[Note: if you feel like it, you might count the number of times I use the word "suck" in this post. I apologize in advance.]
I posted recently about a writing acquaintance who's very talented but plagued by self-doubt, and I posed the question: for those who find a way to finish their novels, how do they? What's the secret? I said then that it's not confidence you need so much as determination, and I stick by that. Now, as I slog through a quicksand section of a first draft, I want to add:
It's about surviving the suck.
[Incidentally, on Sunday night, Jim and I met a guy who'd been stuck in quicksand on Mt. St. Helens and lived to tell! Wouldn't that be a great party story to have? He was up to his waist and his dog was stuck too and they managed to squiggle their way out. We were highly entertained by this story, because what started the conversation was the observation that getting stuck in quicksand was something that happened in movies and TV all the time in the 1970s, but never happens now. Whatever happened to quicksand?]
So, "the suck" is like writing quicksand. There's no getting around the fact that first drafts suck much of the time. And writing suck is un-fun. Your spirits sorely dwindle. You can quite easily become convinced you've lost any iota of talent you may once have possessed. There are those writers out there who breeze through the suck, untroubled, supremely confident that they will rescue things by and by, but we ought never to compare ourselves to them because they are not normal. They may not even be human. It is quite likely that spilling a glass of water on them would put an end to them as surely as it would your keyboard (try it and see -- the robots, not the keyboard). So, factor robots OUT of the equation.
Humans hate to suck, and human writers must learn to suffer through suck. That is what enables us to finish first drafts. If you never learn to endure it, you may never finish a first draft. You might do what I used to do, which was write some awesome first chapters, revised to perfection, that lead nowhere. So far, working on my fourth book (if you don't count the thing I wrote in November, and I don't), the suck has not gotten easier to endure with time. It helps to know from three books of experience that good times lie ahead, but on a daily basis, the suffering does not diminish. The only way through is through. There are no shortcuts and no secrets. It's like losing weight, or like finding your way out of a jungle you've been dropped into from a helicopter. You can't FLY out. You're just a sad, wingless human so get used to it, heft your machete, and keep on thwacking!
Now, note: suffering through the suck doesn't mean you have to endure an entire draft of unmitigated suck. Personally, I can only put up with it for so long, which is why I revise as I go. I've tried to write a whole nasty awful first draft in one go and I HATED EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. It's not for me. It's okay to revise as you go, it's a totally legitimate process -- but you can't get stuck in over-revising to the exclusion of moving forward in the story. Me, I must alternate between the satisfaction of overcoming suck through revisions, and the misery of creating all new suck. That's just what works for me.
It might not be what works for you. Find what works for you. Just don't ever ever ever ever think that just because your first drafts suck or because you don't love every single second of writing them that there's something wrong with you. It's like that for EVERYONE. Almost. There are those terrible exceptions out there who exist sheerly to make the rest of us feel bad (you know who you are).
Anyway, go forth and suck. It's the only way. Endure. Then make it suck a little less, then a little less, until lo and behold, one day at long last it sucketh not. You can do it!