Persistence overcomes writer's doubt

Writer’s Doubt: Should you keep working on this manuscript?

New writers often arrive at my editorial doorstep with the same burning question: “Is my writing worth developing, or should I trash the whole project and call it quits?”

I get it. Writing a book would be much simpler if you could get a straightforward “This is fantastic, destined for publication!” or a blunt “This is a dud, give it another shot.”

Only neither of those responses to writer’s doubt is actually helpful.

Working through writer’s doubt

Writing a book is a massive undertaking, especially for new writers. When you’re starting out, it’s possible to spend years learning things about writing you weren’t even aware that you didn’t know—and then you have to practice those things, story after story, until you can pull them off.

This path contrasts sharply with the “rapid release” writing of today, in which authors churn out books in less time than new writers with full-time day jobs can even wrap their heads around an outline.

It’s crucial to grasp that rapid release strategies hinge on a solid foundation of story development knowledge (and a schedule permitting regular writing time). Rapid release writers are on the other side of the learning curve; they already possess the know-how to structure and craft compelling stories on a tight timetable.

A more typical fiction writer’s process involves multiple drafts, feedback from early readers, workshopping and peer critique, editing, and revisions, interspersed with intense periods of studying story structure and narrative technique.

Time to grow

Relatively few writers publish the early work produced during this process. “If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, ‘I’ll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!’ you would pity their delusion, yet beginning fiction writers all across the country polish up their best efforts and send them off to The New Yorker,” writes renowned author Ann Patchett. 

The most important thing to realize with a first manuscript is that this book may not be The One. Your earliest manuscripts may each be a personal milestone but probably not a publishable product. They say that most debut authors launch their careers with their fourth manuscript. It’s always possible that this story could strike it big, but more realistically, this manuscript will serve as the on-ramp to the next book you’ll write using what you’ve learned writing this one. 

But what most new writers don’t realize is that writing the book is the easy part. Even a total stinker of a draft can be re-envisioned and improved to some extent, and revision is where the magic happens. The real development and virtually all of the beautiful writing emerges during the layers of revision that follow “writing a book.”

Revision: The real “writing”

After the first draft is down on the page, the real work begins:

  • Determining how closely your current draft aligns with your intended vision for the story.
  • Shoring up the book’s structural foundation.
  • Deepening the protagonist’s character arc and infusing their perspective into every page.
  • Pinpointing the book’s market and target audience, positioning it to surprise and delight your ideal readers.
  • Amplifying your strengths as a writer.
  • Onboarding new narrative skills and techniques.

If you stopped working on your novel before you even got to those phases of development, you’d be giving up before giving the story—and yourself—a chance. And in that situation, the answer to the question of whether you should give up would be yes, because you weren’t willing to do the work.

The only person who can tell you whether you should keep writing is you. Only you know whether you have the grit, patience, willingness to learn and evolve, and determination to push this manuscript through the development cycle.

It’s a long road, but writers do it because they love the art and craft of it. If writing is what you want to do, you owe it to yourself to complete the entire process of learning how to do this new thing you want to do.

Related: Is my writing good enough?

Lisa Poisso, Editor and Book CoachUnderstanding how stories work changes everything. I’ll show you how to back up your creative instincts so your ideas hit home—from aspiring writer to emerging author. Ready to get serious about your book? Apply to work with me.

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