Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 20, 2016

The Writing Dilemma: Knowing your shit vs knowing you’re shit

(theindiepedant.com / Via theindiepedant.com)

(theindiepedant.com / Via theindiepedant.com)

This will not be a post on grammar.

It will, indeed, be a post on shit.
Aren’t you glad they haven’t invented scratch and sniff computers? 🙂
Okay, okay … seriously.

Over the last few weeks I’ve found myself stewing in a somewhat odd shift in my writing career. I’ve gone from writing with the hope that some day my work will be seen by others to revising with feedback from an editor who saw, liked, bought!!! and writing a new manuscript—with an option clause as the push to finish.

Most authors I know have, at some point or another (some more often than others), had that overwhelming flip-flop between loving what they’ve just produced and wondering if they need to adjust their medication.

I have subscription seats to the crazy, I-can-do-it/I-can’t-do-it show so none of this is technically new—or surprising. But I was not prepared for just how paralyzing it can become.

Knowing your shit

I can write a novel. I’ve written four. Two will likely never see daylight again but that’s not the point. Point is, writing a book. First words, saggy middle, the end. Once you realize you have that many words and word combinations and alternates to those words in you, you can write more books. And more books.

You take workshops and devour craft books. You write and rewrite, polish and buff those words until the writing gods shine on you and your crit partner/beta reader/agent/editor/cat wipes a tear from their eye and says it’s one of the best things they’ve ever read.

You know how to write a book. You know your shit!

Knowing you’re shit

Then one day, you’re armpit deep in revisions and everything stinks. You’re showered and even used deodorant so it’s obviously not you (you hope), but holy wow. How is it possible that you wrote something so awful? You write, delete, write, delete, change, change back. And the entire time, you’re absolutely convinced there is no possible way you can salvage this manuscript. Your editor will laugh at the revisions. Readers will hate every word you write.

Or it’s time to start a new project and there’s the cursor, winking at you from a blank document. Not a flirty, you-can-do-it wink but a cheeky, ‘sucker’ wink. That last manuscript must have drained the word-well dry.

Why did you ever think you could do this? You know—just know—that you’re shit!


Go back and look at the pile of words you’re working on or an old pile of words. Yup, you’ve written a novel. It may not be perfect yet, but it’s written. How many people do you know who haven’t even gotten that far?

Now reread something you wrote—a scene that stole your heart, feedback from a crit partner or agent/editor that gave you a warm fuzzy.

See, you really do know your shit.

And if you’re still stewing that you’re shit, print off the meme above and stick a pushpin in the apostrophe!

How do you change your perspective when you’re in a writing funk?

About Orly

orly1.jpgAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.

Orly’s debut novel, The Memory of Hoofbeats, will be released by Forge in 2017.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

46 comments on “The Writing Dilemma: Knowing your shit vs knowing you’re shit”

  1. I loved this post. It's encouraging to know others go through the same agonising self doubt and manage to come out the other side.

    1. The good news, we're not all that unique - we all go through it. And you're in great company.
      The bad news, I'm not convinced there is a "other side" ... Every time I think I'm there, there's a new twist in the road. But I'm leaving a gummy bear trail just in case. 😉

  2. Love it, Orly. When I was reading through The Bone Garden MS one last time before sending it to my agent (aside: should go out today or tomorrow on submission!) I had a couple moments of, "Eh, I don't know." But when I got to the last page and closed the document I turned to my husband and said, "This is GOOD." After working on it diligently for the last couple years, having moments of deep satisfaction and moments of...I won't say despair, but rather more like "aw, dammit"...I'm happy that I am confident about it as it goes out to find its way in the world. As for my WIP...I'm more at the "aw, dammit" stage.

    1. First, YAY for going out on submission!!!!! Fingers and toes crossed. 🙂
      And as for the WIP, it's definitely NOT an "aw, dammit"!

      Don't you wish you could bottle those "This is GOOD" moments?!

  3. I cycle through these two, sometimes, daily! Looking back doesn't help for me, because my brain says, 'Yeah, but whatya done lately?' SOB.

    The only thing that works for me, is getting back to work. Digging in, and focusing on making THIS book the best I'm capable of. Because I've learned more since the last book, right?

    You're THE shit, Orly! (and that's a good thing!)

    1. True, Laura, we learn with each book and each one is better because we know more shit.
      I don't necessarily go back to OLD manuscripts as much as going back to the one I'm working on and the parts that remind me why I love those characters.

  4. I am most certainly printing the meme and putting it on my desk. Maybe this entire post. Thanks for the encouragement!

    1. I love that meme. It makes me laugh -- and cringe -- every time. But it's a great reminder at how easily you can change your outlook.

  5. Personally, I've given up all hope that my writing will ever be anything but crap, but I'm going to write it anyway, just 'cause I'm stubborn. But in general you have spoken truth. Excellent post.

    1. Thanks, Doug.
      Although even those times we think our writing is crap, there are still those moments of less-crappy that push us to continue. Keep at it!

  6. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! The revision dance steps: I love these scenes! I'm rearranging these scenes for more impact! I have to find ways to stitch these scenes together so that they read as part of the same novel! This transition is boring! Thanks, Orly, and congratulations!

    1. Oh, oh!!!! I love the revision dance (most of the time). It's the new WIP dance that I fall all over myself. 🙂

  7. What other side? Is there another side? I go through that with every novel,novella, short story, and there've been a few. It helps to have gone through it bunches of times, you start to learn it's part of the process. (Still not easy.)

    1. The funny thing for me, is that I know it's part of the process. And yet it still catches me off guard when it happens. Crazy. 🙂

      1. Every time. And every time I think, "This is not like the others. This is really the one that is really awful."

    1. And if we don't sometimes know we're shit, then we have nothing pushing us to learn more and build up the knowledge shit. 🙂

  8. So that was what was wrong yesterday. I could barely write a coherent sentence and wondered why I've been using my time writing all these years. Today's a new day. Time to pull myself up out of the shit. Thanks for the lift.

    1. I had one of those days yesterday, too. Cleaned the toilets instead. But that's another post. 🙂

  9. I have found the only way to change your perspective is, literally, to change your perspective. Put away that piece you aren't happy with, go for a walk, go shopping, something that is a complete change. Then take a look at something you've done that you know is good. Realize you do know your shit. Then go back to the piece you aren't happy with and try to figure out why you aren't happy with it. The answer may not come right away. You may need to put it away for a day, a week, a month. But at some point you will see what you need to change to love it.
    Try pretending it was written by a friend who has asked you to critique it. You are more likely to look at it honestly that way.

    1. Great advice, Gini. I also find that reading my work on an e-reader helps give me a bit of distance. I save it as a pdf and read it in iBooks.

  10. I put away an entire manuscript for years, then stumbled across it one day. I read it and thought it was actually pretty good, rewrote it and submitted it to a writing competition. It won first place! My publisher couldn't wait to have it and it's published, but it isn't selling like my first book did. So, I'm still trying to figure out if this book is crap or truly a first place winner - judged entirely by fellow writers. But I've started the sequel to it, as requested by readers and even the publisher.

    1. Isn't a great feeling to pick up something you put aside and realize it's good? 🙂
      Good luck with the sequel!

  11. Let's face it, when you're a writer, it's hard to keep your shit together! Thanks for the honesty, the empathy, and the chuckles, Orly. Shared. 🙂

  12. Great post, Orly. It continues to amaze me that doubts plague all of us, no matter how successful we become, or how many books we write. I'm knee-deep in the second draft of my fifth Shinobi Mystery, which is where the doubts always like to creep in (probably because the second draft is ALWAYS "shite" of the first order...or, perhaps, the second order). This was timely and helpful!

    1. Interesting that your second draft is where you shit doubts come in. Mine are usually in the first draft and then the later revision ones--usually the 4th version seems utterly hopeless. 🙂
      Thanks for popping in, Susan!

  13. Love this post, Orly, and I am still working to get my shit together. After working on my current WIP for way to long, I am still revising. My first forge into agent-land was exciting, Big names wanting to see the WHOLE, but in the end--no one said yes. So rewrite and rewrite some more. If this book ever sees the light of day, I have a shit-load of material that went into its making. Maybe that's the key to rising to the top of the heap--the good one, not the shitty one. Oh well, one thing this comment reveals, I am not as funny as you are. Hugs, Beth

    1. Oh, Beth, you made me laugh!!
      Keep working on that manuscript. The fact that you had so many requests, is HUGE. And if this one doesn't get the agent, the next one will. Trust me on that ... been there, tip-toed around that pile. 🙂

  14. Iy, yi, yi! Are we all nuts or what? And talk about paralyzing. I am trying to wrap my mind around an MS I started a few years ago. Put it away to rewrite and work on another MS that I was told did not deserve the drawer. Now I want to plow back into writing and finishing the first draft of the other novel and I'm paralyzed. Nuts! But yes, I've done this before. I can write. At least that's what I keep telling myself. I think I just need to break through the stagnant creative waters. This post so helps. Thanks Orly! And congrats to you! 🙂

    1. You can absolutely do it, Karen! 🙂 Start dog paddling up that stagnant creek and pretty soon you'll be sailing.
      And thanks. 🙂

  15. Thanks! This has to be the SHITTIEST blog post I've read in some time. It has the makings of a frat-house drinking game. Read the word "shit" and take a shot. Anyway, thanks for reminding me today that I'm not a super-special snowflake. All authors must play the Doubt Game. I'm not sure if that's comforting or discomforting. But, it's good to know we're not alone out here! Thanks again.

  16. I love your advice, Orly - encouraging and helpful! I'm in the polishing and submitting phase and doing a million re-reads. It's so true that sometimes after I've gotten frustrated over a particularly crappy/shitty page, I'll find a bright shining brilliant page and it changes my whole attitude.

    1. I fell into this yesterday -- read the good parts with a "yeah okay" then agonized over the shitty parts until event he diamonds weren't as shiny. Not good. Focus on those brilliantly shiny pages! 🙂

  17. OMG! You have it down so well. I was reading my opening the other day and went BLEH! I thought you need to rewrite this. I haven' yet, I'm trying to keep going. Loved the post keep digging out from under that stinky pile. I bet there's gold in those words. 🙂

    1. Thanks, C.K.
      Keep digging and keep reading. I bet you'll be surprised at how much gold is actually in there!

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