Holding onto Hope While Drafting

There’s something both thrilling and terrifying about starting a new book, especially when you haven’t done so in a while. Maybe you’ve just taken some time off. Or maybe you’ve spent a long time editing/polishing another manuscript. Either way, that blank page is daunting.

What can be even more daunting than a blank page, however, is scribbling your way through fifty pages, or a hundred pages, or an entire first draft, and thinking, “Wow, this is not the marvelous story I had in mind before I started writing.” Your complex, vivacious heroine is bland, and her jokes aren’t funny. Your secondary characters seemed wonderfully larger-than-life in concept, but are like cardboard cutouts in execution. Your plot meanders where it ought to race, and suffocates where it ought to breathe.

You despair of ever getting your manuscript from this mess to the gem of a book you dreamed about. You think about cutting your losses now and just starting over with another idea. Or maybe you get even more depressed and consider giving up this whole writing thing altogether.

In moments like that, this Ira Glass quote can be really helpful.


It’s one of my favorite writing quotes, and it reminds me that the very fact that I can realize where the problems are in my manuscript is a good sign! The fact that I’m raging about not being able to be as good as I want to be is a good sign. Because it means that you’re good enough to tell where your faults are.

I love many different kinds of art, and many of my friends are visual artists, or musicians, or dancers, or photographers. None of them ever seem completely satisfied with their own work. My friend plays me a gorgeous piece on the piano, and I tell her I can find no faults, but she can’t focus on anything but the places where she rushed ever-so-slightly. I watch my other friend practice ballet and am totally amazed by everything she does, but she tell me that her lines aren’t nearly clean enough.

They see faults I can’t because they’re so much better in their crafts than I am. And even if they’re still making mistakes, they at least know about it!

Keeping Glass’s quote in mind helps me through general “I’m not good enough! I’ll never be good enough!” woes, but there’s still the manner of staring down that unsatisfactory manuscript and trying to push past the fear that it’ll never get any better.

That’s when I start reminding myself that the first draft (or two!) of a book is like this:


While an almost-finished draft is like this (please ignore the utter wonkiness of his tie, and the fact that I’m too lazy to finish his sleeves 😛 Also, yes, it’s Neal Caffrey. I’m on a “White Collar” kick!):


Every time I start a new drawing, I stare at that messy outline and think it’s never going to get to the point where it looks presentable. Most of the time, I push through while still believing that everything is utter crap…right up until the moment when things finally start to fall together.

Drawing a picture takes a whole lot less time for me than writing a book, so the middling “holding onto hope and plunging forward” period lasts a lot longer, but it’s a similar process. Sometimes, you just have to believe.

How do you get yourself through the tough middling parts of a book?


16 Responses to Holding onto Hope While Drafting

  1. Anita Saxena Mar 9 2015 at 6:24 am #

    I just tell myself to power through those difficult middles. No editing along the way (especially if it’s a first draft).
    Love the quote and the post!

    • Kat Mar 9 2015 at 3:37 pm #

      Thanks, Anita! 🙂

  2. Abby Mar 9 2015 at 10:33 am #

    This is just what I needed to hear this morning. I’ve been struggling with the deadly middle of my current WIP and longing for the shiny new idea that’s been sitting on my back burner, since it’s so perfect in my head. But your reminder that recognizing your faults is actually a good sign gives me hope. So I’ll just keep showing up every afternoon after my day job and putting in the work…only way through! Thanks!

    • Kat Mar 9 2015 at 3:37 pm #

      I’m glad the post was helpful 😀 I’m cheering you on!

  3. Marc Vun Kannon Mar 9 2015 at 10:48 am #

    I don’t have a tough middle. I don’t have any middle. I’m always writing the end. Tomorrow I write the end after that.

    • Kat Mar 9 2015 at 3:38 pm #

      That’s a cool way of seeing it! 🙂

  4. Rowenna Mar 9 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    Middles are hard, you’re right, because not only has the “shiny” usually worn off, the problems start to emerge. I like to write down my concerns as I’m writing–identifying “this character is boring” or “this plot point doesn’t seem as logical as I thought at first” lets me move on and keep writing, knowing I’ll come back and hit the issues later. I think there’s also something to be said for giving yourself permission to “bench” work that’s not working. I started something recently that, when I assessed it at 20K, I had to be honest with myself that, conceptually, it just wasn’t good enough as it stood (which stunk, because if I was just as honest, the writing itself was really good). Maybe marinating in the “Not Current” file will give it some new life and I can take it in a better direction–or not. And that’s ok. I don’t want to encourage “serial starting,” but permission to stop working on projects can be liberating.

    • Kat Mar 9 2015 at 3:40 pm #

      You’re so right about “benching” work that isn’t working 🙂 There’s definitely a lot of “gritting your teeth and pushing through” in writing, but sometimes (and it can be so hard to tell when!), you just have to set things aside for later, too.

  5. Alexia Chantel Mar 9 2015 at 10:03 pm #

    what a great quote, that should sit on my desk. And the list made a great point, it is so hard to know when to say when but if you do it can make a world of difference.

    • Kat Mar 11 2015 at 12:05 pm #

      🙂 🙂

  6. Alexa S. Mar 10 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    I loved your post, Kat! I’ve found myself having a lot of moments lately where I’m frustrated with what I’ve drafted in my newest story. Just reading this post, and seeing that awesome quote, was a lot of encouragement to keep on writing, keep on moving forward, and I love that! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Kat Mar 11 2015 at 12:06 pm #

      No problem, Alexa! 😀

  7. Kim Mar 13 2015 at 8:01 pm #

    I’ve never seen this quote before, and it’s fantastic. I’m in the middle of a WIP that I think is lagging, and I so needed to hear this right now. Thanks!

  8. Melody Simpson Mar 17 2015 at 5:55 pm #

    What a great quote! And awesome work on Neal, Kat! Love this post, just what I needed to read today.

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