“What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m no good? I just can’t take that kind of rejection!” – George McFly, Back to the Future.
George McFly is a character I feel a great affinity with. His passion for science fiction and writing are two reasons. But of course, his downtrodden existence, largely as a result of bullying, causes him to give in to perpetual self-doubt that snuffs his confidence at every turn – at least until his time-travelling son Marty puts him back on the right track.
When he first meets George, Marty is surprised to discover his father once had a creative outlet. But George refuses to show anyone his writing, uttering the dialogue quoted above. For this reason, I have come to dub my own self-doubt during the writing process as “George McFly Syndrome”.
At least once during the first draft of a novel, I suffer from an acute bout of George McFly Syndrome. Typically if I get past the plot outlines, research, character profiles and other preparations that occur before any of the actual book gets written, I am at that point convinced what I am about to pen will be the greatest work of fiction ever written. This beautiful delusion continues for much of the writing process, but then – typically a short way into Act 2 – that horrible nagging feeling creeps in: “What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m no good? I just can’t take that kind of rejection!”
At which point, I turn into a particularly pathetic, miserable creature and go moaning to my wife. She is quite used to this part of the writing process, so generally rolls her eyes and patiently tells me that I always get doubts at this point, and that she always ends up liking my books. Actually that’s not quite true – one thriller/horror novel I wrote (as yet untitled and unreleased) she hated because it massively traumatised her, but that was what it was meant to do, so no harm done (to my confidence at any rate).
The point is this process always rears its ugly head with every story I undertake. My all time worst attack of George McFly Syndrome (to date) actually occurred during the first draft of the afore-mentioned novel that upset my wife so much. Consequently it took me an inordinately long time to write, and by the time I reached the bitter end, I was convinced the result was rubbish. Utterly drained, I put it on the shelf for about a year and wrote Uncle Flynn as a kind of therapy (I was determined that no-one would die in my next book).
However, when I finally mustered the courage to take another look at the thriller/horror manuscript, it suddenly seemed rather good. I’ve tweaked it a little since, and I even plan to release it at some stage (when I’m feeling brave enough to risk upsetting people, and more importantly when I can think of a title). All of which proves one should never be put off by an attack George McFly Syndrome.
Conversely, there are times when George McFly Syndrome crops up with good reason – because an idea really is complete crap. I have written plenty of things that will never see the light of day for this reason, but the key thing is to learn from failure rather than to stop writing. In Back to the Future, thanks to Marty’s intervention George McFly himself perseveres, and eventually has his first novel published thirty years later. As Doc Brown says: “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”.