8

I have a problem in that if I ever tell people about my story ideas, I lose motivation and eventually stop working on them. If I do not tell them I feel like I have pressure to get the story "out there", so I will work on them a lot harder.

The problem is this includes things like beta readers and Writing SE. Which is actually a very big problem as it means if I have a story problem and I cannot solve it by myself I either risk getting stuck and unable to finish the story at all or I ask someone for help and risk losing chunks of motivation. At the same time, like all human beings, I've found positive responses to my work makes me want to continue writing. This isn't even getting into how criticism in general helps improve writing by pointing out bad ideas and areas to improve. If I write in a sterile environment I have nothing to encourage me to continue or help me course-correct.

This is what has happened with my most recent story. I had a story idea based on an old outline of mine and spent a few months in a flurry of activity getting works done. Then I hit a problem I couldn't get around and got desperate enough to seek out help from other people, my current beta readers. I sent them drafts of chapters that are not even entirely finished because I can't figure out how to frame or word certain scenes, and I am not making any progress otherwise. Now I am concerned that I will never get these chapters done because my motivation to "fill in the blanks" is dropping and writing is becoming less of an excitement and more of a chore (with the quality of my work suffering as well), and it's been this way for months. Which to me is bad because I really want this idea to be the one that gets completed more than anything.

My question is: How do you deal with the Morton's Fork of, on the one hand, telling people about your story causing you to lose interest in it and, on the other, lack of positive interaction or critical feedback from others causing you to lose interest in it and stop writing anyway.

  • 2
    Just so you know, this is a very known phenomenon. Usually this is described as, when someone shares their incomplete work, they stop working on it. They get the positive feedback of praise, and stop being interested in finishing it. This is why people suggest not sharing anything, until it is pretty much done. The desire to share will get you to the finish line. – Andrey Jul 6 at 19:31
  • @Andrey Yeah, usually I've been pretty good about avoiding showing it to others (I used to have a real bad problem with this in the past), but I noticed I was getting pretty severe burnout and being unsatisfied with the plot even before I decided showing it to others as a Hail Mary. Now I have no idea what to do. – user2352714 Jul 6 at 22:02
9

As somebody who has lots of story ideas but really struggles to get them written to completion, I can personally relate to this, and I would love to offer some advice that helped me to get through this problem. Hopefully it will help you too!

What happened to me

Over the past few months, I've been writing a cyberpunk detective story. It's a new genre venture for me - it's my first-ever attempt to write a detective story and I'm still finding my footing, so my first drafts have been pretty rough and in need of polish. However, at first it was an absolute blast to write, and I was just flying along getting almost half of the story done. Then I decided to get some feedback and see what people thought of it so far.

While describing the plot of the story to a friend, including the opening chapter where my detective protagonist is interviewing a witness, I suddenly realized aloud, "Oh my God, that plot detail makes no sense and his motivation there doesn't make sense. Why would he do that?" And that led to a bigger realization once I understood just how massive the plot hole really was. I realized the plot of the story was flawed, and I would have to rewrite the first half of the story to fill the plot holes my friend had helped me find.

Basically, I had shown the story to other people and gotten relatively mild criticism, but that criticism spiraled into realizing a huge issue with the story. It caused me to lose all hope in the story, and hence my will to write.

At the time, realizing my story was so flawed was a huge blow, and it crushed my motivation to write anymore. It was also kind of embarrassing, because it sucked to realize that a draft I had worked so hard on needed major story improvement and ended up needing to be almost completely rewritten. It caused the worst writer's block of my life. The document that I had so treasured a few weeks ago now sat on my hard drive, untouched, for weeks.

Writing wildly and freely, without any audience pressure or feedback, had been so fun that I had basically flown through almost the whole story in the first pass. But "filling in the blanks" and actually fixing the story after getting feedback on it was the hardest part. It felt, just like you say, a chore.

But in the end, I gathered my courage, reopened the document, and made the improvements. And that vital plot feedback, however painful it was to get at the time, vastly improved my story, and that friend ended up being the most helpful beta reader I've ever had. Filling the plot holes and changing the character motivations made the pacing and the plot so much better, and realizing how cool the story was now gave me my motivation back.

My advice

The point of this story is that I think your loss of motivation to write might come from realizing the problems in your story, whether directly by you or given to you as feedback by your beta readers, once you show your story to a third party. Just like how you can't see the flaws in a piece of art until you see it from an outsider's perspective, you often overlook the flaws in your stories until a second viewpoint reveals the issues you were missing. And actually going in and fixing these flaws feels like going down into the trenches, and sometimes you just can't bring yourself to do it for a long time.

But you have to get into those trenches if you want to finish your story. You have to. There's no other way.

It can be incredibly demoralizing to have that kind of negative response to something you've poured your heart and soul into, and cause you to lose the urge to keep writing. But the key thing I want you to know is that once you overcome the negative reaction to that feedback and use it to improve your story, you will almost certainly start to see the improvement in your story and how much better it reads, and the motivation to write will (hopefully) come back.

I wish you luck!

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    This is a very good answer. This is basically what happened to me, except the critic was myself. The moment ideas stopped flowing freely was the minute I realized the conclusion I was building to was not what I wanted, and like the Centipede's dilemma I just tripped all over my own feet. It's a lot harder when you are your worst critic, because at least with beta readers you can just avoid them until you have your first draft done. – user2352714 Jul 5 at 14:39
2

Sciborg's excellent answer tells the truth plain and simple. I'd like to add a few psychological tricks to make the process hurt a little less.

If you are a parent to a young child or know someone who is, you might have noticed young children can and will rewatch the same episode of the same show over and over again. Why? Because their brains are still learning to extract story structure from the moving blobs of colors and shapes on the television screen. Every rewatch of the same Paw Patrol episode their familiarity increases, and with better familiarity comes increased enjoyment.

It's a developmental phase the child quickly outgrows. Even slightly older children catch the meaning and subtlty on their first introduction to a story, and the need for familiarity is replaced with a desire for novelty.

Therein lies part of your problem. As a writer you are already overly familiar with your own story, and every time you speak up the story in your mind grows staler. Unfortunately time moves in but one direction and it's impossible to channel the childhood state of constant wonder you once possessed, but you can do these:

  • Realize your readers do not have your foreknowledge.

Your story is old hat to you, but not to them.

  • Structure feedback moments into your writing plan and stick to them.

Some writers embrace chaos and that's fine. But if you work in a structured manner, i.e. start with a summary, then an outline, then block out your scenes, then start draft one; determine where in the story feedback is most valuable to you. Seek help during those phases, but during others you're on your own.

The loophole here is 'I need help after every phase.' Don't. Choose one or two moments, max.

  • Never send out incomplete manuscripts.

Inevitably your beta readers will ask what's with the abrupt end and what happens next. You'll oblige and talk for an hour, several times, to several people. Each time you do, it's like writing another draft. To me, at least, it saps desire to put those words on paper.

  • Simplify by blocking.

Some scenes are difficult to write because they either have to accomplish many different goals, have to convey complex information, the chronology of events going in is unknown to you before going in, or you don't even know what the scene's purpose is.

It might seem like a good idea to seek someone else's input, but this will result in the same issue listed in the previous point. Instead, block out your scene instead. Do away with writing good prose, grammar, show-not-tell and even dialog. Write what happens in the scene in the simplest of words. Often underlying flaws reveal themselves quickly.

  • Terrify your neighbours act out scenes

Like blocking, but focused on dialog and understanding your characters. Put yourself in their shoes and to spot issues without having to ask for feedback.

  • Find joy in writing good prose

It's great to hear "I really like the story you tell," but "this particular sentence is beautiful" is also a great compliment to get. Prose-polishing is a finishing touch; if you learn how to like it, you'll have a final phase in the editing process to get excited about. (Hey, it works for me.)

But above all else, remind yourself why you write whenever it is hard to. Put this reason on a large sheet of paper with a glitter pen; hang it above your desk for easy reference. Praise and positivity are nice to receive, but ultimately, the will to write must be summoned from within. You're never without motivation if you are your own biggest supporter.

Good luck.

| improve this answer | |
  • Yeah, I think that's definitely some of it. I've been noticing I've been doing the Doctor Who thing of "re-experiencing novelty vicariously through showing it to other people". It helped a little in that it encouraged me to get things into a readable state, but it may have hurt more than it helped. And in hindsight I should have been blocking rather than seeking feedback, so at least if the novelty did wear off I had a clearer roadmap. – user2352714 Jul 5 at 14:37
2

The other responses give wonderful advice that alleviate the symptoms. I find the root cause for my own block is perfectionism.

Becoming enveloped in the world I’m trying to portray, writing as many details as possible, mentally watching the characters, describing their inner worlds etc. Over months, it feels as if this is a part of me. When I give it to someone else to read, it’s not mine anymore and even constructive criticism can feel like a personal attack. If I feel like putting the pen down for awhile, I’m struggling with my own expectations.

Rationally, I understand that no book is perfect as a rough draft. As someone who perpetually held everything I did to a higher standard, I find I still need to adjust. The last time I froze was after getting good constructive feedback, I had to tackle my expectations again. I gave myself permission to be a student and admitted some of the areas I need practice. At that point, I knew there is only one way to get practice. I tried a different outline technique and read up on a few others before writing a few scenes where the characters accomplish multiple plot points in one scene.

All my life, I wrote stories, so I never questioned why. Once I found out what purpose it served and what is most important to me, I was able to target the perfectionism. When I can’t bring myself to edit a story, I write something else. Keep the momentum going.

The bottom line is always the characters for me. These are people I want the world to meet, the more I understand what readers are expecting, the better chance my characters will interact with more readers. I want readers to react emotionally, to suspend their reality because they can’t put the book down. I’m too objective to polish and tighten a novel by myself, constructive criticism will let me know what is more interesting to an outsider.

| improve this answer | |
0

I had a version of this problem for 20 years as a writer. Then I finally solved it.

I was writing as an amateur, and for amateur reasons. I was looking for fame, for praise, for adulation. I was writing towards the dream of people reading my words and loving them, which meant loving me. I was forever gunning for a goal, racing for the finish line, trying to get my book finished and into people's hands as soon as possible. I was in love with every word as I wrote it, but the moment I put it in someone else's hands, and got back even the mildest criticism, I wilted. After that, I hated the work, and I never wanted to see it again. And I took ever word of criticism personally, and in anger.

None of this is what the professional writer does. The professional writer does not have to be motivated to write. She is committed to writing, and does it daily, whether motivated or not. The professional writer realizes that inspiration is a function of preparation and diligence, not a state of mind, or an emotion. He knows that a reader does not respond to how the writer feels while writing, but to what is actually present on the page. The professional writer is not gunning for the finish line. They embrace the process. They are in the moment of creation, and willing to stay there as long as it takes, whether that's a day or a lifetime. The professional writer embraces criticism. She knows it isn't about her as a person, it's about what words she has affixed to the page. It's his window into how his writing is connecting with the reader (or not). It isn't easy to approach writing as a professional, but it's the only way to produce that caliber of work.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.