14 December 2006 by Published in: writing 5 comments

So I guess it’s about time I wrote a little something about writing. I don’t actually want to. I have no good news and I’m doing whatever I can to avoid thinking, working, anything on this topic. I’ve written almost nothing for – oh, about three months now – and if I hadn’t given myself a deadline of November 2008 to beat my head against this wall I would have quit by now because ugh, the headache. I want out. I apologize in advance for how negative and discouraging this post is going to be and my only excuse is eh, you (at least one of you) asked.

  • Exhibit A: I’ve done this for two years and published nothing. To be fair, I’ve sent out almost nothing, but that’s because I can’t stand any of it. I have a grand total of six rejections, all from the same story, the only one I ever sent anywhere. That’s nearly all my problems right there : I don’t write enough plus I don’t like what I write enough to send it anywhere plus when I miraculously get up the gumption to send something somewhere it gets rejected (which, naturally, is no surprise, since I knew it sucked before I sent it).
  • Exhibit B: There’s no faster way for me to feel bad about something I’ve written than to read it at my writer’s group. I’m not sure why this is. I don’t think it’s because I can’t take criticism, but that may be it. I don’t think it’s because I’m convinced what I’ve written is great, since I’m pretty sure nothing I’ve written so far is great. Though I long for something to be. Just like that, all archaic and yearning. I want to write something great. But obviously, I haven’t yet. Anyway, usually I’m just reading things I think are passable but need help, and when I get to the end and hear everyone’s comments I just feel like the thing is sullied and worthless. These are not even comments that are wholly negative, I should explain. My writer’s group has a pretty soft touch. Usually I feel like I totally failed to get anything across. Like I came in and read a poor version of Jabberwocky, all nonsense words in the right syntactical places, but failing to convey any meaning. Or like it’s the wrong trousers and they’re all wrong. It’s not them, I’m pretty sure. It’s me. Still, I’ve got to figure out how to handle criticism, right? Totally basic, necessary skill. Skill I thought I had, too, so I don’t know what’s wrong with me these days. I’ve also got to figure out how to read aloud something I’ve written and not hate every word as my mouth shapes it, but I don’t know how to learn that, because it seems to be something I unlearned.
  • Exhibit C: I’m not sure I love writing anymore. I don’t love doing it, and I certainly don’t love having anyone else read anything I’ve written. It’s totally agonizing to contemplate sending things out for people to read. It all sucks! It’s all broken! Sometimes I even know how it’s broken, but so rare that I can fix it. Blech. I hate every word! If I hate every word, and I wrote them, how can I expect anyone else to feel otherwise?
  • Exhibit D: Ok, so I lied in exhibit C. I don’t hate every word. A couple of weeks ago I was rummaging through some papers and happened upon my failed slush bomb story. And I got sucked completely into it. And I loved it. But you know what? That story doesn’t go anywhere. It’s stuck. So what’s all the pretty, engaging writing get me? Nothing. Not a thing. Because there’s no story there. Well, there’s a story there but I can’t get at it, I can’t make it come out. Just another three pages full of word detritus that doesn’t cohere. And I don’t know which is worse, all the finished stories which are not right or all the unfinished stories which are so promising but I don’t appear to have the ability to fashion to completion.

I can’t honestly say I suck at writing, but I’m pretty sure that however good I may be, it is not good enough. I fall short. Maybe I harbored too many dreams of greatness, I don’t know. I was pretty sure I had my head on straight, non-delusionally, when I started this. I didn’t think it would be easy, and I didn’t think I’d make any money, but I guess I thought I’d be pretty happy with what I wrote. And I’m not. At all. It’s not good enough. None of it is good enough. It’s all I can do not to start a big bonfire and reformat my drive. Meanwhile, as I exercise the great restraint of not purging the world of my poor words, I’m expected to polish and edit and send all those sad little specimens somewhere? When I can see every blindness, every deafness, every cleft palate, every club foot? How inhumane a task is that to set oneself? I swear I’m not a perfectionist, though I’m sure this rant will sound like I am. I’m a complete and total believer in good enough instead of perfect. Problem is, I can’t even get as far as good enough. I’m not sure how much better, or longer, I can fail.

Gah. I’m sorry I subjected you to this. You can see, maybe, why I didn’t really bring it up. Next time, maybe you’ll think twice before asking.


Fri 15th Dec 2006 at 11:21 am

WARNING: If you’re looking for sympathetic noises, go to the next comment.

"Not good enough"? For whom? Or what? And why? Because it’s not perfect? (Not a perfectionist, my eye.) You’ve got yourself all tangled up in expectations of greatness. Get out of your own damn way and just write. I’ve read some of your stuff. It IS good enough. It is also unconventional, which makes it harder to place. Especially if you don’t send it out.

Re: rejection. Get more. Get used to it. It generally has nothing to do with the quality of your work. I have a picture book manuscript that has been praised not just by critique groups, but by agents and editors as well. Yet it has been rejected 21 times. So far. (Thanks for reminding me I need to send it somewhere new.) Meanwhile, I’ve sold 4 books, 3 short stories, and an essay. They are nowhere near perfect, but they are good enough. A lot of your stuff is better than a lot of my stuff, and you know it.

You can’t know whether something’s good enough until you FINISH it. Until then, it’s only a draft. Go read _Bird by Bird_ by Annie Lamott. Then get back to work.

Hugs and kisses ;-)

Sun 17th Dec 2006 at 7:34 am

right on, sunjunkie – – –
if the comment can be considered an example, your writing and insight are superior. Hope anarkey takes note.

Sun 17th Dec 2006 at 11:40 am

I love you dearly, my nihilist friend. On the bright side, nihilistic phases have produced some of the greatest work ever. Write, even when it hurts – especially when it hurts. In that weird dimension of abandon there is the strangest brilliance.
To give up now would be folly, and to not send the work (even the work you feel is slightly inadequate), only leaves you in a place where you are always aspiring and never achieving. Not only do I like your writing, but I think you are getting better at it. Now is a good time to hear this from someone you don’t know. Send it, get it published.
As for rejections, my ratio is 12.5:1 at the moment. This aspect we can only treat as business – either publishers want us to work for them or they don’t. If they don’t then we move on, or offer them something else.
I know I’m telling you things you already know. We need resolve most when it is hardest to find.

Mon 18th Dec 2006 at 4:58 pm

it’s all about why you do it, isn’t it?

like any other arts-based career, the answer is your own particular calculus of yourself-and-your-own-expectations played against everyone-else-and-their-expectations and balanced by the depth and breadth of your talent. am i the capital-a-artist who capital-c-creates the work and puts it forth pure and whole for a world (never mind whether they get it), or maybe the steady jobber who makes some money off of the craft of writing, cashing checks for a few hundred here and there from small-circulation magazines printed on inferior paper with pixelated images, or the genius whose work is discovered by a landlady cleaning out the detritus of dead genius’s room, or a successful whiz at some genre fiction that you dislike just enough to see clearly the formula for … and so on.

and it’s rarely so clean. you give a little here, you hold out there. how much should you listen to other people, how much should you change your work, how closely should you hew to your own ideas?

you have to decide who you’re writing for, then let that answer determine whether you’ve any reasons to write at all. maybe your particular outlet of creative expression isn’t through writing. it’s certainly possible. but maybe it is and you’re just going through the hard times of a person who’s used to being quickly more-than-competent at most anything you take up, only now you’re up against something that’s a real challenge.

it is not a trait exclusive to southerners, but as a mississippian i cannot but admire people who stick with a thing–job, place, or person–through thick and thin. like hopkins–“sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine”–i find truth and beauty can come from the meanest of places and methods. anyway, i hope you figure it out.

Poet ad nauseum--Poemblaze
Sat 30th Dec 2006 at 1:55 pm

Delayed response.

Well, I like darn near all your writing, so either I have no taste or you are being more than a little hard on yourself. If you think my writing/critiques are any good, then consider the source. Likewise if you think my writing sucks. Hope to see you again on Tuesday.

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