The Crime Readers' Association

The Scourge of Self-Doubt A.J Waines

28th March 2014

In my work as a Psychotherapist, many creative people have come to me with self-doubt about their chosen craft. They tell me that they have stopped producing, because what they are going to create might not be ‘any good’. Sound familiar?

There is a way around this and I’m sure it’s common to many writers. It’s based on Stephen King’s philosophy which is to ‘get the story down’. In a first draft, don’t worry about whether it sounds good, is original, will impress your girlfriend/agent/Sunday Times reviewer. Your duty is to get the story that is in your head out on paper – that’s all. Just get the words down.

Put ‘X’ if you can’t think of the right word. My manuscripts are riddled with ‘X’s, but when I go back, I often know immediately which word is missing. It’s strange, but it’s as though with each new day our brain is tuned in a fresh way and we notice, see, hear and write differently to the way we did yesterday. It’s the same concept that meant yesterday you couldn’t find your keys and you go straight to them today or couldn’t remember the name of your best friend’s dog, but you can today. You can always put ‘X’ for gaps in chunks of research too – just add ‘Xfind out top speed of a Honda 90’ and so on.

One you’ve got the story down, you can go back and tweak (or heavily hack with a chain-saw.) The good thing is you’ve got something concrete to work with – not just vague ideas swirling around in your head. You can ask yourself questions like: Is this what I really meant here? Are these the best words? Is it overwritten? Is it lacking in detail? Is the pace right? Is it too much like writing I’ve read many times before? You can add, take things out, edit, change the rhythm, swap sentences around. And you can do it as many times as you want.

Remember that first drafts can be awful – but no one need ever see them.

Another idea I find useful, is never to leave my desk at the end of the day on an ‘ending’ of any sort. A blank page the following day is hard to work with.  I always leave sketches in the manuscript for the next section; a scrap of dialogue, action, the setting, anything that hooks me in, so that I can step straight into the feel of the story when I come back.  Then I stop and move away. The next day, it’s already on the go.

Fear of Success

Sometimes, lack of progress comes from the other end of the scale – writers can fear ‘success’ just as much as they fear failing and this stops them in their tracks. I believe ultimately it is still about fear of not being good enough. If you succeed, then your next novel has a lot of expectations riding on it. This can often happen with a second novel. There is considerable pressure in the knowledge that people are waiting for a book as good as the first ‘blockbuster’. What if your publisher turns this one down? What if you start getting poor reviews, this time? The antidote is the same. Keep writing. Write what excites and fascinates you. Your gift is intact and still burning away inside you – if you let energy flow through it and allow it to breathe!

AJ Waines is a Crime Fiction Writer, specialising in Psychological Thrillers. Her first two novels The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train are bestsellers, reaching No 1 in ‘Murder’ and ‘Psychological Thrillers’ in the UK Kindle Store. She has an Agent and publishing deals in France and Germany (Random House) and draws on over fifteen years of experience as a Psychotherapist, including work with clients from high security prisons. She lives in Southampton, UK, with her husband.

For further information visit AJ Waines’ Website: You can also follow her Blog – and she’s on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Go back to Blog

Join the CRA

Joining the CRA is FREE. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and we need nothing but your email. You will receive a regular newsletter but no spam.