Groundhog Day: Recurring Draft Doubt and How to Beat It

As if insults on a chocolate foil weren’t enough, now cough drops are attempting psychotherapy. Unwrapping a lozenge yesterday, I found the paper printed with aggressive encouragements:

“You can do it and you know it!”

“Flex your can-do muscle!”

“Fire up those engines!”

It read like a lemon-and-menthol Jillian Michaels. I laughed because just moments earlier I’d berated myself with identical sentiments. Not about being sick—“suck it up” is already central to my wellness mantra—but about finishing Syzygy.

I’ve almost finished the draft. Another ten thousand words and the story’s bones will be assembled. Then I’ll have to face the inconsistencies, placeholders, and unsatisfactory passages I’ve left behind me in the manuscript. I remember reaching this point with Blue Karma. I know what comes next: Groundhog Day. Every time I near the finish line, a unique species of vermin re-emerges: the Inner Critic.

This plot is flatter than that old beer you tried to serve at your Super Bowl party! the Critic hisses at me. Better kick this cold, because if you sneeze, you’ll blow away those paper-thin characters. You’re really going to follow an award-winning debut with this half-baked, derivative space opera that’s only part of a larger story?

The Critic casts a long shadow over projects. Motivation and creativity wither in its shade. With a tantalizing new idea lined up for my next novel, I’m tempted to suspend work on Syzygy and escape to a fresh narrative landscape, where no derisive thoughts can burrow in and erode my confidence. But I’ve seen this before. Although I haven’t succeeded in pushing the Critic back underground, surviving this freeze-out once taught me a few things that help me look beyond its umbral influence.

Believe it or not, an indie author platform offers built-in protection against quitting, because you have to generate buzz for your next book long before it publishes. It demands commitment. I’ve been teasing Syzygy for months and even referenced it in interviews. To say “just kidding, maybe another time!” would make me feel like a reprehensible flake. Who knew blogging could provide such stability? Traditional authors whinge about deadlines from a demanding publisher, but no literary agent could be as compelling as a promise to one’s readers.

Not only that, I’ve poured a lot of hours into this story since finishing Blue Karma last summer. Giving up now would waste months of work. Moonlight novelists like me can’t be frivolous with our writing time. Fiction doesn’t pay my bills: I schlep to an office every day and scrape up time for stories afterwards, neglecting sleep, chores, friends, and other aspects of normal non-writer life. At more than 40,000 words and counting, Syzygy has almost reached a salable length. That’s too much progress for an indie author, who needs titles to build her brand, to just throw away.

But I find my greatest resistance to the Critic is simple recognition. After my first rodeo with Blue Karma, I know this specter is just a stage of the writing process. I know when I finish the draft, I’ll feel relieved at the accomplishment and daunted by the prospect of revision. I’ll obsess over rewrites until I’m thoroughly sick of the story and dump it in my Laddie’s lap for a first read. Stories have cycles. Seasons. The shadow will wane, my doubts will thaw, and my book will finally bloom.

Does your Inner Critic return to cast shadows on your projects? How do you overcome it? Share your experiences in the comments—I’d be glad for some new perspectives!

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