Remember how I said I was going to do a variation on NaNoWriMo this month? Yeah, didn’t happen. I’ve been writing, but I’ve been making slow progress. I have, however, done a lot of navel-gazing and gained some insight into why I consistently struggle to meet my writing goals.
Ultimately, I think my issue is that I’m not very good at writing description. At the same time, I realise that it is incredibly important in a fantasy setting, and I also know that most of my favourite stories are heavy on the description because that’s how the book becomes real to the reader. I read this post over at The Red Pen of Doom last week, and while one half of my brain was nodding along, thinking I should get the new story elements down on the page without worrying about description, the other half insisted it didn’t apply to me because I’ve done a draft before. That latter half, stupid and naïve though it is, is incredibly persuasive. It wants to get a “proper” draft written, because this story has been in my head for so long, but that means it is easily discouraged when the descriptions of setting and appearance don’t come flowing out as easily as the progression of conflict and character development.
Tied up in all of this is the fear, overwhelming at times, that I’m just not good enough a writer to write the story I want to. When people tell me that writing takes practice and I’ll improve, it doesn’t encourage me, but makes me despair, because this story, these characters have been in my mind for so long that if it will take me more practice to be a good writer then it might come too late for them. I’m scared that I’m such a bad writer I don’t know bad writing when I see it, and it will only be years after I’ve finished this story that I realise it’s badly told.
I’ve tried putting this story on the backburner and working on another one, one that didn’t accompany me through adolescence, but it doesn’t really help because I immediately latch onto it and develop the same fears. The bottom line is that I’m apparently arrogant enough to become so in love with the creations of my own mind that anything less than perfection in sharing them with others is not good enough.
The solution, I think, is twofold. The first is to keep writing this story. If I’m finding it hard to describe the setting or someone’s appearance, rather than stop, I should continue writing. If I look at what I’ve written and think it’s rubbish, that’s a good thing; it means I’m not so awful I can’t recognise the bad writing, and by writing I’m improving my ability through practice.
I’ve written before about how hard I find it to keep writing when I know what I’m writing is bad, which is where the second part of my solution comes in. If I struggle to write for practice because I get too attached to the story, then I should write for practice without a story to become attached to. I signed up for Sarah Selecky’s daily writing prompts, and I’ve started spending ten minutes a day writing from them. This will, I’m sure, improve my writing ability, but also, I hope, make me feel like I’m improving so that when I’m working on my story I can rest assured that I am doing something to improve my skills, allowing me to focus on this draft rather than worry about the next one.
And, of course, caught up in all of this is that I need to acknowledge that this draft is not a “proper” draft – but it is. It won’t be a nice, albeit unpolished, manuscript that only needs some proofreading. Then again, it would never be in that condition even if I was writing pages and pages describing the main character’s home (actually, in that case it would need editing for an entirely different reason, but you get my drift). It will, however, be one step closer to that polished manuscript I’m aiming for, and I’m never going to make that step if I’m too scared to write.