We all think at some point or another that we are not good writers.
It could stem from the anxiety of being a failure or it could be because someone actually told you that you aren’t as good as you thought you were. Either way, it has happened to even the best of us.
When these situations do occur, a horrible thing results. You decide to stop dead in your writing tracks and doubt yourself until you never want to write again. And, worst of all, it can happen before you have even started writing a novel.
Despite most beliefs, doubt is not the only thing that can cause you to put your book ideas on hold. In fact, there is a bigger player intercepting creative ideas before they can develop into a story, and that is writing anxiety.
This type of anxiety is not the same as all the others. Instead of feeling scared of your writing, you wind up feeling too excited about it. Perhaps a better name for this would be Writing Jitters. If you have Writing Jitters, chances are you’re stuck clutching your novel plans and don’t know where or how to start writing your actual novel.
And don’t get me wrong, novel planning is a great, great thing. However, only having the plans and not writing the story is an awful, awful situation to get yourself into.
Look at it this way, having Writing Jitters is kind of like having jitters from drinking too much coffee. Initially, you expect that drinking a lot of coffee will help with your productivity, not hurt it. In actuality, it makes you too hyper to focus on one specific task for very long.
With Writing Jitters, the same thing happens. You plan and plan and plan, feeling the anticipation for your story build with every new concept. You fall asleep at night dreaming about your characters and plot twists. You tell all your friends and family about your main character, gushing about how adventurous or funny they are. You get yourself so worked up with excitement that when you sit down to write, you pause, and feel that you can’t adequately put your ideas into words.
This is NOT TRUE.
You are the only person that knows and feels for this story and only you can write it the way it deserves to be written. So, if you find yourself with the Writing Jitters, waiting to find the perfect way to start writing your novel, you can try some of these tips to help wean you off your idea-high.
It’s likely that when it comes to writing a novel, you prefer either creating a scene or dialogue. Personally, I love scene and setting writing because I get to play with the body language and the props that the characters interact with.
For many other writers, it’s getting to control what their characters say. Dialogue is a very powerful tool in your arsenal and without it, your stories will lack colour and personality. In fact, it’s proven that readers will subconsciously skip to paragraphs find dialogue on a page of text. So, why not use this to your advantage?
Start with a conversation.
This doesn’t mean that you need to start your novel with a conversation, although it’s a good way to jump straight into the story and grab the reader’s attention. Instead, you can begin by picking out a scene that you’re dying to write about. This is always inspiring because it allows you to bring your characters to life and get a feel for your book’s tone. Once the most important scene is out of the way, it will be easier to focus on the beginning of the novel.
If you don’t want to write a specific scene, there is another option. Pick two or three of your characters and create some dialogue between them. Go online and find a scene generator to use for conversation or use a plotline from your story. Don’t worry about the context of what has come before and after in the story if you're using one of your own plotlines. Just write the dialogue and see where it takes you.
Stop with the Details
Many of us are guilty of spending too much time worrying about small details in our writing. This is easy to fall into, especially if you’re aiming for a specific length for your novel. I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t try to restrain yourself to exact word counts or page numbers. Step outside of the box that you're putting yourself into.
If you put enough effort and heart into your story, no reader will be turned off by how long or short it is.
To help with biting this habit in the bud, I would avoid writing goals. This doesn’t mean you should stop celebrating when you achieve a certain amount of writing or that you should stop writing every day. These things are great techniques to make writing easier and feel like less of a task. Just don’t fall into the trap of spending too long worrying about specifics and limiting yourself.
A lot of writers will talk about how you should write for an hour every evening or write a minimum of 1,000 words every day. If you do these things with ease, then that’s fantastic!
But what about those of us who see these limits and goals and struggle to accomplish them? I’m talking about when you are instantly ashamed when you sit in front of your computer and stare at a blank document for hours without writing a word. Or what about the opposite? Those of us who see we should only write a 2,000-word chapter a day, but we want to write more, so we hold ourselves back and start worrying that we will write too much.
Both scenarios result in not starting to write at all for fear of reshaping your already set out goals. So, forget these goals and details and reward yourself for writing whatever you’re comfortable writing on that given day.
Just Keep Swimming
Like Dory famously says, but let’s rephrase it: “Just keep writing, just keep writing.” This should be the new mantra that all writers live by. It may sound easy or it may sound difficult to adhere to. The problem with most of us is that we have the ideas and the means to write the story that we want to, we just don’t know how to transfer them into words. This can be perceived as laziness or writer’s block, but it is neither of these things.
If you have ever written anything before, and I assure you that all of us have, you are a writer. You know how to do it and most of us do it so subconsciously once we are able to begin. If you ask most writers that you look up to, they will tell you that their stories write themselves. This is the closest thing to the truth that you will find when you ask someone about their writing process.
It’s a thing that comes naturally.
Try writing out some opening scenes or dialogue for the beginning of your story. Make a list and compare your ideas until you find the ones that stand out to you the most. Now write one word down on the paper. It could be something as simple as “the” or the name of your main character. Now shut your eyes and picture what is happening in the scene and continue to write the rest of the sentence. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or fluidity (remember, don’t focus on the details). And keep on writing after you complete that first sentence. You’ll be surprised at how fast the words begin to build up on the page.
Open at the Close
(The references are getting kind of out of hand here.)
Just like Harry Potter found out that the snitch opened at the close of his story, you’ll discover that you can start your story at the end. A lot of writers will know how their story is going to end from before they start writing it. If this is the case for you and you’ve tried several times to start your story to no avail, you can try writing your ending first.
When you have Writing Jitters, a lot of it might be from worrying about not only writing a perfect story but also doing justice to the ending. You might be excited to finish the story before all your good ideas run out. In this case, writing the ending first will ease your mind and allow you to apply adequate pacing to the rest of your writing.
When planning a novel, some time should be reserved for the worldbuilding process. This applies to all fiction, not just fantasy novels. Even when you have a story based in a real place, you should be worldbuilding to make the setting fit with your plot and characters.
Worldbuilding is a fun time for writers where they get to devote extra creativity to molding the settings of their stories. This is why it’s so easy to get caught up with writing down tons of history and descriptions for your story.
Don’t be the person that uses up all their time worldbuilding and none of it actually using the world that they built.
To avoid this, try doing Minimum Worldbuilding. Determine your main world, whether it’s in outer space, a desert, or a medium-sized city. Figure out where your main character lives, what other creatures or humans may live nearby, and what they will be doing while the story is unfolding. Most of the other worldbuilding will write itself and you can always go back and change what you don’t like after you’ve finished writing.
For some of us, it not a matter of feeling too ashamed to start writing, it’s that we think we don’t have enough time to write.
This is a false claim.
Everyone has time to write.
In fact, it’s rare that writers don’t have another job on the side that’s not related to writing at all. And even they can find time for writing.
Use the free time that you would usually spend on your phone, watching TV, or even commuting and write instead. You’ll find that you have more time for it than you originally thought.
For those of us that struggle to write down our story fast enough or just struggle to make time to sit down at a computer or desk and write, dictation is an option.
There are several types of dictation programs available for phones, tablets, and computers like the dictation feature on Windows 10 or iShuttle Dictate. To use them, you simply tell your story verbally and the program will write out what you say. This is useful for on-the-go writers because it’s much faster and it’s easier than lugging around a laptop or journal. You could even use dictation to jot down ideas when they come to you so that they don’t slip away in the rest of your crazy day-to-day life.
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice is relevant to everything, not just writing. Just think about your everyday life. How many times do you have to try something before you get it right? It very rarely goes perfectly the first time.
The same goes for writing.
Every author has written complete crap. Every author has come to terms with that crap. And every author has learned from that crap. You don’t see your favourite authors crawling into a deep, dark hole and never facing the sun again when they have a bad first draft or just a generally bad idea.
They either make their writing better or they scrap it and move on to bigger and better things. Don’t let bad writing get you down. The first step to becoming a good writer is to accept that you are sometimes going to be a bad one. Get over the fact that someone has told you that you’re not that good of a writer and start practicing right now to make yourself better.
Practice writing different types of dialogue. Make your characters happy, angry, sad, in love, and in hate. Write up different settings and experiment with different types of characters. Write in new kinds of tones and try coming up with plot twists and alternate endings.
Write and write and write and write.
Over time, you’ll see an improvement. Remember that first drafts are always going to be the worst so don’t be surprised, embrace them.
When you find yourself with a case of Writing Jitters, just start writing and “Just Keep Writing”. You can write that novel and you can do it like nobody else can, so stop doubting yourself and just go with the flow. Your hands will know what to do so trust yourself. Don’t erase anything on a first draft in fear of it being awful. You may come back to it during your first read-through and realize that you actually love it. Use this for your entire book. Self-doubt can cloud your judgment and make you too hard on yourself when really, you’re doing just fine.