This story is great. No, it’s garbage. Everybody will want to read this. Nobody will get past the first page. I’m going to be rich and famous from this stuff! I might as well give up right now.
Sound familiar? I’m convinced that writing fiction is one of the most manic-depressive jobs in existence. Every single writer I’ve talked to has had to deal with the twin demons of fame and failure, at least at the beginning. Every stage of the writing, rewriting, and editing process is besieged by delusions of grandeur or premonitions of doom, with remarkably little room for anything else. In my own case, these opposing thought forms can switch places daily.
Here’s the secret for you, one that I believe every writer needs to find: they are both wrong.
It starts slowly. A turn of phrase, a delightful metaphor, a paragraph that does its job, shines on the page with that special twinkle. That’s pretty good, I thinks. That’s worthy. People will like this one. They’ll pay money for this. Hell, they’ll even tell their friends. I can do this. It’s easy, in fact! Just string a bunch of these excellent paragraphs together and I’ll be able to find an agent. They will get me a bidding war. I can feel that first advance cheque in my hand already, brimming with big, fat zeros. Then I’ll do it again, piece of cake. I’d better pick up a smoking jacket.
All this time – an hour, a day – my fingers haven’t been moving. My mind has been captured by the fairy of future greatness.
Or the words don’t come. I reread yesterday’s work and it’s tripe. It feels like I’m rubbing the paint off the delete key. I can’t see the story for the inner fog, and it’s no use. I can’t do this stuff. Nobody will like the story anyway, several of them have already said so. That last rejection letter had a coffee stain on it, at least I hope it was coffee. It’s too hard. I might as well give up now. It looks nice outside, where all the normal people are. There’s no story in here anyway, at least not anything interesting. I’m done.
So I leave the keys. The depressive swing of the seesaw has stopped me for days, even weeks.
But I noticed that the two demons were never far away, and they were completely arbitrary. The first time I saw them switch places within the space of three sentences, I actually laughed out loud. Then I kept writing. I’d found the secret – all they are is distraction from the work that needs to be done. All they are, when it comes right down to it, is the writer’s mind doing what the writer’s mind should – making up stories. If it’s doing its job, then your mind will make you believe the unbelievable.
So forget about it. Laugh at the delusions of grandeur, the premonitions of doom. Be entertained by them, even. Just so long as you don’t believe them, and don’t let your fingers stop moving. That’s what a real writer does.