Writer’s Doubt



Should I keep writing?

For the past two months, I’ve opened my file 
And scrolled through page after page
But the words I read felt flat and lifeless.
For the past month, the pieces of my story have felt amiss:
Too large, too aimless, too disconnected, too weak,

And the picture I’ve painted looks neither pretty nor meaningful.

For the past two weeks, my characters have been wary

When they meet me for mandatory morning coffee,
As though my insecurities have forever silenced their voice.
For the past week, I’ve been certain that I’ve done this all wrong,
The whisper of writer’s doubt a needling presence in my head,
Comparing myself to others, convinced that I’m a hack.

This morning, I stole away to a quiet place
And opened my file, perhaps for the last time.
My fingers grazed over the keyboard, my mind stalling as before.

My fear bloomed, waving the flags of past failures.
What if this story was a flop (just like that other one)?
Worse, what if I didn’t have it in me to create something new?

And then my eyes stumbled upon a random passage I liked,
As I read, my words opened a door back into my character’s world. 
When I stepped through, I relived his pain in that moment I’d written.

This character argued and growled; this was a person I’d created,
His world a harsh yet wonderful place because of me.
His story only accessible through my sheer will and imagination.

Abandoning fear for just that moment, I began to type…yes, I actually wrote!
Wonder of wonders, I helped my character experience the joy of a first kiss,
And he in turn helped me remember why I write:

Because my characters trust me.
Because their worlds provide me with a sense of home.
Because their stories reflect my deepest passions and my heart.

Because when I write, it is for them but also for me.
So no matter how deep the pit of writer’s doubt I find myself in, 
And especially when I do not live up to those lofty expectations,

The answer will always be yes,
I should keep writing.

H.
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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH, and like all writers, she experiences occasional writer’s doubt. You can find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.



Fail Differently

During the Christmas break, my son, Sam, found a unicycle for $15 at a thrift store. He hollered, “Mom! Look!” Then he ran to see if his older brothers wanted to pool their money with him to buy it. But he struck out. Neither of them were interested.

Sam still wanted the unicycle though. He carried it around the store saying, “Should I buy it? I don’t know if I should buy it.” 

He wondered if he could learn how. And what if he didn’t? Would it be a big ol’ waste of money? He didn’t have a clue where to even begin. How do you even start to learn how to ride a such a vehicle? 

I think Sam would’ve talked himself right out of buying that unicycle. Luckily, I was there to give him a bit of encouragement. 

It sounded something like, “You can do it. We’ll watch some YouTube videos.”

After all, you can learn anything from YouTube, right? I mean, if I could learn the right way to tie my shoes, then surely we could find videos about riding a unicycle.  

That did it. It was just enough to bolster his confidence.

YES! He could do it. Why not? So, he bought it.

As soon as we walked through the doors of our home, he asked me to find a video to watch. I found this super nifty one made by Coach Bob. 


Doesn’t that make you want to run out and get your own unicycle? 

Sam immediately went to a wall, leaned against it, and attempted to push off and stay upright on his unicycle.

He didn’t. 

But he tried again. 

And again. 

And again.

He started to stay upright…for a few inches. And then a few feet. But then he found he was messing up in the same way. He wasn’t progressing. He could only stay on for a few feet before losing his balance and toppling over.

“Fail differently!” I told him reminding him of Coach Bob’s final tip. 

Oh, man. I love that! Fail differently. Sam needed to try something else. He kept doing the same thing, moving his body in the same way, hoping for different results, and then losing his balance.

He needed to lean farther forward or backward. He needed to find the sweet spot that kept his center of gravity balanced on his precarious one-wheeled mode of transportation. And if he kept trying the same thing over and over again, he wouldn’t be able to do it. He had to try something else, even though there was a pretty good chance he’d probably lose his balance by doing that, too.

He HAD to fail differently in order to succeed.

Wow. I’ll tell you what. It’s like that metaphor became a sentient being and decided to wallop me upside my head. The lesson couldn’t be clearer.

I’ve been failing to meet my personal writing goals for years. And always in the same way. I don’t make the time to work on my craft that I need to in order to find my own balance, to become the writer I want to be.

Instead, I lean forward in the same way over and over, squeezing writing here and there, only finding time to drip tiny drops of work into the cracks of my days, imagining there will always be more time in the future. Or waiting for inspiration, for new ideas, for the solution to a problem before getting to work. I don’t make writing a priority in my life. And you know why?

Fear. Yep. Good old fashioned fear. I’m just like Sam when he was afraid he couldn’t really learn how to ride the unicycle. I’ve been wandering around the shop, wondering if it’s something I can really do, and worrying it’s not. I’m afraid I won’t actually learn how to be the writer I want to be. So, instead of just going for it and trying, putting everything I have into it, I hang back. I wait. I  imagine things will get easier. That the right idea will come. That I’ll simply wake up one day and be a brilliant writer? (Ha!) 

It’s hard to waste time or money on something you might fail at. But Marina Abramovic, the brilliant performance artist said, “I think failure is important because if you go, if you experiment, you can fail. If you don’t go into that area and you don’t fail, you are actually repeating yourself over and over again.”

I’ve been repeating myself for years. Repeating the same failure. 


So, now I need to fail differently. I need to write. Every day. Just show up for it like a job. Because I’d much rather fail by writing and getting things wrong, whole scenes or characters or stories and learn from those failures than fail by simply not writing. 

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll eventually end up as cool as my Sam.  



How can you fail differently?

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Erin Shakespear
 writes middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. With six kids, her days are also full of quirky creatures, magic, strange adventures, and…loads of diapers. She also likes to dabble at photography, sewing, and pretending she’s a grand artist. 

Writing Strong Characters: Look to Yourself

Last month I had the wonderful experience of leading a panel discussion on Strong Characters at the Boise Book Fest. Along with fellow authors Amy Harmon and Wendy Knight, I contemplated the question of what it meant to write strong characters. We had an excellent discussion with the attendees *shout out to Megan P. and Alana C.*, and as conversation unfolded, we explored a variety of ways in which we can view strength.

Characters that are strong in the face of adversity: Strong does not necessarily mean that your characters are of superhero-quality or wear black leather pants and wield samurai swords (though they may). The strongest characters are those that face adversity and hardship but persevere. If you think about the most interesting superheroes, they aren’t invincible. They are the ones that work the hardest to win their battles, whether the conflict is external or coming from themselves…which brings me to the next category.

Damaged characters that undergo strong emotional growth: Your characters might not be “classically” strong. They may have multiple flaws and make terrible decisions. But they could be strong if they have a positive change character arc (see this helpful post on How to Write Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland) and undergo substantial growth during their story.

Independent “stand-on-my-own-two-feet” characters: Your characters could be strong in the sense that they are self-sufficient. I write romance (or include romantic elements) in all of my stories, but my characters don’t need that relationship to be a whole human being. Instead, it’s something that they want and are willing to fight for.

Characters that are strong supporting-actor types: Maybe the main character in your story isn’t the strongest one in the story. It’s possible for you to have a strong secondary character that facilitates the main character’s growth. Think of these characters as being analogous to the supporting actors of the TV/movie world. They aren’t the focus of the story, but they are characters that move the main character through his/her arc. The strength in these secondary characters often appeals to us too, and we can root for them.

Characters that mirror your own strengths: We’re writers. We go through a lot of emotional ups and downs, and though we sometimes forget this when we’re riding the unpredictable roller coaster of the writing business, the longer we stick with it, the more we grow. So perhaps my best advice of all is to think about yourself and what keeps you going when faced with hardship. What allows you to pick up the pieces and keep going when you feel broken? What do you do to support others during dark times? What gives you the strength to stand alone (or with others) and fight your greatest fears? Maybe it’s a samurai sword that helps you do it, but I’d bet it’s something else entirely.

(Photo credit: Megan Paasch)
What do you view as the qualities of a strong character? We’d love to hear your thoughts below! 
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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. Find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.