Uncertainty is creativity’s companion. Whenever we’re working on a writing project, there will be multiple times when you question the work in small and large ways.
You may second guess the ending, the whole narrative arc, or even which character is the true protagonist. A line of dialogue can be worked over fifteen times because you’re not sure if their response to a request should be affirmative or sarcastic. Picking character names (utter agony) or even nailing down their physical description can be alarmingly time-consuming.
Writing is constant decision making, which is partly why it can be so exhausting, but it’s also tricky because our options are often limitless. It’s true that as a story gets further developed the possibilities within that narrative narrow and become more fixed, but the feeling of uncertainty doesn’t go away, usually it just changes form.
Instead of feeling uncertain about the nuts and bolts elements of the work, you may start to worry about whether the book is good. You will feel uncertain about the project was ‘worth it’ (whatever that means), your abilities, or the creative decisions you made early on.
This type of questioning is totally normal, and likely a good thing, because it shows that you care about your work and writing generally.
However, if we become too engaged with this type of questioning, then we run the risk of losing our trust in the intuitive process and our creative selves.
Uncertainty is part of creativity because there is no guidebook out there to tell you how to write this particular book, and even though there may be books and writers who have inspired or influenced the work, they are not an IKEA diagram that you can follow.
Being a writer means learning to decipher when these questions are legitimately highlighting an aspect of the book that isn’t working, and when they’re the hot air of your inner critic.
If it’s the latter, writing down the criticism is often enough to get you moving on. If it’s the former, the problem that’s worrying you will likely become pronounced within the work, such as realising there is a major plot hole or that you are telling the story through the wrong character’s perspective. It becomes obvious and you can’t move forward until you change things.
Such realisations are rarely fun, but making these changes will strengthen your confidence in the story and yourself as a writer.
We can reduce our uncertainty by bringing in beta readers to see if they (unprompted) raise the same questions or issues that have been troubling us. We can workshop our story with them or other trusted writer friends and editors. Ultimately though, you are responsible for all the creative decisions that happen between the front and back cover. That sounds dramatic, but it’s true. After all, the book has your name on it.
Uncertainty can easily become a form of procrastination. It is easy to become obsessed with getting the story perfect and with the idea of making the right decision every time. There are aspects of my first book that I wish I could change now, but I don’t regret publishing. The book is good and I’m proud that it’s out there in the world and I’m happy to be working on other things.
Will future me say the same thing about my next book? Probably, but I can’t speak for how my future self will perceive my present-day work.
Uncertainty exists on so many levels within our creative practice, because you don’t know what impact your writing will have on others.
But that is also what makes it kind of exciting.
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2 thoughts on “Feeling Uncertain about Your Book”
Great video and post! I absolutely agree, Tara, uncertainly is an integral part of the creative process: rewriting and revision prove that out–big time. One technique I use with some success is that when I’m not sure if I’m moving in the best direction, I write out character descriptions. I take each character in the work, even the minor ones and write about them, their past history, their likes, dislikes, habits, attitudes, whatever comes to mind. These character pages then often provide insights that I hadn’t thought of before. Once I start thinking deeply of a particular character, words they speak, thoughts they think, then I have a better idea of what exactly that person wants–motivation. Voila! And I’m off and running. It’s not a guarantee but it helps.
Again, terrific vid and post. Thank you for sharing.
Hi Paul, so glad that you enjoyed the post. Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment. Your approach is a great one! Rather than getting stuck behind feelings of uncertainty or doubt, doing these types of character based exercises is a way to still engage with your story while also coming at it from another angle. Also, frankly, it takes the pressure off. You don’t have to worry about getting it ‘right’ because these types of exercises are more exploratory as you get to know, and better develop, your characters. Thank you so much for sharing. Happy writing!
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