I have started and stopped at least a dozen erotic romance novels because "I" don't think they are good enough and never finish them. How do I put my own doubt aside so I can finish what I started?


5 Answers 5


One way is to allow yourself to write a crappy first draft and then fix it in editing.

A lot of authors go that way. They just keep writing, not looking too much at what they've written in previous chapters.

Their editing work then turns into gold digging where you grab a bunch of muck and rinse away a lot to find the golden nuggets that gets to be included in the second draft.

Also, don't judge your work too much while you're writing the first draft. Just keep going until you reach the conclusion of the story, then put the manuscript away for 3 months and read it again.

You might surprise yourself!

Another way to go is to try outlining the story more. You might be a writer that detests going into unknown waters without having a plan, and that might stop you.


I often think of what Ira Glass says in this video about the gap between your work and the work that you admire. Here's the quote in text:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone told me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.

And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.

And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.

It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Paraphrased: As we get to love a creative pursuit (like writing) we develop really good taste and get to recognize good and bad work. Then we look at our own work, comparing it to the great stuff, and we see that it's not great and we give up. Ira says don't give up. Everyone goes through that phase.


This is, of course, the way most aspiring authors start. Many will never get beyond Chapter 1.

You might try a short story or a sample first chapter onto a public domain fiction review site. Critique Circle is a trade and publish opportunity to show your work to other people anonymously. It's divided by genre, and "Chick Lit (I never liked that name) and Erotica" is commonly submitted. You can also pay for membership and publish longer works for review.

You'll probably get mixed reviews, but I've been impressed because even a few great ideas can make the difference between a hobby and a career, and I've definitely gotten a few great ideas (commercial fiction). Erotica is highly competitive right now; you might find a group of people who can help inspire you.


Writing is similar to exercising. You should start by writing some short stories, perhaps just even a page or two, then work on gradually increasing your story length. You'll build endurance and confidence as you finish some smaller stories. Make sure that you get some feedback on your stories from a third party, such as a friend, significant other, or people generally interested in reading those kinds of stories (like alt.sex.stories on Usenet). Being validated by a third party usually bolsters confidence.

Next, some of the most effective writers are also some of the most effective readers. Read a lot of different stories similar to the one you're trying to write for inspiration. Consider reading a sampling of stories on alt.sex.stories as well (e.g. ASSTR NSFW), and you'll see that authors tend to write "as best they can," and care more about sharing the stories than having a finished product. The FAQ section on that site includes a few good articles about writing stories.

Finally, focus on including elements in your story that appeals to your personal interests and fantasies. They will be far more enjoyable if drawn from favorite personal experiences or things that you think about frequently, which will help you gain confidence and make it more likely you'll finish. It's hard to write about things that do not interest you, and will actually trick you in to believing that the story is worse than it actually is. And, in most cases, "good" and "bad" are subjective attributes that are colored by a person's life experiences, so write the stories that give you the most satisfaction, and you'll find that some other people will enjoy the story, and yet others will not.


Don't Doubt, Write a New Draft

I think the first stage of a writer’s development ends when they finally realize that editing and rewriting are two completely different things. Also at play, the difference between an idea and execution, observation and analysis. Again, all completely different.

I think you’re ready to see this. Why? Because your writer’s gut (what I like to call my ‘crap-o-meter’) is sufficiently well tuned to detect crap before your story is even done. My guess is that you’re simply misinterpreting your gut as doubt because you have yet to commit to rewriting.

I’ll explain.

Editing involves improving a draft you’ve already written - shortening, polishing, tweaking it to get the best possible version of that execution. Much writing advice recommends quickly jumping to editing as the means to improve writing.

But what if your draft is crap? Something fundamentally flawed; something that will never work (given the current execution) - certainly not worth putting time into. That is why editing is over-rated, because editing really means salvage - keeping the draft instead of just throwing it out and starting over. Editing is only appropriate when you’re almost there.

If you’re not finishing your stories, then it seems to me they must be first drafts. But everybody’s first drafts, yours, mine, even the pros, tend to suck. I find it unproductive to edit first drafts.

Perhaps the writing world would be better off calling first drafts ‘prototypes.’

In the IT world, a first attempt at something big and complex warrants a prototype. Prototypes are throwaways, a kind of research, their only purpose to inform what the real thing should be. IT pros do not salvage their prototypes and prototypes don’t have to be finished.

On some level, even though you’ve judged your stories as flawed, you seem to be avoiding simply rewriting them from scratch - which is what a draft is. Deep down I’ll bet, you want to keep them, because some parts of them you like. Maybe you took a few shots at editing, which got you nowhere, but you still don’t want to let go. This is salvage thinking. So instead, you’re moving on to the next story, tucking the earlier story away somewhere, unfinished, but safe from harm.

There are two reasons why everybody tries to salvage.

First, writers fear the loss of the good stuff from the earlier draft. Trust me, when you’re rewriting, the good stuff just pops back out; the good stuff is easy to remember. What you’ll forget is everything else, the crap.

Second, writers believe that editing is faster, but in reality, it isn’t. For clarity, a single edit is faster than a single rewrite, but editing a fundamentally broken execution takes many passes at editing. This is what I used to do. I would edit a story’s first draft endlessly, never getting anywhere. Compared to that, I have found that starting over is much faster in the end.

So that’s the opinion I’m tossing out there. Now let me give some practical advice.

Pick a story to rewrite.
Other answers have given good advice about taking time away from a recent draft that I won’t argue with. I’m just saying, I don’t care if it’s your first story or your most recent, pick a story to rewrite.

Analyze that story.
Your crap-o-meter might have correctly told you that your story sucks, but this is merely observation. This is all that your gut can do. Now it’s up to your conscious mind to figure out why it sucks. Note, the best analysis tends to be short and obvious.

Plan a high-level solution.
Based on your analysis, create a high-level plan for your rewrite - one fundamentally different than the previous approach that addresses why it didn’t work. Avoid any kind of exhaustive outline. You’re looking for a new execution. Don’t get lost in the weeds.

Rewrite it.
Open a blank document or put a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter if that’s your thing, then start typing. DO NOT have the previous version also visible for reference.

Repeat as necessary.
Yes, your next draft might suck as well, but since it will suck in a different way, you’ll be better off. I’ve worked with other writers and watched their approaches. The best of them worry little about early drafts. They happily take criticism and fearlessly rewrite. Sometimes their second draft is worst than the first. But eventually, they circle their way to best final draft.

In contrast, writers who can’t let go of their first drafts, those that attempt to salvage them with editing, get lost in the weeds; their story’s don’t improve and are eventually abandoned. Perhaps writing itself is eventually abandoned as well.

It’s not about doubt. It’s about clinging to the first execution of your idea. But your idea is fine, they all are. You just need to experiment with other executions.

Good luck and I hope this helps.

  • I use Gitlab for writing and keep notes inside my WIP. Prototyping is a great term to use and I think this is the best and most accurate answer. Treat your writing like coding and don't be afraid to kill your darlings. Jun 7, 2016 at 21:18

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