Your manuscript needs to be of the highest possible standard before you send it out to an agent or publisher, or before you self-publish. You will need to revise it – yes, again – to make sure all the elements are working at their optimum, elements such as plot development, character arc, pacing, setting, point of view, style and language usage. You will need to amplify, to deepen, to refine, to enhance. You will need to take the work to the next level of development.
The development phase can be incredibly rewarding but also challenging and, at times, frustrating. It is likely to take longer than you thought. In most cases, years. (Take another deep breath.) I have worked with hundreds of writers, many of whom have been successfully published, and I’ve never heard one say, ‘Oh, that was easier than I thought it would be!’ I don’t say this to put you off, but to prepare you for the realities of the development phase. If you are committed to becoming a published writer, you can’t avoid it. And it is, ultimately a voyage of discovery.
Most writers have a high level of curiosity about the world – the one they are living in, and the one they are creating on the page. Your curiosity and your willingness to learn and discover something new will help you to embrace the challenges as well as the delights of the development phase. You are likely to hit stormy weather in amongst the clear skies; you might feel you are being pushed off course only to find a treasure that helps you on the next leg; you might need to drop anchor and service the engine before continuing, which will, in the long run, allow you to reach your destination sooner. It is quite the voyage.
The most common issue I see writers wrestle with on the journey – whether they are just starting out, or have a couple of bestsellers behind them – is self-confidence. It comes to the fore particularly when we receive feedback from others, but often, we are our own harshest critics.
I was horrified to hear one workshop participant say that after she had had her work looked at by an editor, she was told that it was no good, she should give up on it. I was shocked. How could an editor say such a thing? Through her tears, the writer said, ‘It wasn’t the editor, it was me. I was the one who told myself I was no good.’ There is no magic bullet here, confidence is a personal relationship with the self, influenced by many things. But this writer had come to the workshop, she was picking herself up again and cultivating a fresh perspective and looking for new ways to approach the work.
Self-doubt and a dip in confidence is, it seems, a part of the human condition at various times of our lives. So how do we pick ourselves up when we are flattened by self-doubt? How do we get over a crisis of confidence? How do we build resilience as writers?
Resilience is not about ignoring negative emotions, it is about the ability to adapt when faced with difficulty. Meditation teacher Sharon Salzburg notes, ‘We will never be able to control our experiences, but that we can transform our relationship to them. This changes everything.’
Here are some of ways you can build your resilience as a writer:
- Make connections with other writers and build your writing support network – join a writers group, a writers organisation, go to workshops and retreats. It helps to know that you are not alone in what you are facing through the development phase.
- Avoid the tendency to view negative feedback as an insurmountable challenge – accept that feedback is part of the process and if climbing over it gets too hard, it can be sidestepped if necessary.
- Keep moving towards your writing goal – keep writing, keep reading.
- Start each writing session with an affirmation that resonates for you; have inspiring quotes handy in your workspace to glance at when you feel the sting of self-doubt arising.
- Nurture a positive view of yourself and your abilities – you have achieved an enormous amount just getting to this point and that takes skill, determination and commitment. I realise this is easier said than done, but when you feel your self-confidence dipping, see if you can focus on what you have achieved, rather than on what you haven’t.
- Keep things in perspective and in context – if your draft needs more work, will the world fall apart?
- Keep your sense of humour!