January 15, 2011

The Psychology of Writing, Part 1

Writing is hard… No, no, that’s not it. Writing is not hard; getting your writing read is hard. Hmm, that’s not exactly it either. Dealing with the rejection that goes with writing is hard. Actually dealing with success is hard too.

It’s the psychological aspect of it you see. If you are trying to get traditionally published (and for short fiction, I definitely am) it is a strange, strange dance. You do your best writing a story. Have some friends proof it for you (and probably not be straight with you about what they think about it; they don’t want to hurt your feelings); send it off to an editor; and more than likely get a polite “no thank you,” or if you are really lucky, a tersely worded “not quite bub.”

So how do you get better? The simplest advice is to write a lot and read a lot. Good advice, that, but not always satisfying, and it doesn’t appear to be particularly efficient. This is an “art” after all, and the quality of your writing is pretty damn subjective.

Another thing you can do is join a writers’ group. But hey, they’re in the same boat you are. How do they know if your writing is any “good.”

Or you can go to a workshop taught by professionals. Which takes time and money, but is probably a good idea, provided you have the psychological fortitude to do it. I would like to do that someday (soon), but I haven’t had a proper alignment of those three aspects (time, money, and psychological fortitude, that is).

It’s a strange roller-coaster. Some days I love my stories and characters; some days I think it’s all crap and a huge waste of time. Some days the words flow out and are a joy; some day’s it’s just work.

So I slog along, writing as much as I can, keeping stories out to market, collecting rejections, and sucking the high of an editor actually giving me a “not quite bub” for all it’s worth. The two stories I have had published were an unbelievable thrill, and powered me for a long time.

And it is hard work–psychologically. It’s one of those things that force you to grow, to get out of your comfort zone, to push on against the odds (well it does that for me, at least).

It’s kind of the “eat your vegetables” aspect of it. It may not be fun, but it is good for you, and you grow. I didn’t really expect it when I got back into writing, and at first I didn’t like it at all, but I am coming to appreciate it.

Or maybe a better metaphor is running. For runners, there is a lot of pain and discipline and work, but you keep at it for the “runner’s high.” Yeah, that sounds a lot like it. A writer keeps writing for the “writer’s high.” Things like:

  • An editor commenting on your story (even if it’s just to say it didn’t completely suck and has potential)
  • Reading your own story months (or years) later and being moved by it
  • The days when the words flow and you have no idea where they are coming from
  • Seeing your word in print, or online
  • Watching someone ready your story and seeing them laugh, or cry, or otherwise “experience” it.

The psychology of writing is complicated. It messes with your ego, digs deep into your psyche, and it is changes you (well it is certainly changing me). Hmm, maybe it is not the writing exactly that is doing the changing, but I am changing and growing to be a writer; changing into a writer.

There is an axiom about writers. It is simply, “writers write.” Which is true, but it hides the huge psychological aspects of the art. What I have found is the most challenging aspect is not story ideas, or grammar, or submissions, but the psychology of it all.

So if you are a writer struggling with the psychological aspects of it, my advice to you is: Take a deep breath and keep writing. You are not alone, all writers go through this, and keep going through this. It is just a part of the game.

OK, time to take my own advice. Deep breath… back to writing…


Don’t Miss: The Psychology of Writing, Part 2: The Shock Box


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Robert J. McCarter

Robert J. McCarter is the author of more than ten novels and over a hundred short stories...... learn more

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