Self-sabotage

Liz Bent

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Hi there! I tend to do a lot of self-analysis (I am bipolar and so it can help), and I've noticed something: as soon as I get going and am really proud of a manuscript, I get really depressed and find it hard to continue writing it.

Long story short, I figure this phenomenon is not laziness, but rather, me internalizing the constant message I received growing up: that writing is foolish, a hobby but not something important or any way to make a living, and responsible people didn't expend a lot of effort on it.

I have a part-time job and my husband supports us, so I don't really need to make more money (though, as is the case for most people, it certainly helps). Now that I've identified this particular mindworm I can try to combat it with a bunch of therapy tricks I've learned over the years, but I just thought I'd ask: does this happen to anyone else?
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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I would say that this happens to approximately 100% of people who try to do any kind of creative work. I can even predict the stages:

1. This is GREAT!
2. This isn't that great.
3. This is HORRIBLE!

The trick, I think, is to make step 4 "I better go back and rewrite it" followed by step 5 "Hey, that's not too bad" rather than step 4 "I better give up" followed by no step 5.

Easy advice to give; hard to follow.
 

Stuart Suffel

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Well...that used to be true for me Victoria, but now it seems to be, 'that's the first draft done', then second draft, and so on.

Don't know whether that's a good or bad thing, but that's how it's been for a while now.

The biggest issue for me is the starting a piece. But once it's started, I'm pretty ok.
 

tinkerdan

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I think there is always room for doubt; that's what editors are for.

Sometimes you are right and they can help and other times [pretty rare]they say 'you're a genius'.

It's natural to find the flaws in your own work and equally as natural to try to plug all the holes in the work and even a few imaginary ones; but what the heck imagination is the life blood of a writer.
 

Stuart Suffel

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The weight of expectation can be quite destructive as well.
But generally, looking upon your work as a series of drafts is a good approach. Hopefully you arrive at the final draft. If not, it's a friendship that didn't work out. So, you move on...
 

Liz Bent

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I actually was referring not to overly harsh criticism of one's work- which, as has been pointed out, is universal- but rather the notion that the work itself is something A Real Adult does not attempt, particularly as a way to earn a living. This has been drilled into me all through my childhood, and I wondered how many other writers deal with this same issue.
 

Cory Swanson

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My dad is an artist. I almost feel compelled in the opposite direction. Real jobs are great, but a life without creative pursuit is not as rich as a life with money. Don't get me wrong, my parents encouraged me to make money, but they also try to foster creativity in any way they can.
 

Phyrebrat

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Liz, half the world seems obsessed with 22 overpaid narcissists kicking a bag of air back and forth and don't think it's a worthless pusuit ;) ...

It may help if you realise that writing, creative endeavours, etc, are actually crucial to your mental health and well-being. You have a strong internal judge shaking his or her finger at you and you need to shut it down.

Life would be a grey soup without artistic pursuits.

Personally I'd rather fill my world with Mozarts and Seurats, Becketts and Nureyevs than Gates, et al.

If it's got a good beat and you can dance to it, then dance. :)

pH
 

TheDustyZebra

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I actually was referring not to overly harsh criticism of one's work- which, as has been pointed out, is universal- but rather the notion that the work itself is something A Real Adult does not attempt, particularly as a way to earn a living. This has been drilled into me all through my childhood, and I wondered how many other writers deal with this same issue.

You know, oddly enough, I think I'm the other way around with that. I look at people I went to school with who are bankers, lawyers, chamber of commerce directors and such, and I think they have the adult jobs, but that's in comparison to some of mine, such as retail and administrative things. I don't feel like those are adult jobs. But if I could go to a class reunion as an author, with real books, that feels like it would be something. (Not the short stories I have in real books -- those don't quite make the cut for adulting, somehow.)
 

Boneman

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I've been in a medical-related profession for most of my adult life, where creativity played no part. I can't draw or paint. I can't sing or dance (tho' I loved the idiot-dancing phase in the 60s...) I can't play guitar except by repetition of others.

But I can write.

Might not be good, might be great, might be awful, might be funny, but it's the artistic side of me expressing myself. Was I a frustrated writer all those years? Well, I've been writing for over 25, so I guess so. Writing is artistic outlet. Yes I think my work is good, then I think it's awful, then I think it's good again, awful again, but I keep writing, because I need to express the one artistic thing inside me that needs an outlet. The more I do it (good and bad) the better I get at it. I'll keep doing it, because it fulfils a need in me. That's a good enough reason to soldier on, no matter what I think about my own writing. If I didn't write (good and bad) I'd be a less rounded person inside. Definitely less fulfilled.

The mindworm can go devour its own tail, because in the scheme of things, it's not important. Just keep writing and it will devour itself eventually. Doesn't matter how long that takes, because you are achieving your unique creativity every time you put pen to paper.
 

JE Loddon

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Self-doubt is a writer's trait. I've written a couple of complete novels now, and I still suffer from it. You have to push through it. Writing is a creative craft, but it is also graft. Some think writing should just all come easily, but that's not generally how it works. Keep writing, and finish the book. Then, you can fix it with successive edits.
 

Liz Bent

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My husband says many of the things said in this thread- thanks, everyone. I'm getting back in the chair today. I follow a number of professional writers on Twitter, and one of them once said (I regret I forget the name) that the only way to become good as a writer is B.I.C. - butt in chair, or time spent actually writing. Lucky for me this particular novel is very easy to write- it's based on a number of recurring dreams I've had since 2012, and I've written extensively about all of those in my diary. The hardest part has been making all the characters fictional.
 

tinkerdan

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I think I see OP's concern that this is not simple self doubt they speak of.
In fact it has little to do with self doubt; from the sound of it, although it might be used as kindling to fire the self doubt and that's where it is dangerous.

There are external forces that often say that this or that profession is not really a real profession[this is peer pressure]. People who espouse those views usually either ask how your hobby is going or when are you going to get a real job.

All of my family have exhibited artistic traits throughout their lives. Only one of us has tried to turn that into a profession.

One thing that comes to the fore right away is that taking it from a passion to a profession takes an enormous amount of commitment and dedication. To do that you may have to insulate yourself from those naysayers who seem oblivious to the strength of the peer pressure they impose.

I have one friend who can't sleep at night if she doesn't write during the day. If someone tried to tell her that it wasn't a real job, I'm not even sure that she'd acknowledge them; or maybe on an off day she might hear them and kill them.

There is some point where we have to grow up and listen to our own voices and not so much those around us. That's not meant in an unreasonable way; rather that we take responsibility for what we do; so we shouldn't let other people set our limits because we are not their responsibility. [Unless you really are their responsibility, then it's a whole different ball game.]
 

The Big Peat

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that writing is foolish, a hobby but not something important or any way to make a living, and responsible people didn't expend a lot of effort on it.

What sort of responsible person doesn't expend a lot of effort on their hobby? Your hobbies are the things that make you happy, your hobbies are the things that give you an escape from the world's pressures. I'm sure we all know people who sink huge amounts of time, money and energy into their hobbies.

Even if writing can never be no more than a hobby - which I'd disagree with, but concentrating on this idea in isolation - there's no reason not to take it seriously.


Anyway, I've never had this particular thing, but I've had to struggle through my own misconceptions about writing and I know other people who have had something similar to you. Not all of us grow up in places and around people who view writing positively. In fact, your post reminded me of a blog post here I read here not that long ago by @GCJ
 

zmunkz

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I would say that this happens to approximately 100% of people who try to do any kind of creative work.

^this. Give or take 0%.

What sort of responsible person doesn't expend a lot of effort on their hobby?

Agreed. And who wouldn't allow a hobby to expand into a source of income if it could?

You can make a living writing, that is proven time and again. Nothing inherently wrong with a serious adult pursuing writing, nothing at all. Though you attribute the cycles to a preconception of writing as a whole, it sounds very much like the natural wax and wane of the creative juices. I am constantly and predictable in phases of self-doubt about my words, my plots, my characters, my progress as a writer... and then it goes back to just being excited about my story. *shrug.* We're all in it together, in any case.
 

Dan Jones

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Liz, half the world seems obsessed with 22 overpaid narcissists kicking a bag of air back and forth and don't think it's a worthless pusuit ;) ...

@Liz Bent don't listen to Phyrebrat. He's still bitter that Ognjen Gnjatic signed for Roda FC in the January transfer window, which put the dampener on his Bosnian-Herzigovinan Fantasy Football results. Let it go, Ph!

Long story short, I figure this phenomenon is not laziness, but rather, me internalizing the constant message I received growing up: that writing is foolish, a hobby but not something important or any way to make a living, and responsible people didn't expend a lot of effort on it.

It's an unfortunate message to receive. What's worse is that, in terms of pure percentages, it may be right. The chances of success in any meaningful sense (ie making a living) are tiny. You need the right chemistry, patience, diligence, a very thick skin, perseverance, willingness to learn, willingness to scrap failed projects, and enough luck for someone to take a punt on you to give you a chance.

However, with respect to the importance of writing? That's a different kettle of fish. It's true that writing doesn't give us new technology, or science, or money. But it does give us other, intangible things.

To put it another way: art may not save the world, but it does make the world worth saving.
 
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The Big Peat

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However, with respect to the importance of writing? That's a different kettle of fish. It's true that writing doesn't give us new technology, or science, or money. But it does give us other, intangible things.

To put it another way: art may not save the world, but it does make the world worth saving.

I think that undersells art. Art gives people dreams, and dreams are what gives us new technology and science (along with a lot of hard work, knowledge and luck). I remember once reading about Heinlein visiting NASA and getting mobbed by scientists telling him that he was their inspiration. That level of influence is rare, but it is still there, and art will always be incredibly important as a result.
 

GCJ

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Anyway, I've never had this particular thing, but I've had to struggle through my own misconceptions about writing and I know other people who have had something similar to you. Not all of us grow up in places and around people who view writing positively. In fact, your post reminded me of a blog post here I read here not that long ago by @GCJ

Hey @The Big Peat, I made somebody remember something I wrote! You just made my Friday night. :)

@Liz Bent, I feel your pain, genuinely. To me, the thought of revealing myself as a writer to those other than close family makes me nervous. I grew up in a neighbourhood that tended to judge one on whether they had socks never mind matching ones, so suddenly coming to the local community with the revelation that I write is going to send a few eyebrows most definitely north.

Nonetheless, and thanks in some part to the encouragement I've found here, I will. My plan, cunningly designed to counteract those twitching forehead adornments, is to 'come out' when I self publish my next book. That way, in my mind, I'll have some sort of a track record; credibility even.

Plus a series is easier to sell apparently, so it's all good. :)
 

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