In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world.
We all approach our writing differently.
I certainly know I sit down at my writing desk happy one day, scared the next, excited the next, annoyed the next. There are always different levels of confidence and uncertainty, and that’s okay.
Last year I wrote my MFA thesis novel, a YA thriller that been kicking around my mind for thirteen years. When I wrote my first novel in 2010, I was thinking of writing this YA thriller shortly thereafter, but I kept putting it off, putting it off. I almost wrote it as my MA thesis novel in 2014, but at the time I STILL didn’t feel ready to do it. When I knew I had to write an MFA thesis due in early 2018, I knew it was now or never: I was so petrified to write this YA thriller, due to its controversial content, due to its dual POV storylines, due to the sheer emotional toll I knew it would take on me.
So yes, when I sat down that first day to write the opening sentence of the YA thriller, I wasn’t confident, ready to go. I was absolutely, insanely, over-the-top terrified. I had been thinking of this novel for more than a decade of my life, and now I wasn’t only taking it on finally, but taking it on in the setting of an MFA program where this would be the main project judged and discussed. I had just signed with a literary agent, too, so the concern of whether or not she’d go for this project lingered in the air, too.
I got through the first day of writing. And the second. Before I knew it, it was July, and I was about halfway through the manuscript’s first draft. Usually, as King has famously said, the scariest part is right before your start, and once you get a grasp of your characters and your story, everything gets a little easier. Such was not the case with my MFA thesis. Almost every day was hard. There were days last summer in July and August where I was slamming my head against the wall, pulling out my hair, desperate to get the next scene right, desperate to not screw this one up.
But you know what I did for those three months I worked on the first draft?
I sat down every day at my writing desk. And I wrote.
I wrote on days when I didn’t feel like writing. I wrote on days where I didn’t really know how to express the next scene on the page. I wrote when I felt confident about what the next few pages would look like, and I wrote when I was completely unsure about what the next part of the story would look like.
Stephen King is correct in that you can approach writing in all sorts of ways. You don’t have to be confident every time you sit down to write. My feeling is that you shouldn’t be confident all the time. There should be some terror at times, some uncertainty. If you sit down every day totally sure of what you’re writing next and already basking in the glow of your awesomeness before you put a word down, something’s wrong. You should absolutely feel like this sometimes, but always? I would be skeptical.
It’s okay to approach your writing with despair, with hopelessness, with uncertainty. At the end of the day, all that matters is that you wrote. Whether it’s 200 words or 2,000. You get some words down for the day, and you’re a writer, and you should feel good about the work you did. Remember that much of your writing will be revised or possibly cut down the road anyway, so don’t fret if the work you did today isn’t the greatest.
What matters is that you wrote, plain and simple.
Approach your writing in any way you want. Just remember to actually write in any way you can, and you’ll be well on your way to a completed first draft.