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Author Topic: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way  (Read 1890 times)

Offline H.O.Charles

Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« on: November 27, 2015, 06:01:33 PM »
Hello all. Haven't been on here for a while, but thought I'd pop in to ask for some help. I'm in the midst of trying to finish book 6 of a series, but I'm feeling like complete and utter rubbish. Every time I look at the page, I think I can't do it or I'm not good enough, and so nothing gets written. Then I feel like even more of a failure for having written sweet FA all day. I have at least two (!) fans waiting for the next vol., but I'm finding it tough. Publication was supposed to be in July and people are getting annoyed.

Royalties are enough to cover me for now, but the partner feels I'm not pulling my weight with paying bills for fun things/outings etc., which is also getting me down.

I've suffered with low confidence all my life, and usually the perfectionist bit of it works hard enough to turn out something nice, but right now it's crippling. I'm wondering what everyone else does to avoid it... Advice please?!
 :'(
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2015, 06:19:31 PM »
Suffering from that a lot at the moment as well; a lot of the advice I've read basically says to just push through it. Naturally, that's about the least helpful advice imaginable, akin to telling someone with an illness to "just get better".

The piece of advice that has been most helpful was buried in an article about plotting: if you're stuck for some reason and nothing feels like it's working, it might be worth taking a step back and revisiting the plot, characters, and setting of the novel to see what might be the cause of the problem.

I think the same principle also applies to confidence in general. If you're lacking confidence, then that probably means you're thinking about your writing too much. Taking a step back and thinking about the story without thinking about the writing itself/your confidence issues could be really helpful. Something about it must have inspired you to write it in the first place - a sense of setting, a character, a situation, etc - so maybe taking some time out to recapture that feeling could help get you back into the writing zone rather than thinking about the mechanics of it all too much.

For us at the moment it's a bit of both - we realised we need to know more about the setting and the supporting characters before we can continue, but we also need to stop worrying too much about what people think about our writing itself. The first one is pretty easy - just more worldbuilding - it remains to be seen how easy we'll find the second!
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Offline Lanko

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Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2015, 06:57:17 PM »
I remember a lot of good stuff from Stephen King's On Writing.

"The biggest aid to regular production is working in a serene atmosphere. It's difficult for even the most naturally productive writer to work in an environment where alarms and excursions are the rule rather than the exception."

Maybe you could use a change of writing place? Like in a more open place, like a park or something, in the sun. Also, you are under a lot of stress. He also recommends some exercise, like a bit of walking/running. It alleviates a bit.

So go take a walk. Swim. Punch a sandbag.

"In an early interview, a radio talk-show host asked me how I wrote. My reply - One word at a time."

One word at a time. You already did it 5 times. You can do the sixth.
Most people are never published. Most people never write a second book. You are on your way to the sixth, man. If you didn't had it in you, you wouldn't have come this far. So take pride in that. 
Slow and steady wins the race.

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Offline Lanko

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Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2015, 07:24:45 PM »
More from King:

Spoiler for Hiden:
I lean more heavily on intuition, and have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story.

I want to put a group of characters in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn't to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety -  those are jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot - but to watch what happens and then write it down.

The situation comes first....

Once this things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate. I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way.

In some instances, the outcome is what i visualized. In most, however, it's something i never expected."

About what people will think if you do X or Y:

Spoiler for Hiden:
"There are lots of would-be censors out there, and although they may have different agendas, they all want basically the same thing: for you to see the world they see... or to at least shut up about what do you see that's different. They're agents of the status quo.

He also had a very hard block during one of his longest novels, the Stand. Probably the best part for you:

Spoiler for Hiden:
I liked my story. I liked my characters. And still there came a point when I couldn't write any longer because I didn't know what to write. I had come to a place were the straight way was lost.

... five hundred pages was too great an investment, both in time and creative energy; I found it impossible to let it go.

There was this voice whispering to me that the book was going to be good, and i didn't finish I would regret it forever.

... I started taking long walks. I took a book or magazine on these walks but rarely opened it, no matter how bored I felt looking at the same old trees and the same old chattering, ill-natured jays and squirrels. Boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam. I spend those walks being bored and thinking about my gigantic boondoggle of a manuscript.

For weeks, I got exactly nowhere in my thinking - it all just seemed too hard, too fucking complex. I had run out too many plotlines, and they were in danger of becoming snarled. I circled the problem again and again, beat my fists on it, knocked my head against it... and then one day when I was thinking of nothing much at all, the answer came to me.
It arrived whole and complete - gift-wrapped, you could say - in a single bright flash. I ran home and jotted it down on paper, the only time I've done such a thing, because I was terrified of forgetting.

... At one moment I had none of this; at the next I had it all. If there is any one thing i love about writing more than the rest, it's that sudden flash of insight when you see how everything connects.

Later, I was able to get a better fix on what had stopped me so completely mid-course; it was a lot easier to think without that voice in middle of my head constantly yammering: "I'm losing my book! Ah shit, five hundred pages and I'm losing my book! Condition red! CONDITION RED!"

I was also able to analyze what go me going again and appreciate the irony of it: I saved my book by blowing approximately half its major characters to smithereens in Las Vegas.

« Last Edit: November 27, 2015, 07:29:03 PM by Lanko »
Slow and steady wins the race.

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Offline Lanko

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Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2015, 07:43:28 PM »
Super big names also passed by that:

Brandon Sanderson almost gave up, even after writing 12 (!) novels:


Jim Butcher's journey:


This one is also from Jim Butcher. He collected the worst possible reviews of his books and posted in a single thread, and says at the end how hard is sometimes to keep motivated. Getting the books out may not relieve you!

I didn't yet read any of his books, but man, I feel a lot of empathy for the author, to keep going, so he is on my top list of "To Read As Soon As I Can".


I think even George Martin at some point didn't believe in himself after a disastrous bad book (in his own words) and almost gave up, but still managed to write Game of Thrones.

So it happens with everyone at some point, it seems. Probably the authors here will have better comments and encouragements, but that's what i could think of.
Slow and steady wins the race.

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Offline D_Bates

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Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2015, 09:59:14 PM »
I have this quite a lot, so you're not alone, and I think a lack of self confidence is about as cliche writer as you can get. In my eyes, if you don't doubt yourself, you're no longer pushing yourself to be better, and that can never be a good thing.

In terms of beating the block, I find the best cure is to force myself to write. Once I get going I often don't stop, but it's putting down that first paragraph that's often the most daunting bit keeping me frozen.

I skimmed the comments on King, and I fully agree with finding your own personal space away from your primary life. I do most of my work in a Starbucks cafe with the internet switched off, because if I try and do it at home I'm constantly drawn to clicking through my routine of web pages every 10 minutes.

On a final note, when I get really stuck on a specific scene/place that doesn't seem to be working out, I now just move on and go back to it. I've found that writing where I'm ending up is a great help to build how I get there, as setting up the cool details that crop up during that big moment can often be the missing pieces that wrap up taht difficult scene/section that I know deep down wasn't fully there yet. I also find taking long walks does wonders for the imagination. Some of my most creative scenes have just popped into my head during the 45 minute strolls I take to and from town.
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Offline zmunkz

Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2015, 03:21:39 AM »
I strongly encourage you to just write anyway, even if it sucks.  Once you have the shitty version written, its much easier to do another pass and make it better, and then even another if you need... it works for me.  Push through, even if its awkward and shi*ty, and it will unclog you.  GL bouncing back!
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Offline Adrian_Selby

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Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2015, 01:22:28 PM »
Hi H.O.

Interested to know if you feel like it's you or the book specifically.  With a book that feels like it's just going nowhere I retreat to the characters and their bios, work out why I'm not in love with them enough to keep telling their story.  Or it has been because I don't believe anyone else would be interested in their story, so I ask myself why, and it's a bit like self-flagellation but it clears the fug away, when I'm honest about a story or the characters in it being a bit safe.  Usually it's because I don't know the characters well enough, I'm not close enough to them to root for them and, of course, to mess up their lives as much as I can to see how far I can push them and how I can help them get over that.

If however it's more self belief that's lacking, that's a different country :)
You've written five books, that's four more than me :) Hopefully you've learned some stuff, but again, is it that you don't feel you're developing as an author?

Offline H.O.Charles

Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2015, 02:00:37 PM »
Thank you, everyone, for all your encouragement and advice!

I think the principal problem I had was that I didn't feel what I'd already done was as good as something else I'd read, and that I could never be good enough... etc. etc. I knew what needed writing, and who the characters were, but just putting a sentence down and being confident that it had any artistic merit was something that wasn't happening.

I still feel a bit like that, but I took some of the advice above and started writing out the plot in note form as part of the same document. It meant the pressure to be a literary genius was taken off for a while (!) so I actually achieved something and was properly drawn into the story again. You know when you feel like you've only got your toes in it, and in previous books the rest of you has been towed under by a full-sized kraken of storyline emotion?! Well, what was happening was that I was dabbling my toes and no kraken was making its tentacle-y appearance. Just a load of slow-moving worms.

So yeah, angry kraken is back. I'm still not hammering the keyboard at full speed, but am better than I was.

I definitely don't write in the same way as Stephen King, but his ideas about finding somewhere serene certainly make sense! I've moved to a different room, which is empty of distractions, but by god is the chair uncomfortable! Ow!

New puppy coming in a month or so. That'll make things tricky! Had better get writing while it's still quiet. Thanks again, all.




« Last Edit: November 30, 2015, 02:38:40 PM by H.O.Charles »
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Offline Adrian_Selby

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Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2015, 02:44:49 PM »
If it helps, I persisted with my book even though everything I read is better than it :)  I cannot not write!  There are books, yes, that make you feel sick with envy.  I read them all the time, where the prose is so far from anything I could do I get a physically sick feeling when I'm reading.  I think about the fact I have a long way to go and that I'm ok at writing and I accept that.  It would be arrogant if I thought otherwise, but also, I wonder if those writers I really admire think their own prose is awful compared to someone else's?  Is it all in the eye of the beholder?

Offline Lanko

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Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2015, 03:14:06 PM »
Even though he intended this for new writers, which is not your case, I think this is true for experienced ones as well. Because sometimes we see reviews/recommendations from famous authors that looked amazed by another author's work:

"Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?

One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose - one novel like Asteroid Miners is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lectures thrown in.

Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth telling.

A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealously - "I'll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand" - but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher.

Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing - of being flattened, in fact - is part of every writer's necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you."
Slow and steady wins the race.

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Offline JMack

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Re: Help! Page fright/low self-confidence getting in the way
« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2015, 03:15:31 PM »
Even though he intended this for new writers, which is not your case, I think this is true for experienced ones as well. Because sometimes we see reviews/recommendations from famous authors that looked amazed by another author's work:

"Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?

One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose - one novel like Asteroid Miners is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lectures thrown in.

Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth telling.

A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealously - "I'll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand" - but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher.

Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing - of being flattened, in fact - is part of every writer's necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you."


Or East of Eden.
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