A crisis of confidence is never nice but adverbs are better than no verbs
OK, so I’ve use this photo before. Forgive me, it’s Christmas!
So, I am reading On Writing by Stephen King. I’m at the point where he’s talking about how to write good fiction. Stevie, gives us the bad news first: some people are simply bad writers. They should probably save us all the misery and give up now. Sorry if that’s upsetting, but for many, there is hope. It is possible to turn a competent writer into a good writer. However, first we must face our demons; fear being at the root of most bad writing.
Now, the notion that fear is what holds us back in life, is not new to me. With a background in personal development, I have a stack of books telling me, that if I could just find the courage to follow my dreams, the world is mine to conquer. However, the idea that fear also influences my technical abilities as a writer, is an interesting one.
According to King, the writer who overuses those dreaded adverbs and fills their pages with intrusive dialogue tags is afraid. Trust your writing he pleads, tell your story actively and instinctively. You don’t need to slap your reader in the face with an intrusive speech attribution, chances are they already get you.
Obviously every writer is different, but personally, the idea that I’m sometimes tempted to overcompensate for my lack of experience makes a lot of sense. When I agonise over the detail of my prose, I’m not agonising over whether I think it’s good, but whether you think it’s good. For me this doesn’t necessarily mean adverbs, I’m not that type of girl, but it certainly stunts my writing.
And the fear is cyclical: when ever I think I’ve got a grip on it, something else causes me to question myself. You may have noticed, I haven’t blogged for a little while. I could blame time and other commitments, but if I’m honest, it’s about fear.
A couple of months ago I took up a volunteer post at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I was feeling a bit lonely sitting on my own all day, so getting involved in a supportive writing organisation was a great way to meet like minded souls and feel part of a team again. A few weeks into the post, I went to the SCBWI annual conference in Winchester. I had a fantastic time and met lots of great people. Many of these people I’d been talking to online for a while and they already felt like old friends.
So, what’s my problem? The problem is these people are now real. They are no longer cyber friends, avatars in a virtual writing world where I feel legitimate. They are flesh and blood and they have brains. Huge brains. Published or unpublished, they are proper writers. Not like me, playing about on my laptop all day in the hope I’ll one day strike lucky.
Typical me, what should have been a major step forward in my writing journey, has sent me spiralling back into the classic writer’s cycle of self-doubt. It’s ridiculous.
I don’t like being frightened. That’s why all those years ago I jumped out of a plane, so that nothing I ever did would feel that scary again. Stephen has reminded me that fear is normal, the curse of the mediocre writer. The only way out of this is to write. After all adverbs are better than no verbs.