Lessons in Writing a Novel – Part 8 – Performance Anxiety

I am sure you have also been here before – blank page, flashing cursor, no words. For me that is the hardest part: starting. There are many things that make the treacherous beginning slow and painful, yet for me, it is mostly the image I have in my mind of what the end result should look like and the chasm that lies between start and finish that just seems too great. This was very apparent when I successfully completed (50,000 words yay!) NaNoWriMo in November 2011. What became obvious was this: I expected myself to deliver in my first draft the kind of quality you see on the book shelf.

Now, logically, you know that it is an unrealistic expectation. Professional and successful authors do rewrite after rewrite, sometimes before another living soul even sees their work for the first time. I read once that Stephen King can sometimes do nine rewrites before he is happy to submit to editors. What you get in the final product has gone through extensive revision, editing and polishing. Yet why do we expect ourselves to measure up against that benchmark in what should be a very rough first draft?

I suppose one reason is that we do not get to see what successful authors’ first drafts look like. This might actually be a blessing – who wants to lose that magic that comes from the belief that their favourite authors are perfect! I believe another reason is that we have been conditioned that creativity is an end-result and not a process, that being perfect is more important than being transformed through the writing process, and that you are simply not good enough if you don’t go straight from A to Z.

I really battled with this through NaNo. The hectic pressure to get the words down helped. There literally was no time to dwell too much on the sheer panic of imperfection. I had to dig deep to accept that all I was doing with my 50,000 words was throwing sort of the right colours onto a blank canvass in roughly the areas I thought they should be. The time for detailing and layering would come later in the rewrite after rewrite. Even ignoring squiggly red underlines was a massive amount of effort. I had to curb my desire to read and re-read the sections I had written. I knew that doing so may derail even a few basic splotches of colour.

The lesson was huge and it took me a long time to go back over my work after the challenge was over and read what was on the page. There were parts that were embarrassing beyond belief and others that I really enjoyed. I suspect the first rewrite will bring challenges of all their own. Yet for now I am happy to embrace this importance lesson in creativity – let go of the outcome, see yourself as a work-in-progress, and know that whatever you may believe about your inadequacies not writing at all is far worse.

PART 1: https://belindadoveston.com/2012/05/28/lessons-in-writing-a-novel-part-1/

PART 2: https://belindadoveston.com/2012/06/04/lessons-in-writing-a-novel-part-2/

PART 3: https://belindadoveston.com/2012/06/21/lessons-in-writing-a-novel-part-3/

PART 4: https://belindadoveston.com/2012/06/29/lessons-in-writing-a-novel-part-4/

PART 5: https://belindadoveston.com/2012/08/01/lessons-in-writing-a-novel-part-5/ 

PART 6: https://belindadoveston.com/2012/08/07/lessons-in-writing-a-novel-part-6-the-discipline-of-time/ 

PART 7: https://belindadoveston.com/2012/08/14/lessons-in-writing-a-novel-part-7-words-of-silence/

8 thoughts on “Lessons in Writing a Novel – Part 8 – Performance Anxiety

  1. I had the same experience. I finished last year’s NaNo and I learned the benefits to diving right in and editing later. However, I still struggle with the editing as I go habit. I’m hoping another NaNo challenge will be enough to drive the point home. I want to get more of my work on the page and not lingering in my head. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    1. Thanks Tessa – for the great comment and the follow. Yes, I too am hoping this November will go better with much less “stop and check” going on. We can only but practice practice practice! 🙂 Good luck and let me know how you do.

  2. I haven’t yet tried NaNo but am planning to give November’s a whirl. But I have written several novels, some terrible under the bed, never to see the light of day ones, some all right, some better which I’m working on.
    And I think I feel the opposite to you. I love the creation of my first draft, that abandoned fizz of gorgeous verbage that no one ever has to see. No one ever has to know.
    Sculpting the end result from that initial clay is the hard graft. Making it the way I know it ought to be.
    And I turn off all the grammar/spelling options on word whilst I draft. No little red or green squiggly lines, no critic, nothing.
    Turning them back on at the end is a bit of a trial, though!

    1. In that case, you will LOVE NaNoWriMo. I also enjoyed that reckless abandon once I got my critical mind out the way. I work mainly as a ghostwriter on business and motivational books, so the leap into fiction was initially quite tough, but oh so exhilarating. Has been very interesting to note the very positive influence fiction has had on my non-fiction now. Richer with allegory, metaphor and sensory activation.

  3. I just wanted to point out, Brandon Sanderson, whether you’ve read him or not or like him or not, he has on his blog (brandonsanderson.com) a story he wrote and published in various drafts, from the first to the last. It’s a lot of work to look through it all, but it might be something you are interested in seeing. I’ve only looked through bits and pieces of draft one and then read the entire finished novel. It’s pretty good. Ohh, and it’s free. The whole enchilada.

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