Dear Me On A Bad Writing Day…

February 13, 2014 | By | 39 Replies More

Dear Me On A Bad Writing Day,

I know how you feel.  I have been there.  Your heart hurts, right?  You feel terribly, horribly inept at this writing thing.  There is not a sentence you’ve written that you are proud of.  The best ones you wrote were the darlings you had to kill.

You’ve contemplated putting them back in, maybe you even did.  But, for one, they still don’t belong, and, two, they make the rest of it look even worse by comparison.  You feel like crying.

But…  You are not as close to tears as you feel because you are not, in fact, crying.  So, let’s start there:   You are stronger than you think.  I know advice makes your skin crawl, but here it is anyway:

First, stop reading that book.  You know the one I am talking about.  The book with characters you don’t relate to but are fascinated by nevertheless; the book with one poetic sentence after another and words you fall in love with and make mental notes to look up later; the book with astounding story turns that consume you.  It’s the one that leaves you feeling that you will never, ever be able to write anything that good.  Close the cover.  Now. 

Yes, we become the writers that we read.  Yes, you should keep reading the writing you aspire to.  Absolutely.  But, not when you are writing your first draft.  Read something unchallenging and entertaining.  This is your one chance.  Try it during second draft and I will come back and smack it out of your hands.  What you are doing by reading that other book during your sh*tty first draft stage is trying to perform a trick you’ve never done in front of the master who invented it.  Trust me, you don’t have that kind of self-esteem.

Second, bad writing days happen.  If you’ve given it your all or something else in life sucked the all right out of you, let it go.  I know you like word counts, but sometimes, I’m sorry, but you will not hit them.  Maybe you couldn’t produce that day.  Maybe you revised which actually cut your word count even though you worked hard for your entire writing block.  It happens.

Do not put yourself in the hole.  How can creativity sprawl if you start out the day at negative 1,500 words?  2,500 words?   Recalibrate.  That other day is a lost cost.  Gone, done, let it go. 

The most important thing is to put your tailbone in the chair tomorrow.  I’ve seen you when you don’t write, and you are a moody grump.  Your friends and family do not deserve that.  Pull out the words.  Even terrible words are better than no words.  Writing heals the writer.

Third, speaking of terrible words.  They probably are.  You cannot compare your sh*tty first draft with the last two novels which have been through sixteen (hundred) drafts and nine(ty) reviews.  Stop worrying about if your characters are flawed enough or have the right names, or are set at the right age.  Stop worrying if the narrators are balanced.  Stop contemplating the architecture of the novel.

The reason it feels harder than last time is because it is.  You learned on the last ones.  You are a better writer, and your expectations for yourself are higher.  Remember when you wrote that first book?  That spiral-bound unpublished beauty under your bed?  Every moment writing it was glorious.  Because you couldn’t believe you were actually doing it!  Borrow some of that.  Let the terrible come.

What came out back then was much worse, but you didn’t know it.  I guarantee that most of what comes out now will be better than that one ever got.  Let up and let it flow.  In lieu of ignorance, it takes courage to let yourself be terrible.  You know enough now to fix whatever happens, but you have to have a story first.  No one is braver than you.  Have some faith too.

Fourth, you can write anywhere.  I know you’re proud of that.  Yes, I remember the time that you wrote in a church because the sanctuary was empty and had wi-fi.  Cute story. But if your story isn’t coming to you, tomorrow get your butt in your favorite writing chair at home where you can write without anyone ordering a double shot espresso vanilla latte in your ear, and knock out some scenes.  All that flexibility (a.k.a., distractions) can make it harder on you.

Fifth, you cannot please everyone.  If you try to write a story that will thrill everyone you know, you will lose it.  Pick yourself.  Write the story that you like to read.  Trust your instincts and taste.  You’ll get critiques later to make sure.  Give yourself some rein now.

Sixth, stop wordsmithing previous chapters.  The same way every scene should move the story.  Every writing block should too.  Insert a note back there if you need to, but forward momentum, MM.  Keep up the forward momentum.

Lastly, I know that you are terrified that you can’t do this.  You’ve picked another one that is too ambitious for you.  You don’t see this one as clearly as the last one.  You feel at once in a fever and at a standstill.  You have no idea how you’re going to pull it off.

I know.

But you will.

The story would not have picked you if you couldn’t write it.  Put it on the paper.

I have faith in you.  When you don’t, you can borrow mine.  We’ll take turns.  I’ll surely need you to return the favor.



MM FINCKMM Finck writes women’s book club fiction and is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.  Her novel, FORGET WE MET, is currently under consideration at several major publishing houses.  This article originated in the car on the way home from a bad day with her next one, CANARY FALLS.  It is the advice that the experienced novelist gave her once again fledging self.  Talking to herself has been a long time ailment of MM’s.  Writing for WomenWritersWomen[‘s]Books is one of her favorite things to do.  Connecting with people – anyone – is another one.  You can visit her website to learn more about her and her novels.  She is also active on facebook mmfinck and twitter @mmfinck.  Please, reach out.  It would make her day.  Mention WWWB!


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Category: Being a Writer, On Writing

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  1. Goals are a nice way to feel guilty | Belinda writes… | March 1, 2014
  1. Kim Wenzler says:

    Yep. Needed this today. Thanks!! Good luck!

  2. Thanks so much. I am a newbie, writing my first memoir, so this helped me immensely.

  3. Lauren says:

    MM- I loved reading this–it’s so dead-on. And perfect timing, since I’m in the midst of struggling through a rewrite and battling to keep faith. Thanks for the excellent advice!

    • MM Finck says:

      Oh, struggling through a rewrite. How I have been there! But good for us, right? Rewriting is what separates the hobbyist from the professional. I’m so glad that you found this article at the right time for you. I wrote it very organically when I needed it too, very badly, and it helped. I hope the words are pouring out of you now. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. The point of sharing my experiences is foremost to help others, but interacting with said ‘others’ is what makes it rewarding (and fun.) 🙂

      • Thank you so much. I am very green. I just decided to get serious about writing the Memoir I always knew I would write, 3 months ago. I write every day and keep moving forward although yesterday was one of those awful, painful gutwrenching days. I was uncovering some painful shit! It was like a bad root canal, but I got through it. Yay me! I have to be my own cheerleader most days because it can get so lonely. Thankyou again.

  4. Julie says:

    thank you for the words of encouragement it’s so difficult to believe enough to write the first line but when you said writing heals those words spoke to me because for me it always has I just hadn’t realised it. So I am going to write because it makes me feel good and perhaps it will make other feel good too.

    • MM Finck says:

      Julie. That’s perfect. I’m so glad for you. I LOVE that when I hear words strung together somewhere that perfectly articulate something I’ve been sensing for a long time but didn’t have the words for. We should all do what feels good, right? Geez, what else is there? (I don’t mean hedonistically. 🙂 Charity feels good. Writing feels good. Prioritizing loved ones feels good.) Have fun writing and then have fun sharing!

  5. Emmelie says:

    Great article! This inspired me to write my own ‘Dear me on a bad writing day’ letter.

    • MM Finck says:

      I’m so glad you like it, Emmelie. It’s funny, when I popped over here to respond to your comment, I re-read it myself. I haven’t done that since the day I wrote it. I’ve been busy writing the book that nearly killed me, I mean, *inspired me* to write this letter. 🙂 I recently finished it. It is in the hands of my agent now. It was the most difficult writing experience I’ve ever had (ie, I’ve never been so desperate to have to write a letter to myself before!). Probably not coincidentally, my beta-readers said that it is the best thing I’ve ever written. I suppose it’s true: what does not kill us, makes us stronger. This letter was absolutely key to my summoning strength I didn’t feel. I hope yours does for you as well! I’m so flattered that you were inspired to write your own. I’m here to say it works! 🙂

  6. Rebecca Holmes - 'Quiet Writer' says:

    There are so many interesting points in this, and like everyone else here, I can identify with them all. One that stood out for me was the advice to read books that are entertaining when writing that shitty first draft, rather than going for the aspirational. I will definitely try that. And sitting down at your desk and writing, instead of being more ‘flexible’. I like to call it my bosaw method – bum on seat and write!
    Thank you for this. I almost feel I ought to print it out and pin it on the wall over my desk.

  7. Ludmila Mason says:

    A positive and motivating write. I have had ‘bad writing’ days. True, we can over-critique previous pages, restricting creative flow. ThankingYou for sharing your insight, does inspire the ink to refill and flow

    • MM Finck says:

      “the ink to refill and flow.” I like that, and I’m so glad it did. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and tell me. Keep at it! Best wishes! For me too, up to my ears in WIP. I need all the wishes I can get. 🙂

  8. Thank you for this! It was all spot on, but the part I really needed to hear today was about not “wordsmithing” previous chapters. I have been getting really hung up in chapter transitions instead of just finishing a shitty first draft, so this was a perfectly timed reminder.
    I also write women’s book club fiction and am always excited to “meet” writers in the same genre. All the best on your work in progress.

    • MM Finck says:

      Oh, Mary Chris, me too! I am terrible at that. I read where I left off so I can pick up the flow, but then too often I use half of my writing block in a way that didn’t move me forward on the draft at all. Ugh! I’m getting better, I hope. It sounds so silly but this letter was not a act. It was to me by me after a *terrible* day(s), to correct what I was doing to get in my own way. So I check myself every day and quote myself back to me – “The same way every scene…” 🙂 I’m pleased to meet you too! Best of wishes on your novel! KIT. Stronger together.

  9. Elaine M Moore says:

    What a fantastic inspiring article. I thought I was alone with all those nagging insecutities. I too am guilty of reading my favourite established authors ahem Kate Morton, and comparing myself unfavourably. Your line ‘The story would not have picked you if you couldn’t write it’ struck such a chord, I felt you were speaking directly to me. I had to look around to see if anyone noticed! My novel is so personal and intertwined with events in my own life, I know I am the only person who could possibly write it. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and encouraging others to open up, it’s so comforting to realise writing angst doesn’t have to be a lonely journey. For good measure, I am pasting your line on my computer for when a bout of self doubt creeps up on me.

    • MM Finck says:

      What a wonderful reply! Thank you so much, Elaine, for sharing it. I enjoyed every word. Best of luck with your novel! The most personal ones are ALWAYS the best. KIT about it please.

  10. YOU. How many times have I sat down at the computer and thought, “I can’t do this. They’re going to find me out. I can’t do this!” It usually happens, for me, right after I’ve gotten edit notes and need to make changes. I read your post, and it was so honest and poignant, though, and all I could think then was, wait, that’s it: maybe the insecurity is what can help a writer open up, reach into that vulnerable spot, and get to the honest words. Because you did it, and did it so well, because of that insecurity–and how refreshing to know that our shared Irish mama stubbornness (ahem!) can work in our favor as writers–because, like you, I recognize that insecurity, and it scares me, but dagnabit if I’m not going to turn that fear into motivation and conquer it.

    I so love this line: “The story would not have picked you if you couldn’t write it.” That one I may print out and keep over my writing area. We all need to hear this–thank you for sharing it with us, MM! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you’re on your way!

    • MM Finck says:

      You made my smile, my lovely friend, who too is on her way. I’m so pleased that you liked it!! I joke with people all the time that the correlation between success and a hard head can not underestimated. I think you are on to something too – If you never experience fear and insecurity, how could you write it??!! No one wants to read a character that never fails, never doubts. You’re brilliant, one vignette. 🙂

  11. MM – Great post. I feel like you were talking to me! It’s exactly those things that undermine my confidence and mess with my productivity and energy. I would say number 1 and number 5 especially. So glad to hear I’m not the only one who suffers from these ailments. Good luck finding a publisher for your first book. Sounds like you have a great agent so it will happen! I look forward to reading it.

    • MM Finck says:

      Oh my gosh no. You are not the only one. I’m so happy that my piece resonated with you. It was 100% authentic. I was in a bad, very fearful and dejected place. I followed the advice I gave myself – esp, like you, number 5 – and I am gratefully through it. It will happen again. But that’s why we love this so much. It is hard. I had a full career in finance before this, but I have never done anything as rewarding in my life. Persevere, my friend. We both will. Best of luck!! And thank you for the well wishes. 🙂

  12. randy kraft says:

    Such good advice and so well said. As a book reviewer, often hard to do. However I was advised early on that there will always be better writers than me, so use each great book as a master class. The only thing better than reading a great book is the satisfaction of writing one.

    • MM Finck says:

      Thank you, Randy, so much. I agree. Hard to do and nothing more satisfying. Any book you’ve read lately that you recommend above others? I am on a roll, just finishing Tigers in Red Weather and The House Girl. Both of which humbled me. 🙂 Still, as you said, what better master classes? Best wishes!

  13. Ky Delaney says:

    Its so tempting to beat up on ourselves, impose impossible deadlines, and stringent word count expectations. So all the more important to remind ourselves to let it go some days and to be kind to ourselves. Love that your letter does exactly that! I’m following your journey and inspired by your willingness to be so vulnerable and honest. Best wishes for getting into a good flow next time you fingers tap the keyboard!

    • MM Finck says:

      Ky, your note gave me goosebumps. Thank you so much. Vulnerable? Yes. Was/am nervous about it, but it is, like you said, honest. Nothing else really connects with people anyway. Following your journey too! All love. 🙂

  14. Ellen says:

    MM – awesome post – thank you! I shared it with my writers group.

    Becky – you might want to check out the Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – if nothing else, it sounds like a great comparable title for you when you start querying agents.

    • MM Finck says:

      Ellen? You did? That is so kind of you! Thank you so much. I hope that if any of them have had days like mine, it reassured them. I am thrilled that you liked it. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! Good luck with your own projects!

  15. MM Finck says:

    Becky, Every word of your comment resonated with me. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it. Sometimes books do take what seems like a very long time to research and develop. The one I am writing was like that. It follows two families through the aftermath of a bridge collapse. Not being an engineer, I had a lot to learn about bridge construction and styles, bridges that have collapsed, and about the time in history when my bridge was built. PLUS the characters, geographical setting, and the story. It makes your head spin, right? At some point, you have enough, you make choices, and you write. I hope you get to that soon. That’s the fun part. It is the hardest part. But like you said – exactly like you said – the story chose us and wants to be written. How your MCs came to you, happens to me every time! I thought I was the only one. 🙂
    I love your blog, by the way! What a great idea and service. I hope to send you a copy of one of my books one of these days. Good luck and KIT!

    • Thank you for the kind words! I am so glad that I’m not alone on this. It was starting to appear that even from the debut authors that I had in my queue to review, were writing books fast, and I wondered how they did that. My WIP is my first novel and it has a unique setting. My old hometown, which is a very small community, back in the Old West was a booming mining community. My story covers 3 time periods. That is what is kind of difficult for me. My MC, in the present, is 27 years old. Twenty years ago, at the age of 7, she witnesses the death of one parent and disappearance of the other. This, of course, leads suspicion upon the surviving parent. So my MC is determined to get closure on this once and for all. In the meantime, she is helping her uncle renovate a property in this old, almost a ghost town, community in Nevada. She discovers this property was once a parlor house, and she encounters the ghost of the madam that used to own the parlor house, and the ghost implores her to help solve a very cold case murder–hers, back in 1871! So, there it is, three different stories that mesh together.. I sure hope I can pull it off. It is almost all back-story, so it will have to be done in sections I think so that there are no info dumps.. 🙂

      • MM Finck says:

        Your story sounds great, Mandy! Don’t give up on it. Put it on paper. You can move it around or whatever else later. Good luck! You can do it. When you do, you have to come back and tell me so I can buy it! 🙂

  16. Thank you for this post! I am a “newbie” just starting out and I have these feelings all the time. I ask myself if I can really do this. I have been researching and plotting for a year and a half now. I know that is a long time. Sometimes I wonder how other authors can whip out books like they do, sometimes 2 or 3 per year. I wonder if anyone else has problems plotting, or if I’ve chosen an extremely hard and complicated plot for my first book. But it is like you said, I didn’t really choose it, the story and the characters chose me. Especially the characters. The MC was not the first that chose me. It was one of the major characters. Then came my MC. They will not go away, so this story must be written. Thank you for giving hope to me during my insecurity periods–which happen frequently! 🙂

    • Rebecca – my first book took a very long time. Like you I have seen writers putting out several books a year and wondered how they did it and where was I going wrong! One author I know of released more than ten books last year! But, quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality and also everyone’s situation is different; many of those authors may write full time or have fewer commitments. Your book will take as long as it takes and it will be finished one day – just keep at it! Good luck. And thank you for a great post MM – very encouraging 🙂

      • MM Finck says:

        Thank you, Alison, very much. I’m so pleased that you liked it and found it encouraging. It came from a genuine effort to encourage myself! WWWB had asked me if I wanted to write for them again, and I obviously did, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write. Then this letter to myself came to me organically when I needed it. No matter how embarrassing it might be, it struck me as the right thing to submit. I’ve found that writers feel alone in their fears and insecurities when we are anything but. Without comments like these, I wouldn’t know if it worked. But so many people have reached out to me already, and it has been less than 24 hours. Always, we are stronger together. Thanks again for your support!

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