This book is broken, and other things I tell myself while writing

I am currently writing/attempting to write/failing to write my 13th book.

Authors often talk about murky middles or needing to stick the landing, but I’m going to be honest. For me, writing a first draft is one long doubt-ridden roller coaster, punctuated by brief moments of hope and long swells of you-suck-you-suck-you-suck.

This isn’t a matter of self-doubt and self-loathing.

This is a matter of being WILLING to write badly. To let yourself fail over and over again, to resist the urge to hold down delete and get. To. The. End.

For me, writing a first draft is an exercise in controlled failure. Or at least, controlled falling.

The dilemma is that, the more books you write, the more aware you become of when things are Not Working, but no matter how many books you write, you don’t become magically capable of fixing something until you have something to fix.

The amount of time I spend resisting this, the time I spend trying to nail a landing without ever hitting the springs, is astonishing. 

It’s also compounded by the fact that, while trying to write something good instead of letting myself write something bad, I’m ALSO usually doing the final read on a book I’ve already written, and revised, and seen through every painful step. So not only am I faced with an inferiority complex born of other writers’ work, I’m faced with my own evident decline, since there’s no way I’ll ever write something that good again.

Ignoring, of course, the fact it wasn’t good when I first started. The fact that at some point I had to simply let go, enter that controlled fall that is a beginning. 

This isn’t a post with any advice. It’s simply a post to say that no matter how many books you write, some voices don’t go away. Some voices even get louder. And the only way to shoulder past is to remind yourself over and over and over again that the only thing you can’t improve on is a blank page.

Yours from the trenches,

V

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27 thoughts on “This book is broken, and other things I tell myself while writing

  1. It’s only human to want to skip straight to great writing without having to spend time throwing messy paint on the canvas. I’m glad you’re keeping the faith that, just like with your last twelve(?!) books, you’ll endure that controlled fall (great phrase, by the way) and land with another wonderful story. Thank you for reminding us to do the same.

  2. The only thing you can’t improve on is a blank page. I like it. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  3. Laura says:

    So true about those voices that never completely shut up. All we can do is try to turn the volume down a little bit. Or turn our music up louder. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. H.D. Lynn says:

    I’m struggling through a first draft as well and needed to read this. Sometimes, I find stepping away during the first draft can help clarify my thoughts and make finishing it smoother. It’s not a ‘I need a muse thing’ but more of a ‘I need to blow off steam and get rid of that self-criticism to move forward.’

  5. Still – despite the ever present doubt there must be that little voice at the back of your mind that peeps up and says ‘I can fix this – I’ve done it so many times before’. That’s what gets me through and I have written my fair amount of rubbish that I have managed to turn around. Through my personal experience the only writers who don’t experience self-doubt are not very good writers at all.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. I am there with you in the trenches right now. This really does help. Okay, commencing to let go, to fall, to fail.

  7. Mandee says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! I’m writing my first book, but it is going so slowly. I can’t just write, allowing the words to flow as they come to me. I KNOW my first draft is suppose to be bad, but I can’t help myself! I correct as I go, and it can sometimes completely stall me out. “I must be willing to write badly.” Thank you for that! “Controlled failure”….that’s a good way of putting it. lol

  8. I remember my son’s gymnastics coach giving him similar advice — but he was spotting him! I’ve decided I need a spotter!

  9. Peter Long says:

    Just opened this up again because I needed to show it to someone again. I imagine I’ll keep needing to, because these are words every writer needs to hear sometime. If not every person. Thank you.

  10. Oh, I need to read this over every once in a while. I’m my biggest critic, and it helps to step back and realize I’m not the only one who feels like this.

    Thank you.

  11. James Pailly says:

    For me, the fear of making mistakes is always worse than the mistakes themselves.

  12. […] Victoria (V.E.) Schwab: this book is broken and other things I tell myself while writing.* […]

  13. BiancaB says:

    Hi! Did you see this? Is a fan made book trailer of “The Savage Song”. THey are three italian book tubers that LOOOOOOOOVES you 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O85_UnKhhfs
    Have a very very calm, nice, productive day 😉

  14. […] via This book is broken, and other things I tell myself while writing — Victoria (V.E.) Schwab […]

  15. […] This Book is Broken, and Other Things I Tell Myself While Writing by Victoria Schwab: I really love her honesty in this article. A must-read for writers. […]

  16. S.P. Bowers says:

    Thank you!!!! This is exactly what I needed to hear as I struggle to write my WIP in a way I have never struggled before.

  17. jamiegehin says:

    Great post. Yeah, I feel like starting a new draft is like learning to walk while training for a marathon.

  18. […] the futility of “trying to nail a landing without ever hitting the springs.” I find her whole post about fighting a roller coaster of doubt deeply familiar today, but I am not sure whether I would […]

  19. Well said. Nothing more to add. Just something I guess we all have to go through. Sigh.

  20. I’m at that point right now. My fifth book, and it’s set in a new world for me. And I can’t seem to get my shit together.

    I often pride myself with being wise enough to know that the first draft is just me shovelling sand into a box so that I can make the castle later, but that is all in theory. In reality, I have this choir of batshit monkeys hollering in my right ear “who do you think you are – this sucks – it will go arse up before you get it together”. And as I’ve been editing the last book in a trilogy and working with the translator to make an English edition of the first book in said trilogy I have my brain set on “details”, and not “creativity”.

    This is actually the hardest I have had to get back into shovelling mode, ever. I guess the number of books makes it worse. And as I’m an indie-publisher, all the marketing work makes it harder to focus.

    Well, now I’ve officially whined about my writing to one of my greatest sources of inspiration. Instead of writing that tricky passage where the characters fight over an illusionist’s trick gone bad. I guess that will have the monkeys going tonight… 😀

  21. Leigh says:

    Your blog posts from the trenches mean so, so much to aspiring novelists like myself. Thank you for the insights; they are at once terrifying (that the voices may never go away) and gratifying (that despite the voices, one can thrive). Can’t wait for the next blog post.

  22. […] 9 Steps from Idea to Finished series might be of interest to you. V.E. Schwab also often blogs about writing and I enjoy reading her honest posts as she works on her […]

  23. Kaie says:

    Wow. Both incredibly affirming (thanks!) – and super depressing. You mean it’s going to feel like this every time?!! Ugh…

  24. […] This book is broken, and other things I tell myself while writing – V. E. Schwab: “Authors often talk about murky middles or needing to stick the landing, but I’m going to be honest. For me, writing a first draft is one long doubt-ridden roller coaster, punctuated by brief moments of hope and long swells of you-suck-you-suck-you-suck.” […]

  25. Shona Moyce says:

    Reblogged this on Shona Moyce and commented:
    Quote: “…writing a first draft is one long doubt-ridden roller coaster, punctuated by brief moments of hope and long swells of you-suck-you-suck-you-suck.” From the author of Darker Shade of Magic (and others). *nodding head and hollering ‘YES!’ at the laptop*

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