Do you love your writing? Or do you hate it?
A fellow writer recently shared an article on FaceBook called “Why You Don’t Need To Worry About Hating Your Own Work.” It’s about writing, and it’s interesting, but it had me flummoxed.
Why would anyone hate their writing? I had trouble wrapping my head around the idea. “Hate” is a strong word to me, and it conjures up images of bitter words, vicious slander, even violence. Revulsion, aversion, abhorrence, loathing, and disgust.
And since I’ve never felt that way about my own writing, I had a hard time imagining others hating theirs.
Sure, I’ve been frustrated. Embarrassed. Exasperated. Unhappy with my writing. I’ve written plenty of garbage and filed it in my “ideas” folder. I’ve written crappy blog posts (and published them!), lousy query letters, and second-rate synopses. I’ve even written an awful novel or two, but that’s not a bad thing. All of it’s salvageable, at least in part.
From the article:
Do you hate your own writing? It’s more common than you think. From those authors who read back a whole project and despise it to those who cringe at a few choice phrases, hating your own work is definitely normal.
And now, after reading the article again and thinking it through, and after my writer friend offerred her take on it, I can picture it.
Do you love your writing? Hate it? Something in between?
I wondered why I don’t hate my own writing sometimes, even when I know it’s downright shitty. And although the writer makes some excellent points and suggests that hating your work can be helpful, I think people would rather not suffer so much.
Sure, it’s normal. But not hating your work is normal too. And it seems to me that hating your own work must feel awful. What happens next? Do you quit writing? Take a long break? Get pissed off at the world? Go through a bout of misery, anxiety, or despair?
Feeling disappointed, frustrated, and low is almost inevitable during the writing process, but maybe you don’t have to feel too bad. Maybe, instead of hating your writing, you could develop a more objective viewpoint instead.
The writer goes on to say that
Hating your work can protect you from (some) ego . . . it removes the rose-tinted glasses and forces you to confront what you don’t like and work out how not to do it next time.
I definitely see the point, and I’m sure it works in some cases if the writer is using “ego” to mean pride or vanity and the puffed up, proud sort of person we often associate with “ego.” But what if a writer’s hatred is more about embarrassment, shame, and low self-esteem? What if that writer’s sense of identity and possibility as a writer—his or her ego as I use the term—is shaky or self-confidence is weak?
Since I’m a positive thinker and love to pump people up and encourage them, I have a few suggestions based on my own writing experience and what I imagine it’s like when writers hate their own writing. By the way, this is about writing a novel, but it applies to any kind of writing and creative endeavors.
1. Remember that writing is a process.
Accept the idea that rough drafts suck. That’s why they’re called rough, after all.
And the process goes like this: idea, notes, maybe an outline. Months (even years) of writing. Evaluate, rewrite, edit, rewrite sections, add chapters, delete chapters, add scenes, remove scenes. Outline again. Write some more. And more. Have people read it. Take suggestions. Fix it up. Edit. Rewrite sections. Copyedit maybe 10 or 20 times. Proofread. Or hire a pro to help you out.
Just remember: writing is a process like any other creative endeavor. Do you play a musical instrument? Whether you do or don’t, nobody picks up a guitar and gets on stage the next day. And there’s no point hating every chord and note that comes out wrong because it’s all about practice and process. A lifelong learning process for those who become successful musicians.
2. Writing is about learning.
We’re not born knowing how to talk or read. We’re not born with writing skills, either. We learn. Want to learn a foreign language? Study. Learn. Yeah, your pronunciation and accent will suck at first (like a rough draft), and nobody will understand you. But that’s part of learning. Been there, done that with three languages. I still suck at all of them. (Kidding. My French isn’t too terrible.)
No matter what stage of writing you’re at, learning is a part of it. It’s a requirement. And if you choose to not learn, if you don’t take learning seriously, your writing probably won’t get much better.
PS You don’t have to take classes unless you want to. Everything you need to know is on the internet. Seriously. Start here.
3. Reframe your response to your writing.
Instead of hating your writing, try thinking objectively, critically. And instead of focusing on what’s “wrong” with a particular piece, think “What does it need to be great?” How we think dictates our emotions, after all, and if we change our thinking, our emotions change with it.
Think structure, theme, development, story arc, characters, settings, conflict, and stakes. Think opening paragraphs, endings, scenes, and word count. Think word choices, synonyms, grammar, and punctuation. And much more.
What you write is not you. It’s a skill, a creative effort, and a result. It’s a product, in a sense, and there’s nothing mysterious about it. It’s not just something that pours out of you for better or for worse.* It’s not an extension of you, and you are not an extension of your writing. Writing is, after all, a skill and a process that requires practice.
*Okay, maybe that happens sometimes. Or often. But even stream of consciousness writing has to be polished.
4. Think growth.
Life is all about growth. From the minute we’re born, we grow. We smile, sit up, walk, and talk. We learn at home, at school, and from friends and relatives. We learn on the job or we go to college and, when we get our degrees, the learning starts all over again on-the-job. Career, friendships, intimate relationships. We’re always growing and learning, and sometimes it requires us to make a conscious choice.
Growth isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s challenging, and we suffer: a low grade in school, no promotion, fired, a break-up or a divorce, rejection emails from literary agents. But we learn, And we grow . . . unless we choose to not learn and grow.
Writing is all about growth. It’s like being in school or on the job, and it’s a process like everything else. We can, of course, choose to not grow as writers—and write the same way, year after year, learning little, and hating our writing and ourselves.
Or we can choose learning and growth, develop confidence and a (relative) sense of peace about our craft, and watch our writing skills blossom.
5. Love yourself. Love your writing.
You might have ten or twenty bestsellers and still hate your writing. Maybe you planned on writing the novel of all novels, a literary masterpiece that would make previous masters roll in their graves.
Maybe you’re Stephen King, for all I know. Enormously successful, but you’ve never written anything you planned on writing, and you hate it all. Or maybe you’re Edgar Allan Poe whose fame as a writer came posthumously. Or Jane Austin, Toni Morrison, and any number of writers who might secretly hate what they write.
I don’t have a solution to that, and maybe people don’t want a solution. Maybe they like hating their writing. Again, I don’t know.
But I do know when we love ourselves, we’re less likely to hate what we do. We’re less likely to hate anything or anyone, in fact. But self-love isn’t easy. It’s a process, just like writing.
Take good care of yourself. Take that bubble bath. Eat that healthy food and walk that lovely walk. Be kind to yourself. Check the negative self-talk. How many times in a day do you “hate” your hair, your face, your clothes, your body, your whole life?
Try loving instead. Try to reframe that thinking. Look in the mirror and say “I love you.” Look at your writing and say “I love you” even when you know it needs work. Think about your accomplishments regularly, no matter how small. Journal about it, write about all your sweet, lovable, strong, and wonderful goodness. Buy a book or two on self-love or read articles. Regularly. Try to avoid negative people, people who shame you or put you down. Refuse to listen to anyone who chides you for writing; make it an off-limit topic if you have to.
Do you know the Christian commandment about “Love your neighbor as you love yourself?” I’m pretty sure all major religions have a similar rule or saying. But a lot of people focus on the “love your neighbor” part. But what about loving yourself? Truly loving and respecting you?
You can’t love anyone—you can’t love your writing—if you don’t love yourself first. So I say, if you hate your writing and go through all sorts of inner turmoil over it, remember that writing is a process that requires learning and growth. And if you can practice thinking differently about your writing, maybe you won’t have to hate it. Maybe you’ll just dislike it when it’s not so great, and you’ll figure out what it needs and work hard to make it shine.
And maybe you can even learn to love your writing and the process that goes along with it. And maybe, just maybe, loving it will mean more writing, better writing, writing more often, and writing that others will love too.
Comments and questions are always welcome.