Note 2: Normally I take Mondays off, but this post is actually from Friday. I'm going to switch the posting day on my update schedule. My writing times haven't really changed, I'm just not usually done with an edited post on Fridays by the time the east coast audience numbers start to go way down.
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox." I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I may not have all the answers for the truest of writerly existential crises, but I will try.]
Just a note before I jump into this question. My queue of questions isn't EMPTY, but I can kind of "see the bottom," and like a cat, I'm absolutely sure that this means I will soon run out and perish. So if you've got questions for me, now's a good time to send them.
I follow you on fb and I love your posts, I'm sure you get a lot of messages but if you have time I just have two questions. What advice do you have for someone who has a good story idea, wants to write and be published, but every time they sit down they can only produce complete and utter awfulness? At least in my opinion. I had people read my story and they say it's really good and engaging and I need to keep going but I just hate everything that that I come up with. Is there a way to get past that?
First of all, K, let me just tell you that I feel this so hard. The writer (the writer putting themselves "out there" at least) has the paradoxical job of remembering their flaws and fallibilities, being willing to hear criticism, facing the tough reality that they absolutely DO need an editor of some kind, and remembering that they are not God's gift to the written word.
It is also true that writers (writers putting themselves "out there" at least) have to have just a little bit of moxie. They have to have a voice telling them "the world needs this" that is just a TINY bit louder than the one that says "this is crap." They have to believe in their work.
It's a tough needle to thread. And all around it are the bones of those who've let either their hubris or their diffidence be their undoing.
If I had a little bit of time, K, I'd be asking you a bunch of follow-up questions, but I think I'm going to take a leap here based on a couple of the things you said, and if my advice sounds wildly off from the problem you feel like you're having, write me back and I'll let you "jump the queue" for a clarifying/more accurate question.
Fortunately for both of us, this isn't one of those times I just sit quietly with you through your existential writer crisis, hold your hand (metaphorically) and tell you platitudes about my years on the farm. (This is especially awkward stuff since I was never really on a farm—certainly not for years.) From the way you worded the question, it sounds like you're having a specific problem and fortunately there's an actual answer. And it's not even all that Master Po search-within-yourself-ish.
The way to get past what you're going through is to TRUST THE PROCESS. Right now you're sitting down and trying to write something good, and that's never going to happen. I don't mean that to land as shitty as it does, it's just all of us writers really have to get over the idea of writing something good on our first try. No one ever writes something good. I can't even sit down and write something good, and I've been at this (professionally) for years. With a lot of experience, you might be able to sit down and write something passable. But for now, "complete and utter awfulness" is absolutely what you're going for.
Good comes later.
Sometimes many many drafts later.
Revision is a part of the process. A crucial part. You can't just write something good. You HAVE to write something awful, get it out, and then begin the process of revising it INTO something good. And you have to get it out first, and you have to know that part is going to suck, and you have to be ready for the process to be annoying and messy because that process has entirely to do with how many times and how much you are willing to revise to improve the awfulness.
Peer review is also part of the process. (And it sounds like your friends are great and encouraging, but might not be giving you the kind of constructive feedback you want or need.) You need peers who are writing and reading at about your level…maybe even higher (although you might have to pay for their skills). You need them to tell you what doesn't work and what could use some extra attention. You need them to be a whetstone.
Hating what you're doing is a common thing among writers (and really all artists). But the thing that separates the artists who are able to keep going from the ones who give up and just hate their own work is that ones who keep going are able to tell they've got something there that can be drawn out, nurtured, and kindled into a flame if they just keep working at it. They know "it's not good now….but it will be." They see, even in the roughest drafts, what can be worked with and developed. Which means they (usually) skip the hating part; they just recognize that there's a lot of work still left to be done. And then they get to it.
They trust the process.