Discussion questions: There are many more at the bottom of this unfocused, winding post, but here are a few: Do you ever feel exhilarated during and/or after a writing session only to crash hard the next day? Do you read your WIP as you go, or do you forge ahead without looking back? Do you like to write? What’s the worst thing your internal critic tells you?
Here’s a thing I do all the time, and I’m pretty sick of it:
Two weeks ago, in an exhilarating session, I wrote a new 3,000-word Chapter 1 of my novel. At the time, I was certain it was one of the best chapters ever written. Not one of my best… one of the best. Ever.
I’d write a few lines, sit back, take a breath, and nod, smugly.
I’d write two paragraphs, sit back, take a breath, read them, and nod, smugly.
I specifically remember thinking at one point, Finally. I’ve finally found my way into this novel.
And while I didn’t think anything quite this lame, the gist was: There’s no stopping me now!
I went to bed that night happy — thrilled, even — and eager to get up the next morning and keep working.
That’s not the part I’m sick of. I love that feeling.
The following afternoon I sat down to start Chapter 2, but then decided first to read the Chapter 1 I’d written the day before, for a dose of strong inspiration.
So I read it.
And, boy oh boy, it was awful.
And I do mean awful. I hated it.
And that feeling is warranted: I read it again a couple of days ago.
I never did start writing Chapter 2 that day. In fact, I haven’t touched the book since.
Late last year we took a look at the ways in which our internal critic derails us. I forgot to mention this one, though it gets me often. My internal critic is an unmerciful Monday-morning quarterback.
After this Chapter 1 incident, I complained about it over email to my writer friend, who chastised me for rereading the chapter rather than moving straight to Chapter 2.
“This is why you don’t go back and only plow ahead,” Drew wrote. “Then you have the whole bulk of the finished draft pushing you. You still hate the whole thing, but trashing it would be insane by then, so you just rewrite.”
But, I wondered, isn’t it equally insane to blindly forge ahead for months or even years just to get a finished draft that “you still hate” anyway?
Why should I not rewrite Chapter 1 until I get to a version I’m happy with, and then move to Chapter 2?
My internal critic has an answer for that: You’ll never write a Chapter 1 you’re happy with, idiot,” he says. “My entire job, my reason for existing, is to prevent that. And I will. Oh, I will…”
This doesn’t feel quite like a matter of swooping vs. bashing, but it’s in the neighborhood. Does it matter whether you swoop or you bash if, hovering above you always, ready to do his or her own swoop-bash, is your internal critic?
To be fair, my Chapter 1 situation isn’t only a matter of internal criticism: Drew eventually read my Chapter 1 and found it almost as awful as I did.
Maybe the question for me is, why do I think in the moment that my work is so good? Especially when I know it’s nearly inevitable that when I reread it, I’ll feel the opposite?
I suspect the answer has something to do with the pleasure I get from the act of writing. I wrote about it a bit in a 2019 post called “Do You Like to Write?” The product of having written, I said at the time, is for me “hit and miss (and miss, and miss),” but, “I love to write. I fuc*ing love it.”
That holds true.
And maybe it can be enough for me? Last Friday (and I plan to write about this in the future) I had my first session with a WBN writing coach, Tom Andes. We talked a bit about the short stories I’ve been writing, and I mentioned that I don’t really care about publishing them. I barely can muster a desire to revise/edit them.
I just want to write them.
And if that’s the case, and if I also want to write a novel, I suppose it shouldn’t matter whether I like my Chapter 1. Or my Chapter 2, or any subsequent chapter. Or the book as a whole.
If that’s true, then maybe Drew is right and I should just keep moving forward without ever looking back.
I don’t know. It’s something I need to work through.
This post has bounced around a lot, and I’m not sure what the focus is. But here are a few questions on my mind, and I’d love to hear your answers, to any or all:
Do you reread your WIP as you go, or do you forge ahead without looking back?
Do you ever feel exhilarated during and/or after a writing session only to crash hard the next day?
How do you typically end a writing session? Do you use a clock and/or a word count; do you write until you reach a specific predetermined point in the work itself; do you write until you’re out of gas; or other?
Do you like to write?
What are the worst things your internal critic tells you?
Do you regret reading this whole post?
WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.
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