Friday, November 6, 2009

The Little Voice of Judgment

Every writer has it; that little voice in their head saying "Why did you write that?", or "That's an incredibly awkward sentence", or "This is possibly the worst thing ever written". It's not there all the time, but when it starts to shriek it is rather off-putting.

I am at that stage in my WIP where I am starting to question everything. Are the characters real people? Are their motives real or contrived? Are there enough plot twists or should I add more? Most importantly; will anyone want to read this???

I've experienced this before, of course, my little voice usually starts gaining in volume as I work my way through the middle of the plot (which is where I am now). I start worrying I've made the plot too easy, or too complicated. I question my choices on what methods I'm using to write it. I question everything. I worry my word count will be too low. I worry my word count will be too high. I really worry I'll never finish the damn thing...although I know I will.

I'm trying to tell myself that I've been through this before and I always find my way out of the quagmire. I try to reassure myself my plot is interesting and my characters are growing and changing as they travel through the plot. I re-read some of my chapters and honestly like what I see, although I'm making copious notes about inserting or deleting scenes.

It all comes down to self-confidence, doesn't it? Every writer must have self-doubts, but if they listened to them nothing would ever get written. I'm sure even the greats have had moments when they wanted to throw their manuscripts into the nearest fire. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my house doesn't have a fireplace. So I soldier on...

I shall remind myself that the only thing I can do is my best. I shall remind myself how much I love these characters and how I really do want to tell their stories. I shall try to ignore the shrieking voice.

But sometimes, it's hard.

How do you handle your little voice of judgment? How on earth do you tell it to be quiet?


  1. Elspeth - I actually love my little voice. It tells me when I need to go back and redo something, or when something needs to be deleted, etc.. But my little voice is a much better servant than it is a master. So once I've listened to it once, I thank it politely and move on. At some point, I think writers have to listen to the *rest* of their inner selves - those selves that *know* that the characters are interesting, that the plot's compelling and that the story should be told. Ignoring that voice makes no more sense than ignoring that voice that encourages us to go back and revise when we need to. It's a matter of trusting one's inner instincts, I think.

  2. Margot; Ah, the voice of sanity! Thank you for your wise words and of course, you're right.

  3. It's hard. My little voice keeps telling me I'm not a serious writer because I'm not spending enough time writing. And by the way, it says, you're not even trying very hard. Nasty little voice.

  4. Someone once said, "When you look back on your writing, it's never as good as you think it is, nor as bad."

    My voice is always saying, "This is gar-bage!" and the "gar-bage" is said with a French accent.

  5. I have the inner editor too.

    Someone once told me not to quiet it, but put a leash on it. Now I mark areas of doubt and go back later. Sometimes I leave them, but most of the time I was right and a small change is needed.

  6. Patricia; I think your little voice and mine correspond. Conspiracies abound!

    Karen; I really hope I someday get to the peaceful place you find yourself.

    Alan; The French like to judge. (and when you cook like they do, they're allowed) My voice often sounds like Matthew Perry playing Chandler Bing. Most disconcerting.

  7. Carolyn; You sound like you have it under control. Well done!

  8. Yes, it’s difficult, but, maybe it serves a purpose. For me, it makes me go back and rethink things to see if there is merit to the complaint. Sadly, or fortunately, there often is merit, so, revisions are in order. Revisions are a good thing. Then, when I think the revisions are no good, I try to put some perspective on it by saying, “You know, I fixed that section once, (or fifty times) and it’s okay, or, as good as I can make it.” Then, I let it go. Usually, that works.

    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  9. Ah, so that little voice afflicts writers and authors too, 'eh? Mine drives me batty, usually during the second edit of a ms. I begin to question everything.

    I think it really does come down to self-doubt. I'm going to make a concerted effort to try Karen's approach and ask the voice of wisdom to talk to me. With any luck it will drown out the babblings of the self-doubt voice!

  10. Fight it all the time.

    Great suggestion--to ask the voice of wisdom to talk to me--then I remind myself I also must listen!

    Erica Jong says in her Preface in The New Writer's Handbook, 2007, "All writing problems are psychological problems. Block usually stems from the fear of being judged."

    Perhaps that also has something to do with that voice in our head telling us we're not good at writing. Maybe it all stems from fear.

  11. Galen; I realize it serves a purpose and that the little voice is often right. I have no fear of revising, just the fear I'll never get it to the point where I'm satisfied!

    Crystal; Well, it certainly afflicts this writer! I think it is self-doubt. I shall try Karen's method which strikes me as extremely wise.

    Sylvia; Doesn't everyone have a fear of being judged no matter what profession they follow? I've heard even the best writers carry the fear that their next project is going to prove to the world that they're not any good at writing.

  12. You know that's a tough one. I sometimes get this augural feeling like - "Is this just a bunch of crap I'm writing? Will anybody really want to read this? When it gets that way I take some time away from the ms - write something else, read some more, then go back to it with fresh eyes - usually I find it IS good, I was just having self-doubts. And self doubt is NOT a good thing. Another good thing to do, I'll sometimes let a TDR (trusted designated reader) read a partial ms and get honest candid feedback - sometimes you hear things that help put that missing something into the story that makes it all the better and more realistic - that sort of thing.

    Marvin D Wilson

  13. I try to appease my nagging inner voice by giving her a glass of wine and begging for her silence!)

  14. I'm so with you on this one, Elspeth. Gosh, but I hate my WIP right now.

    I just remind myself that we all feel this way. And if we're so lousy, then how are we making money doing this stuff? (Okay, not MUCH money, but still.)

    Have you ever seen this blog post: It makes me smile every time I read it. And I always read it when I hate my WIP.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  15. If that voice gets really loud, then I usually stop and go back and read. I can usually tell if the voice is right or just nagging nonsense. Don't let the voice undermine your confidence, though. You control the voice.

    Straight From Hel

  16. Old Silly; Thanks for the advice. It's much appreciated!

    Jane; Yes! Best advice ever!!! Bring on the wine!!!

    Elizabeth; I'm SO glad I'm not alone! And honestly, I've thought the same thing; my royalty cheque arrived Monday and although the yacht's still on hold, it wasn't anything to sneeze at. Thanks for the link.

    Helen; I am going back over bits and the voice is quieting down. Thanks for the advice.

  17. Elspeth - when I'm tired or rushed, that little voice can be very, very loud. And sometimes that little voice just talks nonsense, but... most of the time, I'm glad I have the little voice. Without it, I wouldn't question what I've written, wouldn't look for ways to make it better. In the past year or so, I've learned what a powerful tool it really can be :)

  18. Jemi; I guess I've got a very powerful tool. I appreciate what it can do, but sometimes I just need it to SHUT UP.

  19. The first time through I usually think what I have written is quite brilliant... second look usually speaks the truth.

  20. My self-doubt voice is very different from my inner editor voice. My self-doubt voice thinks life should be one long pity party and why did I ever think I could write in the first place. It tells me all I'm doing is wasting my life. I learned long ago to tell it to go play in the traffic, but when it returns it usually pitches a huge hissy fit until I play loud music and feed it chocolate. It loves those things. Good luck with yours.

  21. It's easy to doubt ourselves in the midst of the process. But being in the process means you're thriving and moving forward, though it may not feel like it. I like Karen's response, and will tell that inner voice to, "move out" if it's too negative.

    One technique I use, if I feel icky about a part I'm working on, is to move on to a scene I'd like to be writing, and then go back to the icky part another day. So far, that seems to work for me. Best of luck, Elspeth!

  22. The murky middle. That's what they called it when I was writing romance. Oh yeah, I definitely get to that point...and I stay there all the way to the end. The interesting thing is, though, when I look back on something I wrote a year ago, it doesn't seem murky at all. It all makes sense and comes together. So why can't we realize that while we're in it?

  23. I'm not a fan of that voice. I try to negotiate with it- say things like- "If I'm so crap why have they published my books?" That helps sometimes. But you also need to not go the other direction and think the voice is always lying. She has a point in the process.

  24. I wring that little voices neck, but it doesn't shut her up for long!

    You said...Unfortunately (or fortunately) my house doesn't have a fireplace.

    We should never destroy what we've written. I've often gone back to read, after time has passed, and can barely remember having written a piece, even thinking, hey this is pretty darned good.


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