What To Do When You Hate What You’ve Written

If you ask any writer to compare the first thing they’ve written to their latest work, it’d be safe to say that the first writing effort is cringe-worthy, while the latest shows how much they’ve grown as a writer. The act of writing creates a better author, and when you’re a few books deep with months or years of daily writing under your belt, you are going to be much better at placing words, knowing what to leave out, and crafting characters, plots, and twists.

So where does that leave your first clumsy attempt? The story you thought was the best writing you’d ever done, the manuscript you gave to others to read, the one that is currently sitting in slush piles or attached to query emails? What do you do with the words you’ve been working on for years that you’ve recently come to realize you hate?

Don’t Delete It

The first thing is to ignore your overwhelming desire to kill it with fire and delete it. Find something, anything that made you write it in the first place. An inspired passage, a great sentence. The perfect idea, a plot point that came out of nowhere. You need to find whatever sparked you to put the words down in the first place—and focus on it. Don’t delete the file. You might not know how to improve it right now, but you will someday. And when that day comes, the job will be easier when working with a terrible manuscript than with no manuscript at all.

Understand That Every Writer Feels This Way

From the author starting out to the one who spent the year topping bestseller lists, every writer at some point hates what they’ve written. Most to the extent that they don’t think they’re worthy of being called a writer. The way they got over this was to push aside that pesky doubt and write until they no longer hated their words but enjoyed them enough to send them into the world.

Gather A Feedback File

If you’ve shown your amateur-riddled work to others and they’ve given you feedback, gather the most positive pieces, print them out, and stick them where you can read them whenever that little voice of doubt gets too loud. You might hate your work, but others will feel differently. Knowing what’s good about it from a perspective other than your own can help you to see that it really isn’t as bad as you think.

Read The Greats And Not So Greats

All writers have other writers that they look up to. Read your favorite author or book and let it inspire you. If you think that’s going to make you feel worse, read books that you know are bad! A couple of pages of terrible prose that wasn’t crafted by you is sometimes all you need to discover that, despite what the voice in your head is saying, you aren’t the worst writer in the world.

Celebrate How Far You’ve Come

You have written a book—to completion! It might not be perfect (in your eyes) but it’s something that didn’t exist before. Even if it sucks, you did that. You made something from nothing and that should be celebrated. Then, once the celebrations are done and all of the chocolate is eaten (because what’s a celebration without chocolaty goodness?), work on your creation until what’s on the page matches your expectations, then celebrate again!

Remember That You Can Always Re-Write

The last thing to do is the most important, and that’s to remember that you can always re-write. While having to work on something you hate isn’t motivating and you may feel that it’s easier to give up—don’t. Give it at least one re-write. Use those improved skills, or improve your skills first with a course or editing book, and then give it one more draft. You might be surprised at how salvageable the work is, and how easily you can go from hating what you’ve written to loving it.

— K.M. Allan

19 thoughts on “What To Do When You Hate What You’ve Written

  1. A useful piece of advice…and about reading worst writers or book so that we feel better and get motivated….that’s something really to follow and feel light hearted…and start afresh….Thank you so much for this.

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  2. Of course, it’s a bit different if that cringeworthy work has already been published. But even then you can rewrite and republish — if you’re an indie, anyway. But because a writer will always find something wrong with stuff they’ve written, it might be better just to move on and write something new and better.

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  3. Very, very good advice and I definitely have some cringe worthy writings on my laptop. Even in my current work there are sentences that shock me with how terrible they are! As you said though, we can always re-write….

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  4. Indeed. I keep a file on my computer called “Temporarily Abandoned.” So far, all of the messes that I decided should never see the light of day have been re-written and re-purposed … except for one. And it can stay there until Halifax freezes over without me feeling bad.

    Great advice for your readers in today’s post. Thanks.

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