Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Feel Good Friday, a Pseudo-Blog Hop

When I got my MS back from an excellent reader, I scanned the pages looking for red ink, exhilarated and terrified at the same time. I tingled when I saw positives like “Great imagery!” “Hah, that’s great” or “I like how you…” I cringed at the negatives, but it was more reflexive than anything. In truth, the negatives didn’t hurt that much because they were on target. There’s a lot you stop seeing when you’ve been living with a story for nearly a year. After reading through the comments, I felt good. The good comments made me feel good, and the ‘bad’ comments were either things I had suspected, or were things I realized my critter was pretty much right about. It was a very positive process.
And then the Doubting Writer surfaced.
There were a couple of big sections in the manuscript where there no comments at all. Rather than accept this as ‘no news is good news’, the Doubting Writer whispered in my ear, “Maybe they fell asleep reading this part”, and “Maybe it’s so bad they couldn’t bring themselves to make any comment at all on it.” That Doubting Writer can be a real bastard. So the Doubting Writer went to work. “I notice you didn’t say anything about this,” e-mails the Doubting Writer. “Did you think blah blah blah.” The Doubting Writer has an almost-pathological need to believe his book is awful.
BUT – before you rush to tell me that you’re sure I’m not that bad, rest assured this post is not really about how I did on my crit report. This is really about how we treat ourselves. And I want us all to treat ourselves a little bit better, at least for today, or this weekend.
As writers, we need to be self-critical. We need to be honest in our assessment of our writing, and we need to be able to look at critiques with enough logic and …stoicism, for lack of a better word, to see what’s on the money and what isn’t. That’s how we improve as writers. All too often, however, criticism feels like a negative, because it’s always couched in terms of what we could do better.
But a part of criticism is also acknowledging what we do well, and that’s what I want this to be about.
On Wednesday, Lisa L. Regan celebrated her 100th follower (Cheers, Lisa!). She asked her readers to post questions/suggest topics for future posts. Being an obnoxious sort, I asked her the following question, perhaps the writerly-version of one of the most-dreaded job interview questions out there:
What do you think is your greatest strength as a writer?
I suspect the real value of this question to a job interviewer is less in the answer itself and more in how the respondent handles it. But in this case, I’m asking because I want to be positive. There’s so much negativity associated with writing. We write. We let people read it so they can critique it (which, again, feels like it focuses on what we do wrong). We write it again, and again, and then we face rejections over and over. Yes, we need to learn from what we do wrong, but we also need to acknowledge what we do well, if only to keep us from trying to fix something that ain’t broke.
So take a moment. Or two or three, or however long you need. Think about something you do really well as a writer and tell me – tell everyone – what that is. Bask in it. Enjoy the glow. Don’t get a big head, but allow yourself a little time to say, “This is what I do well.” Put it in the comments here, or write a post on your own blog about it and link it in the comments. I won’t call this a blog hop, because I’m dropping this on you with no advance notice, and no fancy sign-up sheet, and no spiffy buttons. If you choose to do a blog post on it, pop the link in the comments here so we can all pop by. That’s it.
So, I guess I have to start, huh? Well, okay, here goes.
I am very good at descriptions.
Wow. That felt good. I’ll say it again. I’m very good at descriptions.
I hear this a lot. My wife has said it to me on a number of occasions. I hear it almost every week in the little writer’s group I’m in. I’ve even seen it from time-to-time in comments here, so that’s what I’ll go with. For today, I’ll pat myself on the back over my descriptive abilities and sit a little taller in my chair. I’ll keep the Doubting Writer at bay for one day.
So, there you have it. Celebrate your strength, enjoy your success, love yourself and your writing, even if it’s just for a moment. Later on, you can go back to picking at your words, grousing over stilted dialogue, clichéd characters and your propensity for purple prose (or an abundance of alliteration, for that matter).  For now, tell us what you’re good at, be happy, and have a great weekend.

10 Responses

  1. What a great post and thanks for the shout out. Yeah, I HATED that question on job interviews. It is hard to pat yourself on the back, especially as a writer. For me, I always, always feel like I have the need to improve. I may do a post on this in the future on my on blog but for now, I'll say that it was actually really hard for me to think of something. LOL. Well I can say this: I've always been told my writing is clean which I take as a compliment and also–and I love this one–I've been told in the past that my work is gritty. So I'll say those are my strengths. (I know, I know, I'm probably supposed to say, "I'm awesome at such-and-such." It's just not coming to me.)

    I'll say this for you though–you are absolutely dead-on that you create great imagery! You are really awesome at that. Also, I think you're really great at creating camaraderie amongst your characters on the page which is incredibly hard to do. Most writers try and it just comes off feeling stiff and awkward but with your characters I felt like I was right there and "in" on their inside jokes. Also I think you're fabulous at making important moments in your book FEEL impactful to the reader. You do a fabulous job of building up the characters and inner conflict so that moments that might be small from the outside but are huge for the characters feel huge to the reader too.

    Stop doubting so much! You have mad, crazy talent!

  2. I hope my greatest strength is that I'm teachable. I'm not so sure of myself that I think I know it all (SO far from the truth). And other viewpoints are so valuable.

    When I first submitted the beginning chapters of the book you read the query for, I didn't realized I didn't make it clear that Lyn was a girl. Because she's athletic, two different readers wondered early on if she was a guy, a gay guy. I had to clear that up.

  3. Ah, what a challenging post. I definitely have a hard time complimenting myself, especially with writing. I feel I have SO much to learn, and so much to improve on. But, I have been told that the worlds I create are…uh…creative? I guess I'm good at world building. 🙂

  4. I hear the gritty comment a lot from my writing group, Lisa. I like it. And thank you for the kind words. It occurred to me as I was writing this post that it might look like a big fishing expedition, which it most definitely was not! I'm looking forward to reading more of your work than the snippets I've seen on your blog.

    Donna, teachable is a tremendous strength. It combines the willingness to learn with self-awareness. That's a great attribute. Funny on the name Lyn. I know it can do double-duty, but I would always assume female first.

    Amanda — Doesn't it feel good? A little embarrassing to say it, yes, but good to do once in a while.

  5. Ah, those pages when there is nothing used to haunt me…until I realized I do this too when I critique and only when I'm so into the story, I forgot I was critiquing it, lol. So whenever a few pages go by, I try to insert a comment saying 'Oh sorry I haven't said anything, but I just can't stop reading!!!' Hopefully, the doubting writer won't doubt much longer.

    And I wrote an entire post like a few weeks ago on being proud of your writing. And I listed a whole bunch of stuff there that was so hard to get out! Ack! Why do we have such a hard time talking about things we do well?

    But I will say *gulp, okay here I go* I think I'm really good at making people laugh. Whether intentional or not, people tell me my stories are funny and the mc's voice sounds so real. Gotta say I would not think this way if I wasn't told this about myself. I really think I'm more annoying than funny.

    Oh no! I'm back tracking! Better stop now before my self doubt wins!

  6. "There’s a lot you stop seeing when you’ve been living with a story for nearly a year." Too true, my friend. Too true…

    As for your question, I've been sitting here for three minutes, squinting at my screen, trying to take a mental inventory. (My mind is locked on things I need to improve. It's hard to shift gears!) Hmm, I think a few of my critters have enjoyed my MC's voice, so let's go with that. 🙂

    Great post!

  7. This post made me smile. I can definitely relate to your struggles with the Doubting Writer, but I think you're right, and it is important to remember what we're good at. So I'll take a deep breath and say that I'm good at understanding and working with my characters' motivations.

  8. No, I'm sorry but you're not very good at description. You're fantastically, blow-me-away talented at writing description. Seriously, I can't understand why you doubt yourself as a writer. You honestly have mad, mad skills & I am seriously jealous & envious of you. Not to mention, humbled to my knees. No, make that prostrate flat on my belly. You're that good. You really are.

    As for me, well, I think I'm good at emotion & tension & okay at dialogue. But I hope to learn a lot from you.

  9. I'm nodding my head as I read your post, Jeff.

    I think the self-doubt is just part of the nature of the creative beast. When your product is such an intimate part of yourself…it is hard not to feel thin and vulnerable.

    I'm trying to come up with something positive to say about myself as a writer, trying to rise to the challenge.

    Ooh, this is difficult. I think I'm very competent with language and story telling. My skills need to be developed, to be sure, but I think I have a basic innate skill. Whew. That felt weird. Must walk away from keyboard, now.

  10. One person told me once, that being genuine is my strong side in writing. That person is Finnish. Then someone else said the 'inciting incident' was good. The person who said that was English. I guess those are my good sides. But what do I have to develop? Oh boy, oh boy…I can't even list them all, but POV is one of them, and then the passivity. Passive style, as those say, who have given me feedback in English.

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