1. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    When you think your writing sucks

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TDFuhringer, Jun 13, 2014.

    How do you deal with it when you read the results of months of effort (your own writing) and think, "Wow, this really sucks."?

    Then again, how do we know, really? I've read people who think they are gods gift to print, but couldn't write their way out of a wet paper bag. I've read people who think they are terrible, but their words are beautiful and an inspiration. Are we truly capable of objective self-criticism?

    I just reread a key chapter from a manuscript I worked on a few months ago, and it's spectacularly bad. I'm at a loss to imagine how I could have ever written anything that boring and flat. Was I asleep when I wrote it?

    Do we need to ignore our internal critic? Or embrace the hate? And either way do we keep writing, whether we think it sucks or not?

    How to deal with hating your own writing? ARGH.
     
  2. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it sucks, just keep going. You can only get better. Be your own worst critic. If you think something is bad, improve it. Accept the hate, but don't embrace it. Don't let it take hold of you, but let it help you improve yourself. Always keep writing, because you can only go up from here.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've said this before, and it still holds.

    I sometimes go back and reread something I wrote and I think it's brilliant - the finest prose written in the past fifty years. The next day, I look at the same thing and think it's laughable garbage. The following week it's genius again, and shortly afterwards, it smells like a heavily-used outhouse.

    I have little to no ability to consistently evaluate my own stuff. All I can do is wait for one of the days when it's good, and submit it quick before it sucks again. :D
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Really sorry to hear you're so down, TD. Occupational hazard, I guess.

    No, you need to heed your internal critic, the one who will guide the editing process. But...

    Tell him, in no uncertain terms, that this is a team effort and if he is going to be part of the team, to leave that "hate" shit by the side of the road. His views are to be expressed at all times with complete respect for your sense of self or else he can just mosey on down the road (which of course never happens, unless your name is Robert Louis Stevenson).

    In the long term, yes. But in the short term, stop and do some comparison shopping. Take another look at writing you like and respect and see what they do that you don't (or vice versa). Then go back and do it again. In all events you need to keep the creative ball moving down the field. Because that sense of "hate" you're getting is only your own lack of confidence looking to duck out of what you know you want to do.

    Long walks, runs, bike rides or swims (whatever your preference happens to be) are also hugely therapeutic in regaining one's lost sense of proportion.

    Hang in there.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't think we're capable of objective criticism, and this applies to both self-criticism and the criticism of others' works. When we read something, we bring our own experiences and preferences into the mix. So what you get is a subjective reading (interpretation) of the text. That in turn affects criticism.

    My advice is to keep writing (self-doubt will always be there; you just have to learn to deal with it) and find some beta readers if possible.

    As a fun fact, Tolstoy hated War and Peace. He called it "verbose rubbish." This was the opinion he held from at least 1871 (War and Peace was published in 1869) until his death (1910).
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Tchaikovsky said of the "1812 Overture", beloved by millions: "...very loud and very noisy and completely without artistic merit."
     
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  7. Graham Penman
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    Graham Penman Member

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    I think we probably all think our own works sucks, I know I have plenty of times, but I just keep going or get some friends to read it and hope they will be brutally honest. Or even post some of it here as you will get honest critique.
     
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  8. wade-newb
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    wade-newb Member

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    I've started to leave the self-judgement for edits. Too often I used to write and criticise each word. That was really tough. Now I try to care very little about people's perceptions of the work - including my own - and simply try to get whatever it is I'm feeling (more so than thinking, but I think that's just my personal priority) accurately translated into words.
     
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  9. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Hi @TDFuhringer,

    Great post! Writing, like any art/craft, is difficult partly because we have to learn to overcome our own doubt--or at least to deal with it enough to keep going. As mentioned above, I don't think we are capable of truly objective criticism. Every time we look at a piece, it is automatically filtered through lenses of preference and experience. We try to be objective, but some things slip in anyway. It's okay, though, it's normal. What matters, imo, is that we try to remove as many filters as possible.

    The trouble with judging our own work is the fact that we have a filter of intention. That is, we know what we were trying to do. That inside knowledge creates an inescapable bias. The only way around it is to take the time to distance yourself from the project enough to find the same flaws in it that you would in someone else's work. That means you can't abandon your internal critic, just remind yourself that there will be a time and place for him to be ruthless.

    It's hard to say whether our own stuff is good or bad, the best we can do is write and rewrite until we grind out errors and things that pull us out of the story. The fact that you can see how bad something is really is a good thing. The best you can do now is identify why it's bad and look for the missing element to make it better. Then, of course, you can submit things for critique and to beta readers so we/they can tell you what works and what does not (from our POVs, of course).

    Let your inner critic be your best friend. The great part about best friends is that you can tell them to shut up every now and again. ;) If you're not confident, you might want to pick up a book on self editing. I'm on the look out for some of those actually.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2014
  10. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Andrae Smith the book "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" by Rennie & Browne is by far the best book I've read on the subject.

    Thanks for all the insightful replies!

    I think part of the problem is that I'm expecting a lot of myself after twenty years, and so am hypercritical. I can see the improvement in my work (my early writing was spectacularly awful) and I get consotently positive concrete feedback now more than negative, which helps me accept that I've gotten better.

    I'm wondering if I'll ever think my work is "Good Enough".
     
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  11. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    That's just the book I'm looking at! Of course, I already have a stack of books to read too and other on my list. :dry: I guess I'll have to see what happens when I get some $$. :cool: It's goo to know that the book is worth it though.

    You know, I think I read a quote somewhere along the lines of "If you reach a point where you think you're writing's 'good enough,' it probably isn't." I don't know how much stock I'd put into a quote like that, but I take it to mean we'll always live with a little bit of doubt. Doubt in limited quantities is a good thing, imo. It keeps us honest--if not "honest" per se, then open to improvement. ;)
     
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  12. criticalsexualmass
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    criticalsexualmass Active Member

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    when I get to that point, I do two things. First, I have a certain group of NYTimes bestsellers that, frankly, I don't respect. I read something of theirs and think about how much they got paid for it. Suddenly my stuff doesn't seems so bad, it steams as much and it stinks as much but it doesn't have the right name on it. I try to be pragmatic. Then i get to work. I look at what isn't bad and appreciate it, I look at what IS bad and I'm willing to give myself some credit, like the parent of an ugly child. Yea, it's ugly, but I brought it into the world and it can still do great things. Then I get out the cleaver and begin hacking and fixing everything that's wrong. After all, you can't edit it if you don't write it, and editing is what will make it stop sucking. That great sucking sound you hear is the sound of opportunity. Go Forth And Edit.
     
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  13. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    I read my stories from when I first started back in 2005-2009. It was terrible, but compared to what I have now. I made huge progress
     
  14. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess a lot depends upon what sucks about it. The execution? Keep at it, work on it, fix it. The basic idea? Meh. Do better with a new one.

    Me, I've rewritten this one section of my Work in Revision about three times. I'm now starting on rewrite No. 4. I'm wondering why the h-e-double-hockey-sticks I didn't take the approach I'm taking now in the first place. But maybe I couldn't have.

    I keep going, because I think the underlying story idea is a good one. I may be full of it on that, but if I am, so are a lot of other authors.
     
  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes (the more experience you get, the more this happens) you can tell you're writing crap as you are writing it. I recently started a short story, and the first scene was just terrible. I was too far from the characters. Third person omniscient and only because I wanted to fill in info on the world and the situation. The characters weren't brought out at all. It was kind of exciting, if you were interested in faceless people, but there was no personality to anybody, so no reason for a reader to become interested in any of it.

    I began rewriting the thing in free indirect style from the point of view of one of the characters - a junior officer on an exploration starship. I have a good handle on who he is, and on who his commanding officer is. Suddenly the opening scene came to life! I haven't finished it yet, but it's a TON better than the first version. Even though it's harder to write this way, it's far more rewarding because the results are better.

    This is one reason I don't like the advice some give that says you should plow ahead until your first draft is done, even if you know what you're writing is crap. If I know my writing is crap, I like fixing it as soon as I realize that, so that I progress in a positive direction rather than the opposite.

    I think twenty years ago I would have continued on the wrong path until I'd completed the first draft. Then I would have cried over my soggy garbage and not finished it. Now, though, I can see what was wrong almost immediately and correct it almost immediately, and I'm still excited about the story.

    I said earlier in this thread that I can't evaluate my own stuff consistently. I've thought about that, and it turns out I've gotten a lot better at it. My earliest work is still a mystery, but the stories I've been writing recently are different: I can see what works and what doesn't. I'm confident that I know what I'm doing with these stories. It kind of makes me excited! Maybe I'm over a hump, confidence-wise.
     
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  16. Adenosine Triphosphate
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    Adenosine Triphosphate Old Scratch Contributor

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    I try to avoid getting angry at myself when I write something badly. After all, I haven't done anything morally wrong-it's just bad writing.

    I've also learned that I have great difficulty accurately judging the quality of my work. A lot of it seems to depend on my mood.
     
  17. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think a writer can be objective about his work to some extent. He can judge the structure of his sentences. He can see which words did he mean to emphasize, but after reading aloud, he can notice which words are actually emphasized and he can change sentences in a way that he actually writes what he means.
    I also think a writer is capable of perceiving whether he is too close to his characters, does he unintentionally switch POVs, is he too far from characters...

    I think a writer can't be objective so much with descriptions. He has scenes/items/characters in his mind and knows exactly how they look like. But he might exaggerate with descriptions or he might describe some things insufficiently. He can underestimate readers or he can overestimate them. That is one of the things a writer should be careful about, like it was mentioned on this forum a million times.
    Another point is that sometimes a writer might think some things are not necessary to explain or tell at all, because they seem natural to him, and he is told of these things later on from readers. He might not notice that some things don't seem logical to readers, because he has everything in his head (and thinks they have to), but because he didn't write those little and important pieces of information down, the whole meaning of one event can change.

    What I wrote are just some little branches of writing. When it comes to criticizing your whole book, I think you can notice what are your main flaws and what are your main strenghts. You can notice that you're very good with dialogues, they sound natural, but the descriptions you find weak and clich├ęd (I think a writer is capable of noticing such things in his own work). What I want to say is that writer can notice superficial things about his own writing, but he can't go so much in depths.
    But then again, not all people are the same, so some people can be more objective than the others.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2014
  18. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Like @minstrel, I've gotten much better at spotting when I've written garbage just after writing it. I also have the benefit of writing with @KaTrian, and quite often we spot each other's mistakes and fix them on the go.

    Sure, sometimes we still produce something that looks okay on the surface, but we know there's something wrong with it. If it's an important scene that affects what comes after it, we usually stop at that point, let the stinker stew overnight, and most of the time we've figured it out by the next time we sit down to write, be it bad characterization, a plot hole, or just generally uninspired (and uninspiring) writing.

    My preference is to try to write as freely as possible, even if I end up writing something outrageous; sometimes the end result shines, sometimes it reeks, but that's what the backspace is for. If I worry too much whether I'll screw up, it stifles that creative flow (or whatever it's called), which is one of my favorite aspects of writing.

    We usually reread what we wrote the previous day before we continue from where we left off, fix the mistakes we spot, touch up the language etc, but we don't really count that as "proper" editing: that's something we do once the MS is finished, i.e. we go through every part of the story with a magnifier, question every plot turn, whether characters maintain their psychological plausibility throughout the story etc.

    I don't think it's a good idea to ignore your inner critic, but it's likewise a bad thing to go overboard with self-criticism. If you do, you can stifle your creation, being so afraid of producing sub-par text that you no longer dare write anything or you only write sterile material that follows every "rule," but has little to no passion/emotion in it (we've both been there, and it does suck a lot of enjoyment out of writing).
     
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  19. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    I think my writing sucks all the time.

    I mean, ALL THE TIME.

    It's got to the point where I sometimes don't want to write because I fear it may become garbage.

    My beta is enjoying my writing, though. At least she makes some relevant points that make me want to improve. I think nitpicking is a beta's job. :p
     
  20. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    A lot of people on here a long time ago said my writing was terrible, and others said it was decent. Heck, even a few people told me that my work could possibly be a masterpiece. I'm not god's gift to print, but i'm sure as hell that i'm not terrible. People vary in opinion. For me, i just don't care about the people who say my writing sucks. Unfortunately for them, most of them aren't published. That speaks volumes in itself. No matter what you think of your writing, keep going. Don't let your thoughts or other people bog you down.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2014
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  21. Gloria Sythe
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    Gloria Sythe Member

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    I was at a writers workshop about three months ago and one of the presenters should us a manuscript of a book that had eventually been published by Random House. The original manuscript was terrible to say the least. The big however in this was that the story line really caught the attention of the editors at the publishing firm. They overlooked the grammatical mess and had their editors clean it up and actually published the book. This goes to tell me that even though your writing may be suspect, if the story line is there, the publishers will have a close look at the manuscript.

    With that being stated, how many of us read our manuscript 100 times and not find many faults that seem to never end?
     
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  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    So I just entered and lost a 100 word flash fiction contest I didn't expect to win. The winners were so clever and clearly good writers. I'm not in that league. But then I thought, I'm just not going to think like that. There are people who are richer, prettier, younger, healthier, smarter, and better writers. But then there are people who are poorer, uglier, older, less healthy, dumber, and worse writers. I am who I am, where I am as a writer. I can't be a bad writer unless I compare myself to better writers and there are always going to be better writers out there.

    I read my story and I still love it. :)
     
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  23. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's really inspirational!
     
  24. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I call it 'mood reading' when I reread my own writing and try to be objective. If I've just read a great book and am feeling a little out of my league, I read with much more critical fervor than I do if I'm in a 'I'm-kinda-great-and-can-totally-write-better-than-that-published-lady-and-or-man.' My greatest struggle is to not over edit when I'm in a mood so I don't chop and change my story and edit it to pieces unnecessarily.
     
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  25. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Um, make cheap-ass excuses? As in

    [​IMG]

    30 years ago I wrote a novella. Nice little plot, worth developing further, but the character dynamics were absurd. No way those things would happen to those people the way I'd described them. So a few months ago I started rounding the characters out, taking clues I'd thrown into the original manuscript and developing them.

    I'm still at it. Do I think what I've written sucks? No, not in itself. The characters and plot are becoming much more realistic and, to judge by the workshop debate my excerpts have elicited, more emotionally-compelling. There are scenes where my characters' predicament makes me cry, and others where they purposely make me laugh out loud. It's not perfect, but not too shabby.

    What sucks is that now I've got a freight trainload of backstory that I'm sure the reader just has to know, and it's overwhelming the original plot. Who'd possibly take the time to read it, or who could read it without wondering WTH it has to do with the novel's main events? And pathetic creature that I am, I don't have a clue about how to cut it down without going back to telling-not-showing.

    So what do I do? I say, "Oh, I wasn't planning on submitting this novel for print publication anyway. I couldn't-- I've already posted a lot of it on my writer's blog." I say, "Don't you have to write 500, 000 words before you should even consider submitting anything for print? OK, all that verbiage counts towards my 500,000 words. It's just practice."

    In other words, "I meant to do that!" :D
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2014
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