Weekend Edition: On writer’s doubt plus good reads and writing advice

Welcome to the Weekend  Edition in which I share a little of what I’m up to with my writing (when I’m not here) and what I’m reading (between the covers and around the web). I’ll also pull back the curtain a little on my version of the writing life (but not so much as to be indecent).

I hope you enjoy this little diversion and encourage you to share your own thoughts, posts, and picks in the comments. I LOVE hearing from you and seeing the world from your perspective.

Happy writing! Happy reading! 

Jamie

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question roadAll Writers Doubt Their Ability. Every. Single. One.

Writers doubt their instincts. They doubt their talent. They doubt their choices. They doubt that they will ever be as good as the other writers they admire.

Doubt does not discriminate. It gets all of us – from the most virgin newbie to the most seasoned veteran.

Only last week, J.K. Rowling admitted that she regretted her pairing of Hermione and Ron in the Harry Potter series.

In a post inspired, I can only imagine, by that news, New York Magazine (not to be confused with The New Yorker) published a post chronicling the regrets of some of literature’s best known icons. Among those on the list are Mark Twain (who looked back and wondered if he should have written Tom Sawyer in the first person) and Stephen King (who rewrote almost every page of The Gunslinger for a later edition).

Even my recently rediscovered favorite, E.B. White, openly expressed his doubt. In a letter to his wife he despaired over progress on a piece he was writing, saying, “Have reached the stage where I am suspicious that it is perhaps the lousiest concoction I have dreamed up to date …” Boy, don’t we all know what that feels like!

So, the next time you’re feeling down about your work and facing down your demons while battling an awful case of comparisonitis, please remember that you are in good company.

What I’m Writing:

hayThis has been a very busy week in terms of client work, so I haven’t had a chance to do much personal writing except for my morning journaling.

Although I’m always so grateful to have work, I absolutely get frustrated when things get so busy that I have to rush through everything and still wind up working late (and early) and having to forego many things I would like to do (such as taking the day off to share my daughter’s snow day). The ebb and flow of work is, however, a very real part of life as a self-employed writer. Sometimes, work is scarce and you have to busy yourself with personal projects while you wait for the next paying gig. Other times, you manage to find the Holy Grail of the freelancer’s life – a balanced workload. And then there are the times when your work queue is like a slow-motion, twenty-car pile-up and all you can do is sit by and watch while clinging to the feeble hope that when everything stops spinning you’ll be able to go in with the jaws of life and extract survivors.

The key to survival is to roll with the punches. As I explained to my ten year-old daughter at bedtime last night, a self-employed writer has to make hay while the sun shines. Sure, it’s a bit stressful when all the work gets compressed into a short period of time; but even so I wouldn’t give up this lifestyle for anything. I know that, eventually, things will level off and I’ll have a few weeks of blissful breathing room. I can’t wait.

What I’m Reading:

Meantime, even though I haven’t had time for creative writing, I made time for some reading. I know enough that I can’t lose both my writing time and my reading time without risking my sanity. So, last weekend – when I found myself in a momentary lull brought about by the various balls I’m juggling being in other people’s courts – I parked myself on the couch with a couple of books and didn’t move for the better part of the day.

Interestingly, the two books I wound up reading this week are polar opposites in terms of style and craft, voice and genre, and even era.

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First, I blew through the middle grade novel, The Angel Experiment: A Maximum Ride Novel (Book 1) (affiliate link). I borrowed the book from the library for my daughter who recently read The Hunger Games trilogy and has since found every other book wanting. Betsy, a lovely woman and fabulous children’s librarian, recommended the “Maximum Ride” series by prolific author, James Patterson. I have never been a huge fan of Patterson because of  his writing “model” of working with ghost writers (something he discussed openly in an interview on NPR, “James Patterson on Writing All Those Books“). But, I was desperate to find something my daughter would read.

I read the entire book in just a few hours. It’s a fast-paced urban fantasy with chapters nearly as short as the ones in Dan Brown’s blockbuster, The DaVinci Code. The writing is simple and straightforward. There is lots of exposition. The characters are fairly one-dimensional. The plot twists feel manufactured and not totally unexpected. Reading this book was kind of like eating an entire bag of cheese curls in one sitting. It was entertaining, but there was no substance. Chewing gum for the brain. Still, if it gets my daughter to re-engage with the written word, I’ll be happy.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum is a collection of letters and essays titled E. B. White on Dogs (affiliate link).

Let me say that I have long been an ardent admirer of White’s work. His books Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little were two of my first favorite books. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I came across some of his essays and swooned a little. This collection is especially charming because each of the included items is somehow related to dogs, often to White’s own dogs, a diverse bunch but mostly comprised of dachshunds.

This is the kind of writing that on the one hand inspires me and on the other hand makes me want to abandon writing all together. Each of these pieces – whether a professionally published essay or a casual letter to a friend – is full of beautifully crafted sentences that elicited from me quiet but emphatic (not to mention outwardly audible) grunts of appreciation.

Reading two such different types of books, one so close on the heels of the other, forced a comparison that otherwise would seem ludicrous. But, like Andrea Badgley observed in her recent post, Growth Spurt, writers often become critical readers. While Andrea’s epiphany focused on the role of good structure in a work of fiction, I was struck by the vast range of quality. If The Angel Experiment was a bag of cheese curls, E.B. White’s writing was a beautifully arranged and deeply satisfying platter of fresh fruit, aromatic bread, and a selection of the finest cheeses money can buy … all accompanied by a perfectly paired glass of merlot with a bit of dark chocolate for dessert.

There really is no comparison when you get right down to it.

Does that mean I will never read another “cheese curl” book? Nope. I will read plenty of them, I’m sure. But, I will know and appreciate them for what they are, and I will only indulge every once in a while. After all, if people are what they eat, writers must certainly be what they read.

P.S. – Little side note and bit of trivia: our own Wendy Thomas is the great niece of E.B. White. Quite a nice, if intimidating, bit of literary heritage there!

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

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And that’s all from me.

I hope the rest of your weekend is full of time to write and read. Remember that we all have our doubts and the only thing to do is push past them and get the words on the page. You can figure out the rest after that.

Thanks for stopping by! See you on the other side. 


Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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54 thoughts on “Weekend Edition: On writer’s doubt plus good reads and writing advice

  1. “After all, if people are what they eat, writers must certainly be what they read.” This is genius, Jamie- I never thought of it that way. A writing friend asked me the other day, when I was really struggling with my work, do I read the type of work that I write? My answer was no, not as much as I need to to become better. I need to read more essays, more creative nonfiction, but what I want to read is more fiction. I don’t write what I read, and I’ve only recently begun reading what I write. It’s a pickle. But as you mentioned, when I read the greats, it makes me think I should cap my pen forever – I’ll never be that good.

    Then the compulsion hits to scribble in my notebook, and I read a post like this one reminding me that every artist has her doubts, and I write for me despite all the fear. Thanks Jamie.

    • Hello, Andrea.
      You’re not alone. For a long time (though I can hardly believe it now) I hardly read any fiction (or even creative nonfiction). Life had somehow gotten too busy and my mind was constantly preoccupied with other things. Looking back on this drought now, I wonder how I could possibly have let it happen. I also wonder how I could possibly hope to write when I wasn’t reading.

      I’m so glad to have rediscovered my reading groove, and to suddenly find so many wonderful resources (like the Creative Nonfiction site, the Full Grown People ezine/blog, Short Story Thursdays, etc.) It is an embarrassment of riches, but thank goodness for all of it – and the public library.

      Happy you’re always scribbling. 🙂

  2. You’re absolutely right: doubt doesn’t discriminate (unfortunately!) but it’s important to keep at it anyway. As a self-employed writer, this post really resonated with me, and it’s so helpful to hear insights from others who are doing the same thing. Thanks for sharing!

    • It IS important to keep at it anyway. The life of a self-employed writer is spent mostly working solo, but it’s good to know we’re not really alone. 😉 TKS for coming by!

  3. Great post! I love your Weekend Edition posts! They’re always so inspiring! I like how you talk about how we can read different things, even back to back, when to some it could look bewildering. I can hop from academic books for my research to leisure not so complex books. It depends on the mood. I think it’s important to be able to delve into what suits the moment and the state we’re in.

    Regarding the Rowling’s revelation about Ron and Hermione. I really wanted to bang my head against a wall, and not just because I like Ron and Hermione together. People will always agree or disagree with elements in a fictional universe. It just bugs me when people can’t just let go. I know it’s hard as a writer or for any other kind of artistic activity, but it seems like a foundation to me. Rowling’s comment just seemed like a gratuitous slap in the face to all her fans, both these who liked Ron and Hermione and these who didn’t. One way or the other, the books are what they are so ruminating over what if seems counter intuitive to me, especially in such a public fashion. For what if, there is fan fiction. Hmm, I’ll hop off my soapbox now.

    This week, I’ve started working on the last chapter of my upcoming book, and already did 3,900 words out of the15,000 it has to be. I’m quite happy with how this is going. It’s a chapter about what I call the mother warriors, and working on characters from Terminator, Battlestar Galactica and the X-Files. I’m also still continuing my blog series about romantic movies.

    On the reading front, I’m reading another Star Wars novel, this time set centuries before any of the movies. It’s Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void by Tim Lebbon. Great female protagonist and good story so far.

    • Always so nice to see you here, Natacha.

      You’re right about picking books to read based on mood. Maybe that’s why I usually have a few books in progress – so I can switch things up depending on my mood.

      Sounds like things are really moving along on your book. Excellent! I love the “mother warrior” concept. As a mom, I understand what that might feel like. What a great idea to explore.

      Enjoy your reading & your writing. 🙂

  4. Writing is the greatest thing for me ever. It is my life. It is my greatest passion. I love writing. It’s very amazing and something that has creativity. I love writing books and stories and essays. I always add to my blog because I love it. Right now, I am working on a book that I will publish internationally by the time I’m 12, in January 2016. I cannot reveal anything right now except for that it’s non fiction. Writing books is great and I think anyone can do it. You just have to have the time and effort. I am dedicating this book to my friends and parents and sister. This book will be my start to becoming an author. So be sure to look out on my blog for more info on this new book of mine.

      • Thank you Mme.Wallace. It means a lot to hear it from you. Fun is not always sitting on your couch playing video games, but is also going for a walk, reading a book ,or something else. You should be creative in your life time, because being creative turns you ideas better, and gives you more knowledge. When you go to school, you learn so many things, and latter all these things contribute to being creative. Being creative means that you imagination comes to life. while being creative you can do anything you like. If your imagination is telling you to make a new planet, then make one. Nothing is impossible. Our creative ideas move us ahead, and we accomplish so many things. Think of something that captures your imagination, and then keep it, and make it yours.

        When we came to earth,god sent with the same amount of creativity, deep within us. Now it is time to find it all, and show the world your talent!! I like to follow that saying that I heard about. There will be so many thing in life that you will not want to do, but you will end up doing then sooner or latter, so why not make it fun!? I’m not saying don’t take things seriously, but if you make them fun, you will have less trouble doing it.

        Even though you are having fun, don’t EVER race through your work. Yes, it might finish faster, but it will be messy, and it will not be your best work. Not doing your best work is terrible. So, make everything a joy, take it seriously, and do your best work, and everything will finish faster.

      • Have you ever felt like what you are just about to do is impossible? Well, I have but my best friend came to me and said ” YOU CAN DO IT” Now,those are the four words of encouragement. Life is full of obstacles, but there is always a way through everyone. Even though no one is there right beside you, remember these 4 words of encouragement, and it will help you move forward. So, don’t be scared to try the impossible, because nothing is impossible, and……………

        YOU CAN DO IT!

      • I love your enthusiasm and optimism, Abi. Don’t ever lose that. It will see you far and through anything that life can throw at you. Joy is the key. 🙂

      • I’ll write from the heart. I love blogging because it’s like a growth in life, a record of who I am. I would love to connect with my readers through my blog and that’s why I’m always open to comments. By the end of the year, I hope to get a variety of followers and more traffic. I also hope my blog isn’t just an average blog, a blog that people read and learn from, a blog where people come together to share thoughts, a community. One of the wonderful things about blogs is the growth, the learning and the interactions but it’s good to know where and why you started.

      • I think something that i find interesting in a blog is the media piece of it. I think what makes it attractive is something very important in a bloggers website. I don’t know a single blogger who doesn’t apprieciate comments either because as a blogger myself i find them inspiring and they always push me to success.

      • Thank you so much. You are like my role model in blogging. I was thinking of making a post about you because you are so inspiring and I am sure it can inspire other people

      • You are so kind, Abi. 🙂 That’s very nice of you and I’m flattered. Please do feel free to email me (jamie @ suddenlymarketing .com) if you have specific questions you’d like me to answer. I love “talking shop” and sharing the bits and pieces I’ve learned with others. TKS!!

    • I think it’s so great and you and your sister chat about these posts. That makes me smile.

      Thanks for coming by. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

  5. Wow. I WISH I ran into this blog years ago when I, as Andrea Badgley wrote, capped my pen. I’ve uncapped since then (b/c I couldn’t look at a blank paper and not want to scribble all over it), but oh the semi-wasted time! Thank you so much for this post and for the encouragement to continue crafting!

    • Ha ha. Love your dramatic stage direction. 😉

      Yes, killing those little darlings IS hard. I tend to save them in an early draft or even in notes (if I’m using Scrivener). That way, it feels less like I’ve killed them and more like I’ve simply sent them into exile. It’s kinder that way, but I’m still able to do the editing that needs to be done.

  6. I always enjoy your ‘Weekend Edition’ posts. You seem to speak to so many of us as writers and nail all of the insecurities and quirks that we all seem to share..

    Great post!

    Heather xxx

    • I’m so glad & am happy you’re here.
      These are some of my favorite posts to write. I love sharing the goodies I’ve found around the web and rambling on casually about whatever’s in my head.

      Now, if I could just figure out how to share a cup of coffee via the blog!
      😉

  7. My reading styles are all over the place, consistently. Friends have asked, “what’s your favorite book or who is you favorite author” and I can’t seem to pick just one…I sometimes think I am wishy washy or maybe it’s just that I love them all equally 😉
    Thank you for the we are not alone in doubt reminder! Great post 🙂

    • I’m the same way – reading every type of book (except maybe horror) and bouncing back and forth from fiction to nonfiction, genre to literary. Come to think of it, I’m the same way with music. I don’t think it’s wishy-washy. I think it’s eclectic. 😉

      TKS for coming by!

  8. Doubt has always been a huge thing that slows me down when I write. It’s great to hear that I’m not alone and that even the most popular writers also struggle with this demon. Usually when I get to that stage I turn to my friends who always give me the support I need to continue on.
    Great post!

    • “I get by with a little help from my friends … ”

      I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful circle of writer friends who totally “get” the struggles we all face. It’s so great to be able to commiserate and seek support without having to explain my crazy “logic.”

      Glad you have a similar support network.
      Down with doubt!

  9. Good to know I’m not the only pathetically insecure writer out there. I swear, even when I write a piece I’m proud of, I undersell it. Maybe we just all always know we can be better… ? And of course, that some of it is a bunch of crap. 🙂

    • You shouldn’t feel pathetic. Being insecure is part of human nature. I’ve often heard it said that good writers doubt their ability while mediocre writers have no doubt that they are The Real Thing.

      Carry on. Don’t beat yourself up about your doubt, but don’t undersell yourself either. 😉

  10. “All writers doubt their abilities”– my absolute favorite line. Many out there still believe that they are the only ones that write and re-write seeking newsworthy perfection in each line. I’m one of them. Thank you for that post.

    • Most accomplished writers agree that the magic is in the rewriting, so I think we’re all in good company! 🙂

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  12. Sometimes it’s just hard to force myself to approach writing as a job. But punching those keys under my fingers is not always easy even if I get a paying gig. Gigs that pay usually aren’t something I enjoy these days.

    • I understand that struggle. Money drives a wedge between artist and art, but it is a part of reality’s equation. When I’m facing that struggle (which I did this weekend in a BIG way), I just push forward one word at a time. Eventually, I have enough words that I can go back and start to edit and polish. For those kinds of projects, that’s the best part for me.

  13. Jamie, I stumbled on to this blog today and I am glad that I did. It is comforting to read that even the “greats” occasionally have doubts about their writings and are prone to making comparisons to people they admire. I am new to WordPress and only became a member this month. I joined because I ignored my voice a long time ago-which I ignored thinking “everyone wants to be a writer, who Hell do I think I am?” I did so even when one of my professors told me that he wanted to mentor me, when I was in college and I later changed my major to a science-based field out of practicality. I hope to change my lapse, even at this point in my life, because I have to believe everything happens for a reason and maybe now, my voice is the one I am supposed to have. Thank you for your article and for giving hope to a writer at heart-even one who is unemployed and has a mind full of wanderlust.

    • If you feel an urge to write and you actually make the time to put words down, you are a writer. Your voice will come in time and with practice. As to who the hell you are – you are you, the only you who will ever exist and if you have something to say, it should be said.
      So glad you’re coming back to your writer self. Enjoy the journey!

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