Best of Ask the Agent: Slaying the Self-Doubt Monster

Getting out of your own head and putting words on the page. Also: yum-yums, and some spooky stuff!

Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood Children’s Book Literary Agent, Jennifer Laughran. In “Best of Ask the Agent: The Newsletter” I pick out my favorite questions from the long-running Ask the Agent tumblr advice column and share them with you. If you don’t like advice, feel free to scroll to the bottom, where I recommend some new books! But first….

Links of Note

Best of Ask the Agent: How do I get out of my own head?!

“How should I handle self doubt in my writing life? I'm too afraid to fail and it’s affecting the way I write. I love writing and I don't expect to become famous or anything, but I sometimes wonder if other people are just being nice. I want to get out of my own head, but I don't know how.”

Know that this is something that probably EVERY writer struggles with. So, maybe, it is the sign that you are really on the right track! I asked some author friends for advice and I got a lot of it – perhaps you will find some helpful wisdom here:

FIND COMMUNITY:  “Be in community with other writers to feel less alone. Classes also help get you out of your head, have deadlines and companionship.” “Doing something like NaNoWriMo is very helpful for this! It forces you to just push through and keep going and not give in to the anxiety.“ “If you’re able to, attend local workshops and conferences to meet other writers.” (And of course, there is community to be found online, too!)

GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SUCK: “Embrace the process. Let go of the idea of perfection and focus on doing the work.” “Just open the doc and write; the words don’t have to be good. Crappy first drafts! But get words on the page.” “Totally de-emphasize quality until you’ve finished a project. Then let it sit and come back to it weeks later. It’ll be better than you thought. In short: give yourself permission to suck.”

YOU CAN’T EDIT A BLANK PAGE: Something is a heck of a lot better – and easier to fix – than Nothing! “I think there is a tendency amongst writers to feel like that first draft is the final draft. I struggle with it every time I sit down to write, especially now that I have a novel out there on the shelf. Therefore every word I write is compared to something polished and professionally edited. It’s impossible (for 99% of us anyway) to achieve that on an initial pass. It’s about getting the words on the page. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It may be dialogue heavy and action lite or the reverse and that is okay because revision is where you worry about making it right. I literally have to remind myself of this every single morning as I sit down at my computer because it is always what I am bucking against.”

SET ATTAINABLE GOALS: “Treat it like a job. Give yourself tasks and goals that are measurable in daily or weekly increments. Create muscle memory so that writing is something that you do despite the doubt.” “Get objective about goals. Celebrate word counts.”

WRITING FOR YOU: “Write for the joy of it, for your own entertainment, without concern for publishing. It’s very freeing to stop worrying about the “rules.” “I just remind myself that the time for second-guessing is during revisions. Drafting is for that pure, stream of consciousness gold that can only be spun when we’re not overthinking.“  “Indulge once a week in a "just for myself” writing project. It can be anything! A poem, a quick story, a picture book. Anything. But it’s only for YOU. Tell yourself you’ll never let it see the light of day. You’ll be freer with it–you’ll get back to the FUN of writing.” 

NAME YOUR INNER CRITIC - AND TELL THEM TO STFU: “Libba Bray had an amazing workshop years ago where she had us name our internal editor, say three things our editor tells us, and what we’d like to say to him/her. To this day, I can still picture what my internal editor looks like…and can visualize her being gagged and tied to a chair so she can’t get in my way.“  

“Say “Thank you for sharing” to that little voice inside your head and write. Write crap, write half-asleep, write unsure, write mad, but write and eventually your muse will get the idea that you mean @#$%^&* business.”

“I talk to my writing students (both young and old) about “The Inner Crazy Lady”.  I’ve learned to write my first drafts as fast as possible and whenever the ICL starts telling me the usual stuff about how this is the worst book I’ve ever written and all my previous books were flukes and I have no idea how to write and I’m a fraud and and and I’ve gotten better at saying “Shut up, bi*%h, that’s what revision is for."“

BOOKS THAT MIGHT HELP: “I highly recommend the audio version of Steven Pressfield’s bestseller, The War of Art. It’s freakin’ wonderful! Helped me get over my writing / illustrating blocks.“ “I’d recommend both On Writing (Stephen King) and Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott) if she hasn’t read them. Sometimes realizing that all writers have similar doubts and fears can inspire a person to push through them.”  (And a second for those picks!) “Read BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, ON WRITING by Stephen King, and STILL WRITING by Dani Shapiro. I reread one of these before I start a new project.”  “I’ve just started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic on audio - it’s pretty inspiring and talks a lot about fear and self-doubt.“

OR…. “Why would you want to get out of your head?  That’s where all the stories come from.  Hang a hammock in there, get comfy and wait for all the really good stuff to come out from the shadows. The self-doubt is what pushes you to keep doing better.  All part of the process!”

OR…. “Therapy!!! I went to therapy to survive my debut year and it was amazing and great. Like leveling up in life.“

The long and the short (ok, the long and the long) is: Being a writer can be totally fun… and frustrating… and demoralizing… and ALL of it. And that is actually all NORMAL. There is LOTS of advice out there - but you need to figure out what YOU need to do to get your mojo. And best of luck!

Coming to Bookstores Soon… Welcome to Frightville!

Fans of fun and spooky books like Goosebumps, take note: FRIGHTVILLE is a new series about a special store that sells toys for anyone’s wish list… or so it seems. In fact, Frightville is a one-stop shop for all your fears! The first two books are coming in a couple of weeks - you can pre-order now via the links in the titles, or from your favorite bookstore:

FRIGHTVILLE: DON’T LET THE DOLL IN by Mike Ford - Scholastic, April 21

When Mara hears about a new store called Frightville, she can't wait to check it out. On its shelves are strange and unusual gifts of all kinds. It's there that she comes face-to-face with Charlotte, a small figurine of a friendly-looking girl.

Mara instantly feels that Charlotte is meant to live with her. But once Charlotte is in the dollhouse, strange things start to happen. There are odd noises in the night, and objects from Mara's room start to go missing. Is Mara imagining things, or is this doll actually haunted?

FRIGHTVILLE: CURSE OF THE WISH EATER by Mike Ford - Scholastic, April 21

David's new chattering teeth toy was advertised as a Wish Eater: Able to grant any wish! But after annoying siblings are wished away, can they be wished back?

If this newsletter was helpful or interesting to you, feel free to share, or sign up to get it delivered straight to your inbox once a week. Thanks, and see ya next time! xo Jenn