This is a topic that's fairly personal, especially since I've been dealing with it a lot for the past year and a half, to an extent and in a way I never have before. Writing and editing COCA has brought out the writer's doubt in flaming color.
I suffered writer's doubt occasionally before COCA, of course. Everyone has doubts about the things they do. It's a part of life; it helps us to evaluate. However, I've been fortunate enough that my writing, at least for novels, has been mostly separate of my OCD. Perhaps that's another part of why I love doing it so much. As a pantser, I even had the luck to have writing be one of the only unplanned, uncontrolled things in my life, as I talked about in this interview. In any case, for most my life, I didn't suffer the kind of anxiety with writing and publishing that I did for absolutely everything else. The doubts I had were regular, fleeting things that only gave me temporary pause.
The term "writer's doubt" was coined by my friends in the Write It! community (the original base of Ch1Con), though I'm sure plenty of other people use it too. In part of our discussion about writer's block, we came to the conclusion that the majority of writer's block is caused by fear and that "writer's doubt" is probably a more accurate term for the phenomena. Of course, there are instances of writer's block that occur for reasons other than the doubt, but they're less common, in my experience. On the whole, whether it's a vague sort of doubt, a lack of motivation that can only be solved by butt-in-chair, or a paralyzing, full-on terror that has you hiding your head in the sand, writer's doubt is what causes writers to stall, stop, and even give up entirely.
In the past, I only suffered the vague doubts, and they were extremely easy to overcome. I don't know why my anxiety never touched my writing, considering it was so interwoven with everything else in my life. You'd think it would decide to peek in on the thing I cared about and enjoyed most, but for some reason, Codi the OCD never bothered. The episodes of panic I did have about my books were brief and easily amended. Even the strings of rejection from various publishers and agents, which I've been getting from the ripe old age of twelve, didn't cause me much fear.
Over time, though, as I've grown older and realized more and more how long and slow the road towards publication can be, I've become... not anxious so much as discouraged. I used to love editing and sending out, I used to feel all this thrill at the potential that was having query letters out to agents. In the last years of high school and moving onward, though, sending out became more of a waiting-for-the-inevitable-rejection. My first few experiences with rejection in real-time, via video through the WriteOnCon, set of anxiety I hadn't felt before, and perhaps that contributes.
Regardless, hope, largely, flew from my brain, and I kept going simply because I had always promised myself that I would never, ever give up. Which is vital to having a writing career, and I stand by it, but it's pretty sad when that's your only reason for moving forward. I always loved to write, and I think I always will, but I lost faith.
Some of that was because of that doubt in my own ability. I know I'm not the best out there (I'm no "next J.K. Rowling" despite the popular compliment), and sometimes I don't know if I'm even good enough to be published. I've invested too much in this life to let that doubt sink in, though. I simply can't think of myself as not-good-enough, because if I do, then everything I've been fighting for is lost. Anyway, I believe enough in our ability to improve and learn over time that my current state of potential badness is generally irrelevant. This industry, this career, it's a lifetime kind of deal.
So most of the time, my discouragement wasn't in self-doubt, it was simply that I knew how hard the industry is to break into, and I didn't believe it was going to happen anytime soon, the way I had before. ("I'll be published before middle school... before high school... before I graduate college... IDK bro, nvm.") To see no end in sight--it's pretty hard to cope with sometimes.
Cue COCA. The instant Julia and I realized exactly how good the idea could be (in the comments here, history in the making), I felt the pressure. This was the most marketable idea I'd ever had. This book honestly is the first one in a while that I've felt could really break me into the industry. I knew it, all my writing friends knew it, and so even before I'd written a single word, I felt all the weight resting on this book. And it terrified me. For the first time, Codi really slipped her way into my writing world. Why? Perhaps because she was bored. By that time, a year and a half ago, I'd become pretty good at keeping her away from her usual avenues of torture, so I guess she decided to take a stroll this way.
Am I 100% sure that it's the OCD talking? No. As someone with a mental illness, it can be really hard to tell whether anxiety is because of my disorder or whether it's a natural kind that anyone would feel. I have to question my fear all the time, and sometimes it gets tiring, let me tell you. I'd like to just be afraid in peace (which makes no sense, but whatever).
Writer's doubt. Impostor syndrome. Both of these common occurrences align with what I've been feeling. I have an anxiety disorder, so it's never that simple. But even if my anxiety is writer's doubt and impostor syndrome, no OCD involved, it's become a problem. For the year and a half that I've been working on COCA, I've been fighting to get that work done in a way I've never had to before.
Because I'm terrified. I'm terrified that when my friends, who have been so overwhelmingly enthusiastic about this book, read it, they'll realize that the good idea became terrible (or even just 'meh') in my hands. I'm terrified that the first book in a long time that I believe could get me my big break will turn out to be a fantastic bust. Heck, I'm terrified that my first foray into having a cast mostly of PoC will turn out to be stupid and racist, that my portrayal of OCD won't resonate with other OCD patients, that my female character isn't strong or interesting enough. I am just scared that everything about this book will not live up to the potential I know it has.
I have never been afraid like this about my writing before, and it's choked my process. Generally, I'm a very fast worker. I write novels within the space of a month or two, and then get the books to them within the year to look over, and then, often, within another year I'm ready to send out. I'm just enthusiastic and determined and I have never ever felt before like I didn't want to finish. That's how I've written 18 novels in a 22 year lifetime.
With COCA, though, I am dragging my heels and stomping my feet and wincing my way towards the finish line. I won NaNoWriMo with the beginning of COCA, but I didn't get it actually finished until something like March of last year, because I dreaded it so much. To get it done, I ended up putting tons of brackets in the last section, things like "[insert romance subplot here]" and "[something about counseling here]."
Since then, I have been "officially" editing COCA, in the sense that it has been my only real writing project, but I have yet to get it to any readers. I am still the only one who has seen these pages (besides that half-chapter I posted here), and I am still coming up with a hundred things to edit. Which was bound to happen. The more practice I get, the better I get at seeing the things that need editing. It's a good thing. But then I drag my feet some more, and I take breaks for months at a time, and at this point, I'm a month and a half past the deadline I set for myself to get it to my first set of beta readers, which was already over a year after I'd finished the first draft.
The only real solution for writer's doubt is butt-in-chair. I mean, it's important to address the underlying issues in more serious cases, like me getting my OCD under control. But beyond that, it's the sort of thing you have to push your way through. Between the fibro and the OCD, I'm pretty bad at the pushing-my-way-through thing right now. Sometimes, I'm so tired that all I have the strength to do is watch episode after episode of Bones. It's frankly a miracle my grades aren't worse, because I'm not keeping up the way I should be on schoolwork right now either. I'm working on fixing the fibro as much as I can. But there's only so much I can do.
So that's the state of the union, fam. That's my apology for my slowness with COCA. Keep encouraging me, all right? But remember, I'm trying
And for all the writers out there, remember: writer's doubt is the #1 cause of writer's block. The solution? Butt-in-chair. You can do it. I believe in you!
Thanks for reading, guys! I'll see you again on Wednesday. Don't forget to vote in the poll below! *Poll closed*
Images via ljwilson.com, quotesgram.com, medium.com, and christawojo.com.
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