I’m more than pleased to host a new guest post from a fellow blogger and writer today. The piece he is offering provides just the advice I need at the moment as I’m rewriting my first novel [my process is weird too – just like his ;)], so please sit back, relax and enjoy the wise words of D. Emery Bunn:
Self-Confidence vs. Self-Critique
Writing is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to sell you some writing-branded snake oil, or hasn’t actually done it. But writing is also a process, and no writer is alike with what they find easy or difficult. So as you move from an idea to a finished story, there’s always going to be points where the difficulty spikes, or it gets so easy you swear you’re doing something wrong.
Within this rollercoaster of relative difficulty compete two tendencies: self-confidence, and self-critique. Both are necessary, and both are present at any given time, but far too often it’s tempting to indulge one over the other (typically self-confidence). As you go through the writing process, it’s paramount to know how to keep the two in balance.
This is the “positive” emotion of the pair. You’re sure of what you’re doing, of your techniques, or plot, or characters, or any of a myriad of things. What you do on the page is good. You’ve got what it takes to be a writer, to push through to the end.
Sounds hopelessly naïve, doesn’t it? In addition to being unrealistic (we’re not perfect at everything), it’s damaging. Self-confidence makes you less and less likely to give a hard, critical look at your work. Worse still, too much of the “good thing” makes it just as hard to take criticism from others. If you go over to the Light Side of pure self-confidence, you come off as an egoistic jerk, and are just as incapable of finding fault in yourself and your work. You stop improving.
This is the “negative” emotion. What you just wrote is worse than a five-year-old’s random scribblings, the characters are so flat they could be used as writing surfaces for said five-year-old, and the plot could be improved by taking suggestions on what to
have for lunch from the five-year-old. The same stuff that was good? Yeah, terrible now. Whose dumb idea was it to write? Oh, right. Yours.
Been there before, haven’t you? Far too often writers ride the rollercoaster of writing, and when they hit the bottom of a hill, a hard part, they lose all perspective on what they did well. Instead of interpreting that point in the process as more difficult, it’s far too easy to just say “well, I suck,” and quit, some quitting forever. Nothing more gets written.
Balancing the Self-C’s
Neither self-confidence nor self-critique sound really good when they’re only them present, do they? So it’s critical to always weigh one against the other, using the advantages of both to offset the disadvantages. In a nutshell, self-confidence is great for motivation and knowing what you can do well. Self-critique is great for improvement and knowing what you don’t do well.
Remember that every step of the writing process has a different perceived difficulty for each writer. In other words, what you find hard, I might not, and what you find easy, I might not as well. Balancing self-confidence and self-critique feeds right into this. Thus, the entire problem of balance can be boiled down to two lines:
When it’s hard, the balance should be toward self-confidence.
When it’s easy, the balance should be toward self-critique.
Wait, those are backwards, right?
No, they’re not. When something is hard, your natural inclination is to doubt, to critique, to feel that it’s impossible. What you need most at those points is a reminder that you can do it, that all the stuff you did when it was easier going almost guarantees that you can make it through the rough patch of now. The only thing stopping you is you.
To illustrate, analyzing my first draft and prepping to rewrite with my second (my first draft is pre-writing, my process is weird), is very hard for me. It’s demoralizing and almost makes me quit every time. But I wrote that first draft that I’m analyzing. I got a story on the page that can be critiqued.
Conversely, when it’s easy going, it’s far too simple to just ride the wave, and in the process make it harder when the hard parts come. Actively seek to find the faults in the easy parts, because the motivation to push through is already there. In some cases, improving the execution of something easy can preempt problems in a later hard patch so that what was hard isn’t as hard now.
For example, ideas come easily to me. Applying ideas to the full depth of a story draft isn’t anywhere near as easy. Very often I end up hung on how some piece of the setting, or some little quirk in the plot, will apply. Instead of just letting the idea hit the paper and stopping there, I’ve started developing it further, writing out the world details to make things clearer. I’m ready with answers before the questions even come up, making my time writing all the simpler.
With all the talk of balance, remember that there should always be some amount of both present. Don’t pump yourself up on self-confidence so much that the agony of proofreading turns into a self-love fest that doesn’t actually succeed at proofreading. And don’t drive down on the self-critique so hard that the joy of learning what makes that new character tick becomes a slog that you loathe.
About D. Emery Bunn:
D. Emery Bunn is a mixed bag of interests, but in short he’s an author, editor, gamer, engineer, and music lover. He’s currently working on an arcing set of cyberpunk short stories entitled Normalization: The Crackdown and a dark fantasy/mystery entitled Darkness Concealed. Depending on when you ask him, their publication date is “never”, “in a few months”, or “next year, maybe”. He currently lives in New Mexico with his Maine Coon cat Tiger, though his heart is either in the Black Hills of South Dakota or the Lowcountry of South Carolina. He’s not sure. He can be reached on Twitter as @DEmeryBunn, his email (emery [at] DEmeryBunn.com), and his blog is at www.DEmeryBunn.com.