There comes a time in every first draft--well, every one of my first drafts--when little voices begin jabbering in my head. Shrill, almost hysterical voices, saying things like:
This book is terrible.
Nobody will want to read it.
Your idea stinks.
Your execution of the idea stinks.
Your characters have all the life and spark of reanimated zombies.
Your plot is spinning out of control.
Your plot is running aground.
Your prose contains not one original phrase.
You're not writing fast enough.
You're not writing deeply enough.
The funny thing is, the voices aren't there in the beginning. No, they wait. They bide their time, and when I'm closing in on the end of the first draft, when I only have another quarter of the book or so to write, that's when they pipe up with their terrible little naysaying songs.
I've been through this enough times now that I've realized a few things.
The first thing is that the voices come from fear. They don't show up in the beginning, because in the beginning everything is wonderful. The novel bursts with endless possibility! Every story arc is deep and profound! Every character is charming and unforgettable! Every plot twist is shocking and original! In my head, because none of it has actually been written yet.
By the time I'm in 250 pages or so, that illusion of perfection has died a messy, messy death. The real thing--with all its flaws--is staring me in the face. Plot holes big enough to swallow a small planet! Character motivations that make no sense at all! Story arcs that are going nowhere! I've jotted down note after note about what needs fixing, come revision time. Enough notes to fill pages.
The reason the voices kick in now is because what they're really saying is, Maybe it can't be fixed.
The second thing I've learned is the answer to the voices. It's very simple. The answer is:
YES, IT CAN.
When I hit a snag--like I did yesterday--I have to remember to take a breath. Don't panic. Realize that the snag is my cue to dig deeper into motivation, into character, into the possibilities of the scene. Yes, the swoony honeymoon beginning is wonderful. But this, the wrestling to the end, when all seems unwinnable...this, I know, is when the real magic happens. But only if we earn it. Only if we keep faith with our visions, and with ourselves as writers.
Only if we keep going.
P.S. For a really good comparison of the inner critic vs. the inner editor, and what to do with both of them, I recommend this by YA author Malinda Lo.