by Diana Gabaldon
Writing successfully (meaning that you get words on the page) is largely a matter of understanding how your own brain works, and working with it.
Some of us are linear writers, who find outlines indispensable and (mirabile dictu) normally write a book from Page 1 to The End. Some of us…. umm…. well, we’re not and we don’t, but we do write books anyway, and no one will ever find out how we did it, unless we choose to tell them.
These are the games your mind plays with you to distract you from working. There’s the “Wait ‘Til I Have a Big Block of Time” game (Pro tip: nobody has time. You make it, or you don’t have any), the “I Feel Like I’m Neglecting my Husband/Family When I Write” (Look, take your husband to bed and wear him out, then get up and write. He won’t mind at all…), and many, many others. But one of the most insidious is the one called “I Feel like a Fraud/Failure.”
Everybody has doubts about their writing (well, most good writers do…). How do you deal with this? Or, since it’s me writing this—how do I deal with it?
Hmm. Well, I mostly try not to take out frustration on family members. I am kind of a mellow person most of the time, anyway.
But the question of attitude toward the quality of one’s writing... well, let’s see if I can explain that one in any kind of comprehensible way.
It’s not really that I’m automatically pleased with everything I write, no. It’s just that I see it as a work in progress. I’m involved in it, as an ongoing thing. So it doesn’t really matter all that much if the first thing I put on the page looks good or bad—all that matters is that it’s there and I’m working on it. Eventually, it’ll either look all right, or I’ll decide this isn’t the time or place for this bit and go work elsewhere.
I judge the writing, is what I mean—“Nah, too long, not enough action, mmm, too many words, whoops, repetition... move this clause up? No.... drop the whole paragraph to the bottom—decent phrase, but it doesn’t fit here yet. Why did he say that?”—but I don’t think I often judge myself, if that makes any sense.
See, I’ve been writing for a long time. Not just fiction, but writing in general. I know what a sentence is; I know how to spell; I know how grammar works—and I know I know that. So it’s just a matter of, “Here is the work I’m working on right now; what am I doing with it? Is it as good as I can make it, or is there still something that can be improved?”
I think—having read a lot of messages from a lot of writers—that many people sort of write with their eyes closed.
That is, they pound something down—maybe a lot of something—and then sort of peek through their fingers at what they’ve done. They then emit cries of anguish or outrage at what they see, and proceed to beat themselves about the head and shoulders because what they see isn’t what they hoped for.
Frankly, this seems kind of strange to me, but I know a lot of people do it. I just don’t know why.
If you write something, and it isn’t right, you just mess with it until it is, or until you decide this isn’t the time and place, and do something else for a while. It isn’t personal, I mean.
I doubt this makes much sense, but that’s about it. It’s a job. An important, challenging, and wildly entertaining job—but a job, not a test of my individual worth as a human being.
It’s not a test of yours, either.
You are not a Bad Person because you want to write a book and feed your children Lunchables so you can have fifteen minutes at the keyboard. You aren’t a Failure because you haven’t found an agent on the first try. You’re not a Fraud because you secretly call yourself a writer—if you put words on a page, you’re a writer; the fine points can wait.
What games does your brain play with you while you are writing?
* * * * * *
Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, #1 NYT-bestselling OUTLANDER novels, described by Salon magazine as “the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting ‘Scrooge McDuck’ comics.”
As of January 2022, Diana’s books are published in thirty-eight languages and sold in one hundred and fourteen countries.
Learn more about Diana on her website: DianaGabaldon.com,
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