The wolf, he’s an asshole
Have you ever had those moments where you look at something you once thought was a great idea and suddenly hate it?
Nope? Just me? Well, I must be special then.
I am very much aware that I am not alone in this, nor am I special because of it.
My lame joke aside, don’t you just hate it? That feeling of utter betrayal? That feeling that your brain has tricked you? Something that looked so perfect, so fully formed that you couldn’t help getting excited, suddenly looks flat, unengaging and completely convoluted.
I had this happen to me recently.
I’ve been reading this fantastic book called the Science of Storytelling by Will Storr. It is a very interesting book, looking at why we, as humans, tell stories and why certain things prevail in many stories despite the tellers being continents apart. It’s part psychological look at the human condition and part writing instruction manual.
Whilst I was reading this I was also working on my next novel; one that I’m working on alongside Walk in the Woods, which I’m taking a little break from. I was working on the plot and crafting my main few characters. I was reasonably happy with what I was pulling together. My main character seemed believable, had depth and his motivations were clear. The plot was engaging, so I hoped, as well as believable and reasonably well paced.
Then I hit the latter third of The Science of Storytelling and suddenly my main character looked flat, and my plot sounded convoluted, cliché and crappy.
My motivation tanked.
When this feeling hit there were two wolves inside me, and they were fighting tooth and nail. To the victor would go the ability to dictate my actions.
One wolf was saying that this sucked, I should just give up and probably comfort eat as well, why not? This wolf was an asshole.
The other wolf was saying that wasn’t it fantastic that this happened now, at this early stage in the process? Wasn’t it great that I was learning so much from this book that I could see my mistakes? Wasn’t it great that I was making my craft better? With this new information, I could make this next book the best thing I had written to date! Wasn’t that exciting? This wolf was not an asshole but was far too excited by what felt like a failure.
Now it’s obvious, even to me, which of these wolves should win the fight. But I am not going to sit here and pretend that the ‘give up now you loser’ wolf wasn’t the more tempting option, at least for a bit.
The ‘you’re a loser’ wolf required very little effort on my part. I just had to stop and goodness me that was a temptation. When you’re tired and fed up, just stopping is a very alluring prospect. It’s why I’m a very strong advocate for taking regular breaks from projects and work in general, it makes that temptation less tempting when you’re not shattered.
I did eventually manage to tell the ‘you’re a loser’ wolf to go fuck itself and I listened to the wolf that, in my head, sounded like it had eaten far too much sugar. I didn’t scrap what I had already, instead I opened a new document and started planning again, sometimes pulling ideas from my first attempt over into the second attempt.
Anyway, why am I telling you this?
I’m writing to you about this experience to tell you that you’re not alone when you feel that sinking dread in the pit of your stomach when an idea that was once so shiny suddenly looks like it’s been covered in poop. You’re not alone when you want to listen to the ‘give up loser’ wolf and that reading books about writing craft is a truly invaluable experience.
Practice is great, it’s better than great it’s essential. But just because you’re writing regularly doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Never stop learning, there’s always something that can be made better. There’s always more work that can be done.
Even when it fucking sucks to do it.