The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”
– Neil Gaiman
To all writers who are reading this, have you ever read through your writing and thought that it was the worst thing ever? Or have you ever worked on something and think that this is just the stupidest pile of crap that you’ve ever seen? Well, you’re not alone. Every writer experiences this. Even the good ones. Don’t believe me? That quote above is by Neil Gaiman. Yes, that Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and Good Omens.
It’s natural to feel that way because at the end of the day writing is a creative work and it’s easy to experience self-doubt when it comes to creativity. Because let’s face it, creative work is subjective. While it’s easy to identify the bad from the good, the in-betweens aren’t as clear cut. This is especially difficult in writing as a novel contains various elements – the plot, the characters and the prose. Is a book with great plot but poor prose still a good book? What about the opposite? Anyway, this is a tangent which I could turn into another post. Probably.
Writer’s blue happens when the momentum dies, the spark of inspiration long gone and you start to feel the grind. Putting down word after word is hard when you’re not feeling motivated. Passive sentences slip into your writing, adverbs are everywhere and the story is going nowhere. Characters feel dead and the plot doesn’t flow well. And then you start thinking if this is all worth it. If your work would even get read or if anyone would want to read it. And then you start to realize that your work resembles nothing of that brilliant idea you had many moons ago. You’re tempted to stop or even delete the entire thing. But don’t do that. Just keep writing. Eventually, one day, you’ll see it through. And when you’re done, read your work after a month or two and see if you’re still thinking the same thoughts. It’s good to get into the habit of actually finishing your work before you judge it, unless it’s something really, really bad. First, it allows you to judge the thing as it is instead of what you thought it would become. Second, it lets you experience writing an ending and help improve your skills in that area.
I’ve experienced two types of thought changes after I finished writing. Upon finishing my first novel, I thought it was a decent book that could be salvageable with revision. But when I read it again, I realized that it was poor, had subplots that went nowhere and characters that popped up and then never showed up again. But I still kept it. Maybe someday I’ll go back to it and rewrite the entire thing and the foundations of it will have been laid. When I finished my second novel, I thought it was the worst thing ever. I didn’t even bother to reread until about six months later. When I did, I thought that it was decent, had a few scenes that could use an overhaul and the world building needed some strengthening, but other than that it was a fairly cohesive story from start to finish. Way better than I first thought.
There’s no real “cure” for writer’s blue. The only way to overcome it is to just keep writing. I know it’s easier said than done. I’ve experienced it many times. And when you do experience it, just know that it’s a common thing and most people experiences this. So keep going and happy writing!