The woes of writing: My writer’s war chest

I’m currently working on a manuscript. I’ve had plenty of book ideas in the past but this one is the first that I’ve actually felt might be worth it. If I manage to polish and refine it to the point where it is fit for another set of human eyes, that is. Just writing that feels ridiculously presumptuous and makes me feel small and inadequate.

So anyway, along with the excitement this presents comes all of the negative aspects of writing. Things like the anxiety, the hysteria, the venomous self-criticism, inferiority complexes and the sense that it is all just too big, too ambitious and impossible after all. Then you calm down and it is still incredibly difficult.

When I first started I was cocky. But that didn’t last long. Once you are working on a solid idea, and the book begins to flesh out, that confidence shatters. The more writers you follow on twitter and read about on blogs and in interviews, the more you will notice that this anxiety is rampant. For a while I sceptical of that; the more they talked about insecurities and fear arising from writing, the more I scoffed. They were published authors. They’ve already established themselves. I am beginning to realise that no matter where you are on the spectrum of success, if you love writing and do it for a living, or aspire to, we all feel the same way about it. It is terrifying, intimidating and it crushes your confidence. It turns us all into shrieking puddles of anxiety and depression. I’ve come to understand, just a little, why people say that to be a writer you have to love writing. It’s your love of it that gets you through the brutal lows, and without that I really think it’s impossible.

So while the writing process is herculean, it is simply the first hurdle. Once your manuscript is done, and you’re happy with the ideas and the quality of your work you have to find a publisher. I’ve found that the publishing industry, in general, is a terrifyingly inhospitable and unforgiving place for new writers that aspire to write a book. I suppose part of that is by design. Not only does the writer have to come up with a compelling, original and well-written draft of a novel, they also have to find an agent who thinks it can sell, and then a publisher to sell it. The publisher is the final hurdle but the literary agencies are just as, if not more, exacting as the publisher.

As an unpublished writer, the websites and submission guides for both publishers and agencies are littered with information that will take the small hope you have of being published and dash it’s brains out in front of you. It’s brutal. All you can do is write, and write some more. Then you need to edit and clarify it all to the point where your work is as good as it can be. Then you roll the dice and wait. It really feels quite lonely.

There aren’t many places that will offer advice or help without wanting to sell you something, or charge you a subscription. I was really disappointed by this. I live in Australia, so I spent some time looking around for resources for a new writer and most of the organisations that I found spend their time telling you how incredibly difficult it is to be published, but suggested you sign up for industry insider info in order to stand a chance. Sure it might be useful, but it also seems like a slap in the face.

So, why am I writing this like I know anything? I really don’t know much. But, I’ve found a few people that have written helpful things, and they know a tremendous amount. These books have provided me with inspiration, and they have helped me to make sense of things. Thanks to them my work is no longer a terrifyingly embarrassing mess. It’s still terrifying, just more focused.

Book suggestion one:

On Writing by Stephen King

This is a reflective memoir on the craft of writing, and Mr King’s experience in writing for a living. From his humble beginnings to his present day status as a literary god, he explores everything and offers plenty of sage advice. It’s a great read in its own right, but gold for anyone that loves writing.

Book suggestion two:

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

It’s Neil Gaiman. What more do you want? This is a collection of non-fiction, essays and speeches. He reflects on life, art, books, libraries, authors and everything in-between. It’s incredibly broad in scope and really inspirational. It motivates you to write, and write well. I challenge you to read this book and not experience the urge to write something.

Book suggestion three:

How to Write a Novel by Nathan Bransford

So you’re all inspired and ready to embark upon your literary journey but you are worried about structure, about how to put all the tiny pieces together? This is the next book you read. Before I found this book I was floundering. I was writing things that I was sometimes happy with, but I had no idea what I was doing. I had literally no idea what I was doing. This sort of thing comes with experience I guess, and maybe through the mentorship of an experienced writer, an editor or an agent if you’re lucky; but if you are completely and utterly on your own, like me, this book and Mr Bransford are your new best friends. This book was a huge relief to me. It addresses a lot of the fears and uncertainties of writing your first book. A lot of important lessons are here. And it’s around $4, which is stupidly cheap when I consider how helpful it was to me.

Book Suggestion Four:

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

If you aren’t confident in your grasp of grammar, style or structure this is a great resource. If you answered that unasked question just now with ‘Ha! My grammar and structure is perfect!’ then you should probably read this. Rather than adopting everything in the book verbatim, though, it’s more about clarifying what you are doing wrong. There are modern styles and structures that would cause the old and venerable Strunk to explode in a shower of tweed, but their lessons are still relevant and should be familiar to everyone. It’s definitely worth reading, even if only to learn how to skirt the rules without completely burning down the house and looking like an idiot. There is plenty of valuable advice here.

That’s it.

These helped me a great deal. If you’re looking to start somewhere, these books will help you feel less like you’re adrift at sea, at night, on another planet. If you’re writing something at the moment best of luck to you, I wish you all the best. No matter how bad you feel all we can do is keep going one word at a time. Remember to take regular breaks to scream that you don’t know what you are doing or curl into a ball of shattered self-confidence and anxiety. Then get back to it. If you are just about to start, good luck and godspeed.



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