As I’m sure you can imagine, I get queried quite frequently about writing advice. Occasionally, when responding to these emailed requests, I see an opportunity to respond to the writing community at large. So, while my answer is written in direct response to the sender, I hope it can help other writers who may be struggling with the same question.
Question: Whenever I write, I have all the inspiration and stuff to do so and I know what I want to write. But when I come back to what I have written the next day or so, that feeling of inspiration and satisfaction that I had when I was writing goes away and I feel unsatisfied with what I have written. I have great ideas that I think are great, but sometimes I don’t think they are great anymore. Often times I re-write it, but the situation is a continuous loop. Any advice? (Question from A. Worland)
This is a common sort of attitude, and you are not alone. Writers tend to fall into two camps, I’ve found. The people who think their writing is terrible while writing it, but then discover it’s not so bad afterward—and the people who think it’s great while writing it, but then look back and find it disappoints them. I don’t think either attitude is 100% correct, but I can understand both.
What I see happening here (as an off-the-cuff diagnosis not knowing you enough to do a detailed and specific one) is that your ability to see a perfect and wonderful book in your head is not yet matched by your actual writing skill. You’ve likely read a lot of books, and have developed a very discerning eye for what works and what doesn’t in fiction. You feel like you should be able to produce that great fiction, therefore.
But you’re like a person who has become an expert in tasting cheese—that doesn’t mean you can make your own. You have an advantage over someone else, but you still have to put in the work to learn the process of cheese making. Here, you’re comparing the perfect version of the book in your head (or, perhaps, the published books you’re reading) to the first draft, unpracticed work you’ve written.
The challenge here is to recognize your first draft doesn’t have to match a published finished draft. Beyond that, you’re going to grow a lot as a new writer as you finish your first few books—to the point that you will often be much better as a writer by the end of a sequence than you were at the start.
In all these cases, however, the solution is the same: keep your eye on the goal. Finish that story. You can’t learn to do endings until you practice them. Learn to let yourself be bad at something long enough to be good at it. This is an essential step many artists have to take. You can and will make that story better, but you need to finish it first.