Three Ways to Move Forward
First of all, I doubt that your book is terrible. It’s got some of what you know and feel in it, some of who you are. So I doubt it’s all bad.
What does it even mean for a book to be terrible? I don’t know. It’s probably more accurate to say that your book is not for everyone. But no book is for everyone! Even Shakespeare is not for everyone.
What I do know is this. It’s normal to go through a writing stage where you are not satisfied with your project or question your writing skills. If that’s where you are, please take action.
Here are three ways to support yourself and your writing goals when writing gets hard.
1. Spend More Time with Other Writers (in Person or through Their Writing)
Writing a book is hard work. When we see a finished book, the author’s labor isn’t visible to us. But the process requires time, revisions, possibly developing some new skills. Traditionally published authors also have access to a team of publishing professionals (including editors) that take the project over the finish line. Beyond the actual time spent writing, we spend time having formative life experiences and shaping our identity, and that time also shows up in our writing. Making a book is untold hours of work.
Spending time with other writers helps us see that work happening. People who are in the middle of the writing, editing, or marketing process helps us remember that it’s normal for all of this to be hard and take a long time.
Joining a writing group is one great way to see other writers improving their work incrementally, and to learn more about how that works exactly.
Don’t have a local writer support crew yet?
Lots of writers write about writing. Here are some writers who are especially encouraging when you’re struggling with your manuscript:
- My very favorite writing encouragement book is Anne Lamott’s classic, Bird by Bird.
- In the illustrated book This Book Is for You: I Hope You Find It Mildly Uplifting, author Worry Lines talks about how hope and fear showed up for them while they were writing.
- The Mere Idea of Self-Promotion Sends Me Into a Doom Spiral! This Ask Polly advice column on anxiety about promoting a book is gold for writers. Here’s a taste:
2. Get a Manuscript Review from an Editor Who Knows Your Genre
A trusted editor can help you understand what is working so far and what isn’t working yet. If you’re not sure what you’ve got on your hands, or you suspect it’s terrible, I recommend looking for a developmental edit called a manuscript review. Typically, a developmental editor will read your whole manuscript and summarize what they noticed in a letter that’s a couple of pages long.
I don’t offer developmental edits, but I’d be happy to help you find an editor that meets your needs. Like a lot of freelance editors, I specialize, so I make sure to network with other editors. My goal is to make great referrals for writers. One of the things I prioritize when making referrals is sending you to someone who will see what is already good in your work. Of course, I also want to connect you with someone who can give you specific directions on how you can make a big impact in your manuscript so that you can be efficient with your revision time.
If you want to search for an independent editor on your own, try the Editorial Freelancers Association directory.
3. Take a Break from Your Project and Come Back to It
Stop thinking about your project for a while. A short while, or a long while.
- Read books.
- Write something else entirely. For example, try writing shorter forms like flash, poetry, or songs.
- Make a list of writers/artists/professionals who inspire you and try to identify what you like about their work. You might notice that not everyone loves them, and you might notice that’s OK.
- Take classes in something other than writing. Visual arts classes might help you notice the emotions brought up by the creative process with less self-criticism.
- Go have amazing life experiences.
When you revisit your writing after a break, you’re going to have a new perspective on it. You may be less attached to your judgment of it. And wouldn’t you know it, that is a great mental space to be in to make your writing better.