I read an interesting article about Patrick Viera that got me thinking. Patrick is a football player (soccer to us Yanks) who has been playing since about 1996 with a top rate club in England, Arsenal. His coach wrote a book about him entitled ‘Viera’. I didn’t read the book, but part of it is excerpted in the Guardian. Anyhow, his captain says this about him:

“The trophies Patrick won with France obviously gave him a lot of confidence. But he’s a guy who always has self-doubts. I like the type of self-doubt he has because it produces some very positive questioning. It’s not the sort that paralyses you during a game, instead it leads to a process of reflection which makes you self-critical. Patrick always analysed his performance with great lucidity.”

That struck a chord with me, because so many writers doubt themselves. They are terribly insecure about their writing. I think it’s important to take that self doubt and turn it into something a bit more positive. Instead of giving up,  persevere, and instead of letting the doubt paralyse you (I do this sometimes, I think ‘this isn’t right, I can’t go on!’) try, instead, to turn it into a constructive questioning session between you and your book.

Me: “Why am I stuck at this point?”
Book: “Either you have a problem with the character, or you’re just losing sight of the main goal. Try writing three more pages and see how that goes.”
Me: “The character can’t do what I need him to do.”
Book: “Go back and make sure you’ve given him the ability. Maybe you left something out! Or, perhaps he won’t do it, because it’s not helping him resolve the conflict in the story. Check your conflict.”
Me: “The plot is getting too complex, I’ll never be able to keep all the threads straight.”
Book: “Either make an outline now and take care of all the plot lines, or get rid of the ones that don’t advance the story. Is that part helping or hindering?

This especially strikes me as important because I’m in the middle of line-editing books right now (something no one does anymore). It’s frustrating and fastidious – and it makes me want to crawl under my covers and never come out again. It makes me doubt my ability as an author.

So, full of self-doubt, I examine each sentence and think: “Is that sentence making the story go forward? Is it at least helping the characters get to where they have to go?” And when I doubt, I usually leave it out. AND: Just because it’s pretty writing, doesn’t mean you have to leave it in. Poetry can go somewhere else. If I start swooning over my words, chances are they should probably be cut out.

Try to keep track of overused words. Get rid of clichés wherever possible. Go easy on adverbs! Words that keep coming back to haunt me: “a bit”, terribly, pale, (I think pale must be one of my all-time favorite overused word), just, then, only…

(Just then he walked through the door. She saw him and turned a bit pale.)

And remember: When in doubt leave it out! (But don’t give up – we need writers!)