Imposter syndrome. We all have it, don’t we? That feeling of “who the hell am I, to be calling myself a writer? Who the hell am I, to think I can write [whatever genre you write]?”
I have this in a bad way.
First, it was “who the hell am I to write gay romance? I’m not a gay man.”
Then I discovered that 90% of readers and writers of gay romance are women.
So it turned into “who the hell am I, a straight white chick writing about queer characters?”
Then I realized I’m queer AF.
So it turned into “who the hell am I to think I’m a writer? I don’t have anything published.”
Then I got something published.
So my brain says, “Yeah but that’s not good enough. Look at that guy. He’s got all kinds of books published. Look at her, she’s self-publishing like crazy. You’re over here with one little story, claiming you’ve been writing for years.”
You all know exactly how this feels. I guarantee it. There’s only one writer I know of who claims he never feels this way, and that’s Stephen King (and I still don’t really buy it). We all feel like we’re just stumbling along, clueless, faking it, hiding our inadequacies and hoping no one will ever find out that we have no idea what we’re doing.
How do we cope with imposter syndrome?
Just keep doing the thing you feel you can’t do. Keep writing. If you’re a straight white woman and you want to write about two guys fucking, do it. If you’re a 30-something man and you want to write a YA book with a 15-year-old girl MC, do it. If you’re a cis person and you want to write a trans character, do it. Be respectful and realistic, do your due diligence as an author, do research, and go for it.
Because here’s the thing, in my opinion: The fact that you are questioning your abilities and questioning your self-worth means that you are able and worthy. There’s this cool thing in psychology called the Dunning-Kruger effect and I think it comes into play here. Basically, people who are of “lower cognitive ability” suffer from an “illusory superiority”–in other words, people who can’t do things/aren’t good at things, think they can/are. They have no idea of their inadequacy.
If you are conscious of the fact that you need to improve, the fact that you may not “fit the bill,” then you are already on the right track. I want to write a transgender character. Though I am non-binary and therefore transgender, I am terrified of writing harmful rep or just writing something dumb because I don’t understand 100% what it’s like to feel wrong in your own body. Who am I to try to write that?
The trick is to kick imposter syndrome in the face and put in the work so that the imposter syndrome is invalid. Who am I to try to write a trans character? Well, I’m a writer, and I want to write a trans character. Boom. That’s all you need to get started. That, and the knowledge that you must do it well. I have trans friends, thanks to Twitter. I have the internet. I have other books. Imposter syndrome can nay-say me all it wants, but I can bury myself in research. I can make myself the type of person who is able to write what I want to write.
Try to look at imposter syndrome as a challenge to overcome. When you hear yourself asking “who am I, to do this thing?” remind yourself exactly who you are. You are a writer. You want to do this thing. The fact that you think you can’t or shouldn’t, is actually a sign that you’re already a step ahead of the pack. You can. You should. It will take work, but nothing worth doing is easy.
First off, let’s get some terminology straightened out.
Beta reader – Your job as a beta reader is to tell the writer overall thoughts, point out areas where you didn’t follow the story or understand the characters’ motivations, and express opinions on style (for example, alternating POVs making it difficult to keep track of characters, certain chunks of the story being written as text messages made plot hard to follow, dialects and slang being confusing). As a beta reader, you don’t have to be a writer yourself, you just have to enjoy reading (and be familiar with the genre the writer is asking you to beta).
CP/Critique partner – Usually another writer of similar or higher skill. As a critique partner, you may want to trade your writing for theirs and ask for a critique in return. A CP should be able to give more in-depth feedback than just general impressions, and should be able to give advice on how to fix issues. Being a CP implies a more lengthy relationship than just a simple “read this when I’m done with it.” As a CP, you may engage in back-and-forth discussion and brainstorming about each others’ works.
Editor – Editors are the ones who polish up your manuscript after you’re pretty much done with it. They’ll check grammar, punctuation, and style. Where a beta reader and a CP will do what they do for free (or in exchange for critiques on their own work), an editor should be a professional who gets paid.
How does one become a beta reader? You can either advertise yourself, or keep an eye on authors’ social media to see when they ask for betas. Before you agree to beta, you should be aware of the manuscript’s genre, length, and the writer’s hoped-for turnaround time. If you’re going to advertise yourself, list what genres you’re willing to beta read (they should be genres you’ve read a lot of already, so you’re familiar with styles and tropes) and an estimate on how long it would take you to complete a book of average length for that genre (i.e., “I’m willing to beta romance novels. My turnaround for an average length romance is 2-3 weeks”). Keep in mind, beta readers are volunteers. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
So now that we have that cleared up, a general tip: use the comments feature in MS Word or Google Docs to insert thoughts and opinions as you go, if anything jumps out at you. Then, also write a summarizing few sentences or paragraph at the end with your overall impressions after finishing the manuscript.
Now, without further ado, here’s a list of do’s and do not’s for beginning beta readers.:
DO pay attention to what the writer specifically asks you to pay attention to. If the writer says “Let me know if you think John’s breakdown in chapter 4 is over the top,” pay particular attention to John and his breakdown in chapter 4. Write your thoughts on it as soon as you get to it, so you don’t forget to tell the writer what you thought.
DO NOT make changes to anything, especially to stylistic things, especially if the novel is in first person. I had a beta reader who put my document in track changes and deleted every ellipses in the story with no explanation. That was neither helpful nor what I asked them to do, and all it did was annoy me. Those ellipses were a decision, not a mistake. If you notice that the writer uses a distracting amount of ellipses or frequently uses the wrong “too” or some other grammatical/stylistic thing bugs you or pulls you out of the story, definitely comment on that, but actually changing things like that is an editor’s job.
DO give feedback on what you like and what does work just as much as you give feedback on anything you don’t like or doesn’t work. “No news is good news” is not how a writer’s brain works. They aren’t going to zero in on the 5 pages with negative comments and assume that the other 195 pages are good. If all they see are negatives, they’re going to assume it’s all bad. A general rule of thumb for feedback is to try to offer a positive for every negative. If you found my ellipses abuse distracting, balance that out by saying that my main character’s pop culture references were spot-on and made you laugh. As you read, use that comments function—even if it’s something as simple as “aww!” or “oh no!” it lets the writer know that their writing is evoking emotion, which is ultimately the goal of writing.
DO NOT say “I don’t like this” or “I don’t think this works” and leave it at that. Why don’t you like it? Is the sentence confusing? Does the action seem to go against the character’s moral code? Similarly, if you read the whole manuscript and all you can say at the end is “I like it, good job,” you just wasted everyone’s time. I’m glad you liked it, but… what was the best part about it? What did you like most, so I can do more of that? And I know it’s not perfect. It can’t be. You mean there wasn’t a single point you didn’t like that I could improve upon?
DO look for consistency issues and disappearing characters. If Aunt Sue seemed like she was going to be an important character back in chapter 2, but then we never see her again, that’s worth mentioning. If it’s the middle of winter and then two days pass and it’s suddenly summer, that’s worth mentioning. Writers tend to have brilliant ideas when they start writing, and then change time frames, delete characters, and forget about pets halfway through their writing process, but threads of those ideas might remain by accident. If you notice it, it’s worth mentioning.
DO NOT be sarcastic or make jokes in your comments. This manuscript is a piece of the writer’s soul. Handle with care. There is no sarcasm font, and even the most well-meaning, lighthearted joke can damage the writer’s self-esteem and motivation. Reading feedback on a manuscript is one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. The writer is likely hyped up, nervous, cringing at every critique you provided. Don’t make a joke at the story’s expense. It’s not helpful.
DO be nice, but don’t be too nice. No manuscript is perfect, and a writer can’t improve themselves if they’re only provided with positive feedback. You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to spare the writer’s feelings. However, in the same vein…
DO NOT be a dick. Don’t nit-pick, don’t decide you hate the manuscript and tear it down at every opportunity. If you start reading and realize that you don’t even want to finish the book, you may be better off reaching out to the writer, providing feedback on what you’ve read so far, and politely telling them why it’s not your cup of tea. Even that kind of feedback can be valuable.
Ultimately, your overall thoughts and feedback should include whether the characters felt real, whether the plot made sense, if there were any gaps or places you felt rushed, and anything else major you noticed. It’s also important to note that different writers may expect different things from their beta readers, and you should always ask if the writer has anything in particular they want you to do.
Another thing worth note is that you are working for free, just for the love of reading books. It is possible for the writer to expect more from you than you’re willing to provide. A beta reader is not a CP or an editor. A CP is usually a tit-for-tat kind of relationship, and an editor is usually paid. If the writer wants to call you a beta reader but expects you to edit their manuscript and you’re not okay with doing that for free, you’re allowed to step back. Beta readers are wonderful and amazing people and writers should appreciate them. As a writer, I’d like to say all writers are wonderful people who will treat you like gold, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Beta reading for a person once doesn’t obligate you to read for them ever again.
I think that about covers it! I hope this helps some new beta readers, and maybe even some writers, to know what should go down during the beta reading process! Comment below if you have anything to add!
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me use this gif to explain my writing process. It’s so accurate. I am totally winging this whole “writing” thing.
Some days, it really hits me how accurate that is.
This struck me recently while reading through the first draft of Trustfall, which I wrote during April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I can tell it needs work, but… fucked if I know what to do with it.
I thought I had an idea. I thought it was a great idea. It would require significant changes in the first half of the book, but it seemed brilliant!!! I wrote 400 words of notes about everything that would need to change in the first half in order to make this work. But then as I kept reading, I realized I did not like that idea. It wouldn’t work. It didn’t make sense. It wouldn’t fix things.
So now I’m back at square one. Having no idea what to do.
I’ve only written and revised one full novel in my life. It took me like three years to get it to a point where I thought maybe I was done revising and should start trying to publish it. Three years of “spend a couple months working on it, take six or eight months off, pick it up again later and revise again”… Ain’t no one got time for that now that I’m taking writing seriously and trying to publish. My goal for Camp Nanowrimo during July is to get this draft to a condition where I can send it to beta readers. Then I’ll probably wait 3-4 weeks for feedback from them (and write another short story or two in that time….) and revise again. Hoping to have it out to at least one publisher by the end of the year.
But I have no idea what I’m doing. No idea. At all. How do I fix this? I think I’ve figured out the problem (unclear character arc, entire first half of novel written during NaNoWriMo so it’s really, REALLY rough, and cute, but not overly exciting) but I am not sure of the solution. I guess I need to make Saul’s arc more clear? Make Alex’s struggle more difficult? So what do I do?? Add a scene? Change scenes? Remove scenes? Just flesh out scenes that are already there? rewrite the entire first half?!
This feels like someone dropped a calculus problem in front of me, told me the solution, but didn’t tell me how to get to it, and I have to write down the process of how to solve it. I HAVE NO IDEA. I GUESS I’LL JUST TRY A BUNCH OF SHIT AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS! Except I have a time limit! One month! One month isn’t enough time to “try a bunch of things” with a novel.
I know, I know, self-imposing a deadline like that and pressuring myself is bad and leads to burnout. But I want to get it done.
I’m hoping for a flash of miraculous brilliance but not betting on it. How do you move forward when you have no idea how to move forward? Especially with revisions?
If you are a writer and you’ve never read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, GO DO IT NOW. I read that book in college and it literally changed my life. I’ll wait.
All right, so there’s a chapter in Bird by Bird called Broccoli. In it, Lamott cites a quote from a Mel Brooks skit: “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.”
What does this mean? Well, in the context of writing, it means “Listen to your story, and your story will tell you how to write it.” In other words, listen to your intuition. Listen to your gut. Writing is a very heart-and-soul driven process, and if you try to over-think it, analyze it, make it a science, it’s not going to work.
That’s the gist of the piece, but I highly recommend you read it for yourself. That one and “Shitty First Drafts.” “Shitty First Drafts” is the reason I finished my first novel instead of letting it waste away half-finished somewhere on my hard drive.
I had my own “listen to your broccoli” moment this past week which kind of blew my mind. I’ve written before about how music ties into my writing process. For my current WIP, I’d been listening to Saul’s music — dark, sultry, heavy on piano and violin and angst. I was writing from Saul’s point of view, so listening to his music made sense.
I hit a turning point in the story and I started slowing down. I was getting stuck. I slogged through it with help from a friend, and then I got stuck again. My brain suddenly decided that I MUST LISTEN TO FOLK MUSIC. Folk music? Okay, I thought, this is Alex’s music. He’s a small rural town kinda guy, bluegrass and folk and country-esque music is prevalent there. So, we’re listening to Alex’s music now, like the flip of a switch. Saul’s is absolutely not acceptable anymore. Alex was reaching a turning point in his character arc, so that made sense I guess.
But I was still stuck. For days. I was fighting my way through, feeling that the writing was slow and boring. I couldn’t figure out how to make it interesting. I kept thinking, “It’s really hard to show this from Saul’s point of view.” and “I have no idea where this is going.”
And one night I just hit a wall. I couldn’t write. Nothing. It wasn’t happening. I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next. I had ideas in mind, but none of it seemed right. The pacing was off if I executed the vague plotline I had in mind. It just didn’t work. I was so, so stuck.
Of course, I took to Twitter, because Twitter is my people.
Do you ever re-read your entire draft before you finish it? Does it help you get unstuck? I’m stuck. This is awful. #amwriting#writerslife
And something tumbled loose in my brain, like there’d been a rock stuck in the gears and that idea knocked it loose, and I starting thinking “Yeah… this might work. This would solve a lot of problems. This would solve so many problems. THIS WOULD SOLVE LIKE ALL THE PROBLEMS.”
And the gears started turning again. Slowly. It takes a little while for the machinery to go from total standstill to functional again. I went to sleep that night with a thought. The gears clearly kept turning while I slept, because the next day, I woke up with ideas. I tossed them out on Twitter so I wouldn’t forget, and then I kept simmering on it during the first half of my work day. On my lunch break I sat down with a notebook, and the flood gates opened. The clouds parted and sunlight broke through. I put pen to paper and the entire ending of the book spilled out over my brain with drunken enthusiasm. The pieces clicked together easily and logically.
Here’s where I get to the point. Remember up there where I said my brain randomly decided that Saul’s music wasn’t working anymore and it was time to start listening to Alex’s music?
DAYS before I got stuck, DAYS before I thought of switching POVs, my broccoli knew.
Writing is hard. There’s all kinds of advice out there. Not all of it will work for you. Maybe your broccoli is a lying little shit… but I doubt it. Your broccoli is your heart, your muse, your innermost self. Trust yourself. When you’re writing and things get rough, try to get quiet. Tell the doubts to shut the fuck up. Ain’t no one got time for doubts and fears. Cuss and swear and scream and throw things if that helps, and then get quiet. Sit. Focus. Stop trying to force words, and listen. Somewhere in the back of your mind, there’s a little green sprout saying “Do this thing. This is the thing to do. Trust me.”
Trust the broccoli.
(if you hate broccoli, feel free to think of that little voice as something else. Muse. Subconscious. Tiny person standing in your brain cavity shouting at you. Whatever form it takes, let it exist and listen to it.)
I have depression. I used to refer to it as seasonal depression, because it lasted from October to March[ish], but over the past couple years it’s sort of becoming “all the fucking time depression.” I have high points and low points regardless of the season (okay, in winter I have low points and even lower points).
I’m writing this because I just got past a low point. I went five days without showering. I felt nauseous for two weeks. I didn’t want to go to work. I didn’t want to leave bed. What little energy I had went into feeding my pets and going to work. Eventually, I sat down at my dining room table and couldn’t move. I just didn’t have the energy. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to pet my dogs, I didn’t want to talk to my husband, I didn’t want to fucking be alive. After a while, I broke down sobbing and curled up on the floor. I cried for a while. My husband lay down on the floor with me, bless his heart. Then my cat came over and sniffed my face, very thoroughly, as if my tears were some fascinating substance… and then she ran away as fast as she could, like she’d finally determined they were poison. And I started laughing. And I started feeling a little better.
And today I took a shower! And I feel sort of excited about an idea I have for something. And I give a shit about the tiny plants I have growing in seed trays on my porch again. Hooray, heading back up to the land of the people who aren’t zombies.
This happens to me often. Varying lengths of time, varying levels of seriousness.
I have never actively considered suicide. Not really. Depression, for me, is apathy. It is deep, unyielding lack of interest in life. When I am depressed, I want to lie on the floor and stare at the wall or ceiling until existence just stops happening. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to kill myself, I just don’t want to deal with life. Existing is hard. 90% of existence is bullshit. When I am depressed, every action I take, every word I speak, only comes about by scraping my fingers through the muck and mud in the bottom of the well inside me, cobbling together some slimey, filthy shreds of energy to keep me staggering through everyday existence. I am constantly digging, trying to find something to keep me going, but for every one speck of energy I find, the world demands three more. You got out of bed? Great. Now you have to get dressed. You have to fix your hair. You have to pack a lunch, even though you don’t want to eat. You made it out the door? Remember there’s a detour, you have to go a less familiar way to work. There’s construction. There’s traffic. It’s raining. So on, so on, so on. Little things that are minor inconveniences on a “normal” day to a non-depressed person have me dragging and drained by 8am.
I’m one of those “high functioning” mentally ill people. Anxiety and depression make me absolutely miserable and emotionally unstable, but I can go to work and carry out all the functions expected of me at my job. Usually. Maybe I’m a little quieter than usual. Maybe I make more jokes about the eventual heat death of the universe, or the fact that in the grand scheme of things, this job is absolutely pointless and contributes nothing to the world. But I can function. When I tell people I have anxiety and depression, they say, “Really?! I never would have guessed.”
Why? Because I’m at work? I’m wearing clothes? I’m not sobbing uncontrollably?
Trust me, I am a fucking mess. Human interaction is a nightmare. Eating is a Herculean feat. Don’t even talk to me about showering. Count yourself lucky that I put on deodorant. I smell like four-day-old sweat tinged with freesia.
Being a writer is hard. Being a depressed writer is just awful. How do you find the energy to write when you don’t have the energy to eat?
Be gentle with yourself. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you just can’t. If it takes everything in you just to get out of bed, it’s okay that you don’t write that day.
I am a strong advocate for mental health awareness and self-care. For me, self-care means being gentle with myself. Some days I shower and get dressed and eat salad, other days I eat an entire bag of M&Ms and lay around in the same pajamas I’ve been wearing for two weeks. Usually I just sort of… float, for a couple days or weeks. I exist. I stagger through this existence, gasping and panting, tripping and falling, but I keep existing. Usually I reach a breaking point where I break down crying. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Crying. Twenty minutes of gross sobbing flips a switch in my brain and reminds me what a “feeling” is, and my brain goes “Oh! There are other ones, too. Check it out.”
There is no tried and true magical cure or methodology for getting past depression. It is a huge ugly dark thing with its fingers tangled in your hair, scrawny legs wrapped around your waist, whispering lies in your ear, and it won’t. fucking. let. go. I don’t want to spew hackneyed word-vomit about things getting better. Things are mostly okay. The world is not rainbows and unicorns. The world is a dumpster fire, but there are good things. Find a good thing. Cling to it. Maybe it’s a flower. A cat. A good deed. An internet video. A kind word. Look for other good things. Cling to them. Good things are flotation devices in the sinking abyss of gross blah that we live in. If you string together a few good things, maybe you can stay above the abyss. If you string together enough good things, maybe you can make it to the shore of the sinking-abyss-lake and drag yourself out onto solid ground. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to seek it out. Try not to wait until it’s unbearable. Know that there are people who understand. You aren’t alone.
I am open about my anxiety and depression because so few people are, but so many people experience it. I hate the feelings of isolation that surround so many mental health topics. If you’re depressed, please know that I understand. I don’t expect anything of you except that you remain alive. We can join hands and watch paint dry together. Lie down in the yard and watch grass grow because we can’t muster the energy or enthusiasm to make it any farther. And remember that the people who “don’t seem like it” are just as likely to be unhappy as the people who obviously are unhappy. Neither is more or less deserving of care.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (it’s free): 1-800-273-8255
and their website
I love and appreciate everyone who reads my posts and if you ever need to talk, Twitter is the best method to reach me. Direct link to my profile here – DM or @ me so I’ll get a notification on my phone. I am by absolutely no means a trained professional, but I can listen/read and sympathize. Sometimes all it takes is talking/writing your feelings out to someone, and you feel better. I am willing to be that someone.
This post got way more serious than I expected it to. Have a funny comic to lighten the mood.
Ah, finally, the vital step. Writing. The first two steps are the fun and exciting steps. Then we get to writing. Writing is hard. Writing is the painful, strenuous, miserable, hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, fist-shaking, curse-shouting step. Writing is the step where everything can fall apart.
But it is the most important step in the writing process. You can get all the ideas in the world, develop them, plot them out, profile your characters, but if you can’t park your ass in a chair and put words on the page, then there’s no point.
For me, a typical night of writing looks like this:
Start up laptop. Open Word. Open Twitter. Open YouTube (FOR MUSIC!). Check all notifications on Twitter. Interact with some people on Twitter. Start trading gifs of Jensen Ackles and Tom Hiddleston back and forth with people on Twitter. Realize you haven’t started writing yet. Open appropriate document. Check Twitter again. Tell Twitter friends it is time for you to focus on writing. Open Facebook. Check Facebook notifications. Maybe interact with some people on Facebook. Realize you don’t have a blog post written for this week yet. Open WordPress. Brainstorm for blog post. Check Twitter again. By now it is 11pm. Realize you still haven’t written anything. Start writing. Fall asleep on laptop 20 minutes later. Wake up at 3am, delete the 3 pages of the letter s you wrote while asleep, put laptop away.
It is a true miracle I ever accomplish anything.
…okay in all seriousness though, I have a pretty good writing routine down. I write every day. It took me years to develop this habit, and I did not develop it because all the writer advice websites say “write every day.” I developed it largely because of anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. I used to have trouble getting to sleep at night, until I developed a habitual nightly writing routine. I’ve written previously about psychologically manipulating yourself to get results. This is another way. Attach writing to something in your routine. For me, I attached it to going to bed. I would go to bed, get out my laptop, and write. At first I did this because I had trouble getting to sleep, and writing gave me something to focus on besides every embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in the past 25 years, but before long, I did it because it’s just… what I do. It keeps my mind occupied so I don’t lie awake brooding, and it keeps me productive. Even if I go to bed at midnight and have to be up for work at 6:30, I get out my laptop (usually in these cases, I just fall asleep on my keyboard two minutes later, but if I *didn’t* get out my laptop, I wouldn’t fall asleep). I do write during the day on weekends sometimes, but for me, writing is a “once you start you will not stop” habit. If I start writing in the morning, all other activities for the day are gone from my mind. Writing at night also saves me from having to stop for any reason. I’m in bed. The day is done. Leave me alone. I can write until I can’t write anymore.
Anyway, each night without fail, I go to bed around 8, get out my laptop, and write. If I go a day or two without doing this, I get anxious. I can’t focus. I get irritable. All I can think about is going home and writing.
So let’s face it: I’m addicted to writing. And I think that’s how it should be. Writing should be something you enjoy. Even in all its teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling glory, you should enjoy it. If you enjoy it, you should make time for it in your life. If you do not enjoy it, then why are you doing it?
I try not to get preachy or spew out advice about “how to write” or “how to be a writer” or any of that. Everyone’s routine is different, everyone’s process is different, everyone’s life is different. But I do think that it is important to develop a routine if you want to see any results. Just like with any skill or art, you have to put a lot into it if you want to get anything out of it. You have to practice in order to get better. Whether it’s 1000 words a day, a page, a paragraph, a sentence–whatever it is, do it consistently. Writing is not a spectator sport. You can’t read a book about how to write, sit down, and immediately tap out beautiful sentences, vivid imagery, and realistic characters. I have been writing since I was a tiny little child (as you all know, if you saw my 500 Followers Celebration Post). I started writing “seriously” when I was 11 (thank you Dragonball Z).
In other words, I’ve been writing “seriously” for over 15 years–I have a degree in creative writing–and I still think I’m awful.
But I keep writing, because I have to, because that’s all you can do, because that’s the only way to get better, and that’s the only way the words are gonna end up on the page. You gotta sit your ass in a chair (or on the floor, on your bed, on a bench, I don’t care where you put your ass, you could even write standing up, but it’s gotta stay there), you have to suffer through that self-doubt and anxiety, you have to accept that it is NOT going to be perfect (definitely not on the first draft… probably not after 5+ revisions, either. Just accept it), and then you have to start writing. I use a laptop. Some people write on a desktop. Some people write by hand. Some people use special pens or special notebooks. Some people write at home, some people write at coffee shops. Do whatever you need to do to make it happen.
One important thing to note about my writing process is that I am a pantser. That means I don’t outline in advance. I usually know what’s going to happen like 1-2 scenes in the future, and beyond that, there’s some vague notions of what might happen. Sometimes, I hit a wall. I get through those 1-2 scenes and then…. where do I go? What do I do? HALP. HALP. HALP!
When this happens, DON’T QUIT. You may need to take a day off. You may need to do more research. Sometimes you just down have the knowledge base to generate the ideas. This happened to me recently. I had some vague notion that Something Bad Happens, but couldn’t figure out exactly what. I was up against a wall. So I talked to a friend, figured out a direction, and then did some research to figure out a plausible way for that direction to be taken. I let the ideas stew and simmer for a couple days in order to coalesce in my mind, and now I have another 2-3 scenes in mind to write. After that, I once again don’t know what will happen, but fingers are crossed the boys will tell me when I get there.
If you’re having trouble with the writing step, I have a couple things for you to read. These two pieces stuck with me the most of any “writing help” I’ve ever read:
Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” (and really, the entirety of her book Bird by Bird) changed my life when I read it in college. I never finished a novel draft before reading this piece. I kept getting stuck on the idea of perfection. I’d edit as I wrote, I’d get caught up on things, and eventually fizzle out. After I read this, I finally managed to finish a novel-length draft!)
Neil Gaiman’s NaNoWriMo pep talk If Neil Gaiman can feel horribly insecure about his own writing, even after being published and awarded and praised extensively… maybe my writing isn’t as bad as I think it is, either.
Also for fun, a conversation between George R. R. Martin and Stephen King (I haven’t watched the video, just read the article) wherein Martin expresses his own insecurities about his writing.
So to summarize… Step Three – Writing = develop a routine and be consistent. Get words on the page. They are gonna suck, and you are gonna hate them, but you can’t make them better if you never bring them into existence. Once they exist, we get to move onto Step Four – Revision!!! MY FAVORITE STEP. (Jk I hate it)
I’m asexual. I wrote about this just a couple months ago when I realized it for the first time in my 10+ years of adulthood. Since then, I have joined the #ownvoices movement by starting to write a novel with an asexual gay man as a main character.
Let me tell you: It is hard. It is really, really difficult for me, despite being asexual myself. The temptation to put these guys into a regular old sexual relationship is strong. It’d be a lot easier to write. Despite not being sexually motivated or driven myself, writing sex is natural because it is everywhere, and I know it is expected, and a lot of readers live for the sex scenes.
Writing anything is hard. Writing gay men as a straight[ish] female[ish…person] is hard. Writing romance with a character who is not driven by sexual desire is a hard. Put all this together and add a heaping dose of crippling self-doubt on top, and it’s a miracle I’ve put a single word on the page.
“Self doubt?” you say. “Why are you drowning in self doubt? This should be easy. You’re asexual. You’re writing an asexual character. That’s like being a writer and writing about a writer. Right?”
Except I only realized I’m asexual like two months ago, and only decided to apply/embrace the label several weeks later. All in all, I’ve considered myself a part of the asexual community for like, maybe 5 weeks now. So who the fuck am I to write an asexual character? I have no idea what I’m talking about. Right? What if I accidentally write bad rep? Even though I am ace, and I have been ace forever, I could easily write something that offends someone else. I could write it wrong. The internet is a terrifying place. There are a lot of outspoken, aggressive people on every side of every issue (especially on Twitter, where I spend most of my time). What if I write this asexual character based on my own personal feelings and experiences, and someone comes along and says “He’s not asexual.”
But he’s based on me! And I am! Does that mean I’m not?!
What if I write this #ownvoices book and someone comes along and shits on me for it because I’m not repping enough? I’m not outspoken enough? I’m not… I don’t know what, but what if I’m doing it wrong?
TAKING RISKS IS TERRIFYING.
Somebody save me.
Do you see my issue?
And then, while I was musing over this hang-up I’m struggling with, here came Ana Mardoll with a miraculously well-time tweet thread:
You are enough. That voice saying you aren’t? That’s imposter syndrome and it’s wrong.
If you could just pardon me for a moment, I’ll be in the corner, sobbing.
Okay. Better now.
So this is what it boils down to, kids: You are enough, and the world needs your voice. No one is more enough-y than you. No one can write a marginalized character better than a marginalized person, and no one can tell you that your feelings and experiences disqualify you for the group you feel you belong to. There has been a lot of hate flying around lately–transphobia and biphobia, erasure of all sorts. There is no better time than now for writing #ownvoices, and there is no better person than you.
So I’m going to go on writing my asexual gay man, and if he wants to have sex, he will. And if he doesn’t, he won’t. He’ll find his boyfriend attractive, he will be infatuated and in love and make flirty comments and sexual jokes, and if anyone reads about him someday and says that his relationship is unrealistic, I’ll give them a great big middle finger, because I am an asexual person, and I have sex, get crushes, flirt, and make a hell of a lot of sexual jokes. Those things do not disqualify me from the a-spec. I am asexual enough to write an asexual character, even if I just realized it a few weeks ago. It’s my identity and no one will take it away from me.
(If you want snippets and lines from Alex and his asexual D/s adventures, you can follow me on Twitter. I post quite frequently.)