As writers, we get excited about new story ideas.
We have spreadsheets, computer files aptly named ‘Idea Catcher’, a plethora of notebooks filled with ideas, colour-coded text, scribbles and sticky notes.
We fight the urge to start drafting right away. Sometimes we cave and pound out a few paragraphs before holding off to commit to more research, figure out plot details and weave an outline together. Sometimes we realize that even though we have an idea, something vital is missing.
Oftentimes, we become discouraged when the story in our head doesn’t materialize on the page. This happened to me and I am not alone. The disconnect between the story we want to write and the actual story on the page, is known in artistic circles as the creative gap.
Ira Glass had this to say about creativity:
“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
I guess it’s good to be able to put a name to that sinking feeling of gloom and uselessness that creeps in when a story doesn’t stitch together the way you imagined. Sitting in the cloud somewhere, is an entire file of abandoned stories, victims of the creative gap, and my frustration.
Now I’m discovering that even the most prolific writers still deal with doubts and insecurities when embarking on that first draft. It’s normal. Who knew…
A few tips for the weary writer
Keep writing, read craft books, take classes, attend workshops. Whatever it takes to help develop your understanding of the elements of craft. Then write. Apply what you’ve learned. The only way to improve is by writing, and rewriting.
Avoid the comparison game
It’s easy to be hard on yourself when it seems that your work just doesn’t seem to hit the mark. Remember that it takes an entire publishing village to create a final, polished book for sale. Just keep going. Keep writing. Find your own village of alpha and beta readers. Seek feedback. Try to make your book the best it can be.
Read a lot
There is a lot to be learned about writing from reading. Think of a book you really enjoyed, go back and read it again but this time as a writer. This time around you’re observing the narrative techniques – pacing, tension, characterization. What is the hook and where is it revealed? How do the chapters begin and end?
Stephen King in his memoir “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” he says:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Try reading a book in a genre you don’t write. I don’t read fantasy often but it’s a real treat to discover a book when the worldbuilding is on point (Six of Crows, anyone?)
Develop a healthy writing habit
Write something everyday if you can. I try to write for at least 30 minutes on mornings. I write during my lunch hour. I aim for another 30 minute writing session on evenings. I use my commute to make notes for the next writing session, or even to write.
Decide on the time of day when you can get some writing in, even if it’s 10 minutes a day. Journaling and other forms of free writing are great ways to get words on the page. Find what works and be consistent with it. Master the art of time snatching.
Be patient with yourself
We are in this together. All writers struggle at some point. Many of us share the same frustrations. We are not alone. As you write, even if it’s crap, remind yourself that it’s not final. You can fix it later. As bad as it is, you can revisit and rework. You can even toss the whole manuscript away, set it on fire, and start again from scratch. That’s the beauty (and madness) of being a creative. These are our stories to tell, and if it takes a bit of pruning and grooming to whip them into shape then embrace it and get on with it. Great writers all have one thing in common: they persisted. They continued showing up to write and put in the work. They faced rejection after rejection, and they never gave up. Writers, we need to dig deep and do the same.
How do you manage your frustrations as a writer?