I don’t usually talk about the hard times I’m having in my life with the public, since I prefer private settings where I talk about them with the people I know more intimately. But I’ll share something now because it has a positive message.
Some of you know that I’ve been working on my novels for the last few years, and I basically let go of my budding career as a music composer for film and games to focus on writing novels (though there were other reasons too, related to the way the music industry and society’s relationship with music has devolved into something depressing in the modern Internet age).
Those who know me knows how passionate I can be when I get serious about something. I could focus with an obsessiveness that can be frightening, and when I’m in good shape, I’ve got ample discipline and tenacity that feels like a reassuring force propelling me forward, and I can sustain that level of intensity for several years at a time. I’ve always been a very idealistic, confident person, but I’m also not deluded and know my limitations and my place in the world. I pursue my creative passions first and foremost for my own fulfillment, and if the world enjoys what I share with it, then that’s just icing on the cake. And I’ve been this way ever since I decided to dedicate my life to creative passions at age 13.
But I have moments of doubt and discouragement too. Sometimes I get so critical of my own inadequacies that I want to give up, and I felt it very strongly last night.
I was reading back some chapters I had previous written for Darkness Falls (book one of an epic urban fantasy series with philosophical and sociopolitical themes), and suddenly, what I thought was pretty good writing seemed so below my own standards of excellence that I was horrified. I’ve read those same chapters I’ve written before many times (unavoidable since I don’t do the typical process of quick first draft, revision, edit, etc. My process is more fluid, where they all sort of happen at once), and they always sounded fine (I use text-to-speech to listen to my writing, so I can make sure the syntax and cadence don’t just read well, but sounds good too. It’s necessary in this day and age of audio books). So why did those chapters suddenly sound so bad? Was it due to an inexplicable momentary brain chemical imbalance that made me a lot more negative than I normally am? Or was I simply hearing problems I never noticed before? I’ve had similar sobering experiences in the past but it hasn’t been this bad for a long time.
I was so appalled by my own writing that I started asking myself, “What the hell have I been writing in the last few years? Is this the best I can do as a writer? If so, this is fucking depressing and I don’t know if I can go on.”
I did a lot of thinking and soul-searching that night. I reminded myself that I’m not the type to give up easily, and that I have endured lots of hardships in the past for my creative passions and what I believed in as a person. I have literally starved for my dreams early in my career when I was working as a comic book creator/writer/artist (no money to buy grocery or pay the rent and bills), and I kept at it until the comic book industry completely crashed and making a decent living became impossible. I’ve always been a fighter and I’m still one, so giving up is out of the question, which means I have to find solutions to my problems if I want to continue the fight. So before going to bed, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I can do to change things–concrete steps I can take to improve my writing that I haven’t already tried, or push myself past thresholds I had bumped up against previously.
Today, I took action. I analyzed what the problems were, how I could fix them, and how I could improve my writing in the future in tangible ways that will have clear results. I took the first chapter of Darkness Falls and started ripping it apart at the word level. I assessed the syntax and diction and cadence with a higher standard than I had previously, and any sentence that didn’t meet the high standard will need to be completely rewritten. I searched for storytelling that impeded the pacing, or lacked a sense of purpose, or simply wasn’t compelling enough. I tore entire sections out, and killed some darlings I had previously held on to for dear life. I tightened my prose and kept vigilant in maintaining a more compelling voice, and didn’t allow myself to just “lay down a quick first draft and edit later.” That approach simply does not work for me because I need to be able to read back what I’ve written and see quality, so I can have a frame of reference for the target quality as I move forward.
It worked. By being absolutely ruthless with my own writing and tearing apart where it needed complete rewrites, I vastly improved both the storytelling and the prose, and it felt really good to reaffirm that if I put my mind to it and am willing to do the hard-work, including being ruthless with myself and setting new standards, I can achieve transformations that make me a better writer.