On Self-Doubt And The Second Draft
This blog post began life as a newsletter, alongside pictures from my writer’s notebook. If you would like to hear more about my current writing projects and my creative processes you can sign up here.
September marks two significant milestones in my writing journey – six months since I decided to focus on writing fulltime and, more importantly, the completion of the second draft of my novel.
In some ways this second draft was much harder than the first. The hurricane of creation was replaced with picking through the wreckage, I was basically rewriting from scratch and sometimes it seemed like the story was getting worse instead of better. In fact, I’m going to write a blog post on all this soon because there’s a lot of advice and thought written on the first draft but not many writers talk about the second. (I now know why: it’s too traumatic).
But, I made it.
(Celebrating the only way I know how, with beer, cheese and the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring).
What I want to share with you today though, are times when I thought I’d never make it. I’m hoping that by sharing these moments it will inspire anyone struggling to not give up.
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a bakery in Dunkeld (a wee village close to where I live), completely overwhelmed.
Only ten scenes stood between me and the end of draft two, yet I knew they would be the most difficult scenes I would ever write. It was the end of the book, something I had left rushed and open ended in my first draft. I knew it wasn’t right, but delayed fixing it until this moment. And now there was no place to hide.
So, I was troubled by how to end my book.
I was also equally troubled by my surroundings. How can the best almond croissant I’ve ever eaten in my life and a fine cappuccino be so unsettling? Well, this bakery is no ordinary bakery. It’s a bit posh. And I felt, not exactly out of place, but that I didn’t deserve to take up space here (metaphorically & literally, the bakery is tiny). My draft was unfinished, and I had doubts, close as I was, that I would ever finish it. So should I really be spending my dwindling savings on artisanal croissants and fancy coffee?
I observed my fellow bakery patrons: a gentleman in the classic tweeds and denim of the modern Highland gentry; a golden-haired artist; a contemplative teenager listening to her mother between slow sips of coffee. In the cool light of a Friday morning they all shared one thing in common - that calm subtle shroud of success.
An elusive club I couldn’t count myself a part of, with my mutilated draft, scuffed boots and pilling tights.
In reality, all these folk will have carried their share of secret troubles that I refused to see. During my worst bouts of self-doubt the smiles of strangers always signifies an anxiety-free contentment that my addled brain seems incapable of grasping.
Rewind even further back. Here are some pages from the start of the year, when I was at another sticking point in my rewrite:
I vaguely remember sketching these faces in a kind of meandering panic. The ideas were not flowing and I hoped that drawing some of my story's characters and settings might help. Surrounding the portraits are desperate scribbles of dialogue and description. At the time I thought these pages were worthless, yet reading them back it’s hard to tell that I was demotivated and lacking inspiration.
Obviously, to make it here, I got over that creative block, though I can’t pinpoint when or how. Maybe this demonstrates that, troublesome as it is, self-doubt is not the insurmountable roadblock to creation we lead ourselves to believe.
There is a way out, but only if we keep doing the work.
Yet, at the bakery feelings of self-doubt weighed so terribly that I forgot I could overcome obstacles. All my creative wins vanished from memory in the face of those final scenes.
And now that I’ve finished the second draft the elation I should feel is threatened by that same heaviness, a knowledge of the many problems I've yet to fix.
But instead of allowing those feelings of unworthiness take hold I am going to flip through my writer’s notebook, remind myself of the times I thought I couldn’t make it and how I kept going anyway.
Those first and second drafts did not write themselves, they are a product of sitting down to write even on days where every word is a battle.
I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s important to not give up. And to not tie your worth as a person to creating good art, because inevitably there will be days when creation seems impossible.
I obviously got through the sticking point at the start of the year, and I got through the overwhelming feeling I experienced at the bakery. So, for a change I’m going to take a day or two to appreciate that achievement before diving into edits.
Maybe I’ll even treat myself to a posh croissant.