pencil in my hand. When I am “writing,” my brain engages. Otherwise, it goes flatline.
Like I did, you have to figure out who you are and where you fit on the Repairing Your Writing spectrum from suicidal depression to elation and joy…
“Most writers enjoy two periods of happiness — when a glorious idea comes to mind and, secondly, when a last page has been written and you haven’t had time to know how much better it ought to be.”
Boy, did he get that right! There’s nothing in the world is thrilling as finishing a first draft. It is sooooo exciting and bubbling over with happiness and untrammeled joy. A great feeling, to be savored and treasured and, especially, remembered. After you solve all the horrible problems and get to “The End,” you deserve a vacation in Hawaii. Or at least a period of jumping around your office, screaming like a nine-year-old who just hit a home run.
A great idea is also a wonderful thing. The problem with a great idea is that you have to decide if, in fact, it is a really great idea. Not all great ideas are clearly visible as something worth spending years of your time on. Of course, the best way to get a “great” idea is to be in trouble on your current writing project. When that happens, “great” ideas spring up like mushrooms in the night. They stand there in perfect little circles, beckoning you to step in and partake of their magic and promise.
Everything looks wonderful and filled with fairy dust when you’re drowning in quicksand.