So here’s the thing. Nancy Kress, in her writing book, calls this the Tolstoy problem; when you figure out you’re not Tolstoy, you’re not your writing hero, your story isn’t like theirs, In the bluntest terms, you’re not as good as Tolstoy. You’re never going to be as good. What do you do?
If you’re like most people, you:
- Live in denial. See your work work through a hazy mist I call The Naive Glow of Creation which makes you incapable of seeing its weakness. This means you’ll stop getting any better or get better very slowly.
- Collapse like a house of cards and never write again. Cultivate Writer’s block, or pretend you were never serious to start out with.
- Alternate between collapse and denial.
The third path, or I guess, fourth, since I’ve included alternating, is to see what you do as clearly as you can, keep writing, and try to improve. Trust in the process. What process? The one you build, your practice.
In simple terms your practice looks like this:
- Writing and reading and researching.
- Revising and editing.
- Sharing and submitting.
- Processing Feedback.
- Rewriting. (Optional!)
- Repeating this process with new work; at new lengths; in new genres; submitted to new markets.
There are a million different ways to be a writer and a million different ways to write; one of the great things about writers is that so many of them are happy to write about the craft and the process, and with social media it literally possible to see exactly how your writers, the people you read, write. They’ll post their word counts, talk about editing and research, galleys and rewrites and copyedits and plot holes and deadlines and everything.
The process has never been less mysterious, as explicated, as explicable.
If you are an Amazon user and you want to pay ten bucks a month for Kindle Unlimited, there are about 100 pretty decent writing books you can read for the all you can eat fee.
Manuscript preparation has never been easier. Research has never been easier. Markets have never been this well indexed. Email document submissions are fast, efficient, and cheap. Barriers to entry are lower than they have ever been.
Which means of course, that competition has never been greater, for publication, for eyeballs.
But seriously. You want to do this thing? I give you permission.
I give you permission to write.
I give you permission to suck at first.
I give you permission to not even know you suck for a good long time.
I give you permission to embarrass yourself.
I give you permission to discover that you suck and have a short sad.
I suggest gently you Get Over The Sad Faster Than Me. (I once quit for eighteen years.)
I give you permission to start over; start again; write in a new way; write with new people; write with workshops; write without them; write and never show it to other people; write and show it to everyone; write and give it away free; write and treat it as if it were made of fucking diamonds and gold and shit and can only be looked at by agents and Important People and to Throw It Away if it doesn’t sell to The New Yorker.
I give you permission to ‘sell’ your work to magazines that pay in smiley faces.
I am a novice writer, I’ve only written ten or twenty thousand pages, I’ve sold thirty stories, which have been distributed to a few hundred thousand people. I’ve made ten thousand dollars in 25 years. I am a failure. I am a success. I am still trying. I’m not dead yet.
I am a writer. Write with me.
I can think of nothing more worth doing.
Write now. Write.
You can do it.
If I can, anyone can.