Two weeks ago, Michael Dellert was on my blog giving fiction writing tips about ‘How to Get Your Novel Started.’ The weeks after, I was struggling with the move to the new domain (I hope I haven’t lost any of my blog-friends!). But today he’s back with the second instalment of his fiction writing tips: How to deal with the Sabotuer
He’s going to share some of his tips on writing fiction (I’ve highlighted the stuff I like in bold!). Take it away, Michael!
He’s known by different names in many cultures: Angra-Mainyu, Shaitan, Fer Dearg, and many more besides. He (and just as often She) is the Adversary, the destructive spirit of falsehood and deceit that leads one astray, the coffee table in the dark that you keep banging your metaphorical shins on. I call Him, “The Saboteur.”
Novelists (and writers in general) are always insecure about their work, but we’re at our most vulnerable when we’re first starting out. Not long ago, when I took up the mantle of “writer” seriously for the first time, I joined a writing group and shared early chapters of a work-in-progress. When “That Guy” tore apart my work for the first time, I was deeply shaken, and even convinced, for a few days, that he was right: I was a terrible writer and never should have left my day-job.
Most writers like to encourage beginners, but some feel the need to cull the competition. Even more commonly, non-writers make disparaging remarks without meaning them. They don’t understand that a wrinkled nose can seem like the deathblow to an entire writing career.
These are all faces of The Saboteur. So be choosy about whom you discuss your material with, especially in the early stages. If you tell someone that you’re writing a novel and they want to know what it’s about, try this:
• Explain politely that you don’t discuss works-in-progress. Most people will have heard that one before, and it has the added benefit of cloaking you in “mystique.”
• If that feels too uncomfortable or pretentious, just give a vague answer like, “Oh, it’s this fantasy thing.” Leave it at that.
Guaranteed, if you start a long summary of the plot, the person’s attention will wander off somewhere in the middle, or he’ll suddenly spot an old friend across the room. You’ll have gained nothing except another reason to doubt yourself.
There’s another, even more important reason for exercising this restraint:
• You should take the excitement you feel for your work into the work itself.
If you casually discuss what you plan to write about, you lessen some of your drive to do the actual writing, and you invite The Saboteur into the dark empty space between “One day I’m going to write a novel” and “Today I am writing a novel.”
For the same reason:
• Don’t repeat all those great, funny, lyrical, and insightful lines you dreamed up today with your friends.
If they laugh, you have a little less reason to go back and make them even funnier, more lyrical, and better, because you’ve just received a little satisfaction from having written them at all. And if they don’t laugh? Here comes The Saboteur, with a cart-load of self-doubt for you.
Don’t get me wrong. You do want to get feedback on your work-in-progress. But maybe wait until you’ve finished the whole first draft. Maybe share it only with a few trusted friends whom you’ve carefully cultivated as critics (like Damyanti!). Find a writing group that works with you, not against you. Don’t give The Saboteur any room to cloud your judgment with fear and loathing. Or better yet, turn this Adversary into an ally. Recognize that fear and self-doubt are the most common of human emotions, and put those feelings into your work, rather than setting them against it. When your readers say, “Wow, I’ve felt exactly like that,” you’ll be glad that you did.
For more fiction writing tips on putting The Adversary back in the box where he belongs, check out my #13WeekNovel series. And keep writing!
Michael E. Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He currently works as an independent freelancer. He is the author of the fantasy fiction novella, Hedge King in Winter: First Tale in the Matter of Manred, now available from Amazon for print and Kindle, and from Barnes & Noble for Nook, and will soon be announcing the release of his next work, A Merchant’s Tale: The Second Tale in the Matter of Manred. He lives in the Greater New York City area.
What about you? Do you have bouts of self-doubt while writing fiction? Have you wrestled with The Saboteur, the sworn enemy of all authors? Do you have questions for Michael? Any fiction writing tips of your own to share? Have at it in the comments!
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