Reader Friday: That Voice

“The most debilitating thing about writing is that the voice inside us, the voice we trust more than others, says, ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, what you wrote yesterday really stinks.’ What aspiring writers should keep in mind is that we all hear that voice, and sometimes that voice lies to us. In fact, when it comes to writing, that voice almost always lies to us. Midway through a book you are going to read back and think, ‘This is awful.’ Now it may be awful, but it also may be wonderful and you’ve simply read it so many times your ear has gone deaf. Don’t listen to that voice.” — Randy Wayne White

Ever happen to you? What would you advise a writer who is bothered by that voice?


15 thoughts on “Reader Friday: That Voice

  1. (Aspiring writer here.) I’m hearing that voice right now! I wrote a couple of hours this morning, glanced back over it, and thought it immature, choppy, blech. I’m hoping I’ll feel better about it after I’m further along, but it’s reassuring to know experienced writers hear that voice, too!

    • I took eight years to write my first novel. By the time I finished it, I’d rewritten the beginning chapters at least 30 times! Practice, practice, practice. You get a gold star just for sitting down to it and giving it a shot. Do it again, tomorrow and tomorrow. It works!

  2. What I love about this quote is how it illustrates that the voice inside our heads is wrong. It’s true with writing, but it’s also true with other things in life.

    I’ve experienced this so many times I’m almost immune to it now … almost. For those experiencing that negative voice, that inner critic, all I can say is: Keep writing. Don’t reread that passage yet. Set it aside and finish the story, especially if you’re in the middle.

    It takes time and distance to view your own work with a critical eye. Trying to judge your work before it’s finished to a death sentence.

    … and remember, you can only be as good as you are today. You’ll get better; we always do. Allow yourself to do your best, even if your best seems terrible. You will improve.

    • “It takes time and distance to view your own work with a critical eye. Trying to judge your work before it’s finished to a death sentence.”

      I’m finding that working in the visual arts is proving the value of the “time and distance to view your work” bit. In addition to writing, I’ve always wanted to learn to draw and paint but for 30 years I’ve let the little voice talk me out of it. But I’ve decided 2018 is the year to get my butt in gear on visual arts. I work on my painting for a little while each weekend and take a picture of it so I can watch the progress, step by step as it slowly pulls together. No, it won’t be perfect, but the goal is a finished product. In addition to stepping back from the painting while I’m working on it to see it with a new perspective, I can visually see and be amazed at how brush strokes taken individually look cheesy, but combined with the whole work make something I can recognize. With practice, I’ll be able to transfer that to my writing.

  3. I just got my current novella back from my editor, and he gave me a number of very good comments. That silenced a lot of the voices, but now there is another one saying, Yeah, but can you do it again?

  4. Reading Randy’s quote, my only thought was, if you’re NOT hearing that voice, something is wrong. It keeps you on your toes. I had to go find this, but here’s Stephen King talking about Jim’s “guy in the basement.”

    “There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.”

    • My muse guy has all the best stuff. Without him, I’d be writing fourth grade book reports.

  5. “What would you advise a writer who is bothered by that voice?”

    Sometimes writing truly needs improvement. Then again, sometimes perfection is the enemy of “good enough.” The wise writer has the discernment to know the difference. How does one develop discernment? I think the best way is through reading, writing, and studying daily. It’s a lifetime process. Also remember that it’s easy for a group of writers who are actively trying to critique a piece of writing to find fault with it. Take comfort in the fact that the average person isn’t going to be analyzing every syllable through a writer’s eyes. You can’t please everyone. So write something that you love. Then get advice from people you trust and make it even better.

  6. This is where I’ve been for quite some time. I think about my WIP all the time. I plan certain things and then doubt them. I have tried to sit down and start writing, but without structure, I find that I don’t know where to go. I’m not sure where to begin to populate this world. (It is a historical mystery). I have read craft books and researched the time period. I feel lost but refuse to give up. I sometimes feel inferior since I didn’t complete my degree and wonder if I’ve missed something vital.

  7. Best advice. Read, write a short story. I promise your WIP will be easier to get back to it. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with you. For a writer college is a great place to drown in bullshit. TKZ and the books the main contributors have written for us are a much better source of useful knowledge.

  8. If you doubt the power of that negative voice, consider all the writers who’ve been driven to suicide by it. Yes, it lies all the time. Even if what you’ve written needs work, that’s not the voice to listen to. That voice may be strong, but you have the power to tell it to shut the hell up. It’s the echo of the real life voices that ctriticized you as a little kid, or never said an encouraging word or made fun of something you worked hard to make. Usually that voice has zero to do with what you’ve put on the page.

    Show the work to a writer you trust not to pat you on the head. Pull it apart and highlight the parts the reader in you knows work. Most of all, keep writing. I say this as someone who had a major stumble in her career, and had crippling self-doubt about her future work. Own the good stuff and the bad and don’t indulge the voice. Again, that voice has little if anything to do with what you’ve put on the paper. Even though the writing comes out of your head, don’t let it turn into a head game. It’s just telling stories.

  9. Me: I’d say, “Just let the other voices balance it out.”

    Gnillii the Leprechaun: What? What voices?”

    Berthold the Leprechaun: “He’s talking about those faerie muse girls again isn’t he?”

    Fillli the Leprechaun: “No, they’re real, they’re not voices in his head.”

    Boffin the Leprechaun: “They sure are pretty to look at though.”

    Berthold: “And they smell really nice.”

    Gnillii: “That’s for sure.”

    Me: “No, I…uh…”

    Gerald the Troll: “Ah, fellas. Ah fink ee’s talkin’ bou’ us.”

  10. All. The. Time. That voice haunts me on a regular basis, only it’s not as polite as the one mentioned in the quote. LOL If we let the voice win, it can cripple our creativity. Last year, I let the voice get the better of me for a while, and then I produced two of the best books of my career. The trick is learning when to listen and when to tune it out. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, though. What advice would I give? Give yourself permission to step away from your WIP and get lost in another author’s story world. Over-thinking anything is never a good idea. Same rule applies to our writing. By taking a break we can revisit the project with fresh eyes. Sometimes that break is all we need.

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