I think that one thing that is universally experienced by writers is the crisis of confidence. In other words, doubt or the ever-present voice of your inner critic. (For my post on the inner critic, you can go to Sh*t My Inner Critic Says.) Anyway, I've been having a small crisis of confidence lately and this time it's quite different than periods of doubt in the past. Regardless what stage you're at, crises of confidence are usually characterized by sweaty palms, dry mouth, insomnia, overeating or loss of appetite, racing thoughts, gnawing doubt in your ability to form sentences, persistent ideas that your story or book sucks the big one and a strong inclination to give up writing completely.
Right now I'm here: I've been on submissions for going on 10 months now (for my first book; we just started trying to sell my second book about 3 months ago). While I've had a lot of requests for fulls and while I would consider many of my rejections to be good ones in that they say something positive about my work, I can't shake the fear that it's not going to happen. It doesn't help that none of the deals reported in Publishers Marketplace lately are comparable to what I've written. All I see lately are deals for cozies and no offense to cozy writers but whenever I think of cozies I feel like--at least on the surface--the genre is trying to make murder somehow cutesy and quaint. Having been personally acquainted with a killer, I can tell you in no uncertain terms there is nothing cute or quaint about murder. I resent that any class of books would attempt to make it so and invite cozy lovers and writers to please explain this genre to me. Anyway, lately more often than not I wake up feeling frustrated and thinking what the heck is the point of working on my new novel? Why should I believe that my writing will have improved from my last book and the one before that and the one before that? Why should I think that this time things will be different? Why am I doing this at all? I've heard of writers getting book deals in 2 months. Here I am going on 10. I'm not feeling good about myself or this glacially slow process.
I used to be here:
Literary Agent Purgatory: It took me four years to get an agent. FOUR YEARS. That's a Bachelor's degree. Almost half a decade. I can't tell you how many times I almost threw in the towel. There was always the doubt over whether or not my query was good enough. Is 4 requests out of 50 queries really good or am I crazy? That can't be good. Or can it? What percentage does that work out to? Crap. Math was never my strong suit. But what about Agent Z who said that the project sounded intriguing but wasn't for her? Does that mean my query is good? If it's good then how come more agents aren't asking for my book? Maybe I should revise it. Maybe I should revise my book. Agent X said she was halfway through it and loved it. Surely that means it's good. Then how come she didn't call me again for two years? Is it good or not? Agent Y said he loved it too. That has to mean it's good. But how come he didn't offer me representation either? Three revisions later surely the book is better. Surely these agents will sign me now. Or do I just suck? How can I tell? I can't tell but geez it's been a long time. If I haven't scored an agent now I must really be bad. Sure my mom says it's just my timing and this new revision will really knock agents' socks off but she's my mom. She HAS to say that. This isn't going to happen. I can't believe I ever thought I was good enough to get an agent. Who I am kidding? I must be mentally ill. What kind of person would do this for years and not give up?
Then there are doubts about your abilities:
Every word that comes out feels painful and awkward, like peeling off a scab. You're one sentence into the scene you're writing and already you're editing yourself, worrying over every word. "There was a tense moment . . . no that sounds stupid. It was tense in the car. No that sounds even worse. Tension filled the car. That's a little better. Now where was I? Oh crap. What's the point? I can't write. This is stupid. I can't put one sentence together. Forget about writing a whole story. The idea for this book is stupid anyway. Been done a million times. Mine will just go down in history as the worst version of this premise ever. What in the name of all that is holy made me think I could write?"
Then there is the inability to finish anything:
In my early 20s (and I've talked about this before) I started about 7 novels and I didn't finish a single one. In some cases I would start out with no idea where I was going, writing from an image or a character or a question and burning out when the plot stalled or when I realized the book didn't have a plot. Other times I would know the plot from start to finish and yet, I still couldn't finish. Sometimes the temptation of a shiny, new, exciting project was too great and I would abandon the fully plotted book for what author Heather Sellers calls "Sexy Next Book"--the idea for your next book. The one that is so fresh it's not going to be hard work to start writing it. It will be exciting and fresh and the words will flow like a waterfall from your pen. It's the equivalent of the novelty period in your dating life. You meet someone new. For a few weeks or months you're floating around on a cloud of happiness. Your feet don't touch the ground. You're so enthralled that you can't eat or sleep but you've never felt better in your life. Then, just like your writing project, it becomes work. That happened to me a lot with writing projects. Finally there were the books that I was too intimidated to write. I would write a few chapters, do an outline of the rest of the plot and then become paralyzed with thoughts that the book was far too ambitious for me. While it sounded great, I would never be able to pull it off. Lots of unfinished books . . .
No matter what stage you're at it's easy to become paralyzed by doubt, fear, frustration, even disgust. What kinds of crises of confidence have you had as a writer?