Write like nobody’s reading.

I get very self-conscious when I write. It’s yet another excuse, but confronting the idea that “it’s not good enough” is terrifyingexhilarating

I’m always nervous about what I’m writing – content is so frustrating for me. Do I want to be the next Jodi Picoult? J. K. Rowling? A female Mark Twain? Can I be this generation’s Charlotte Bronte? Is it too much to want to be likened to Tolkien? Can I write a silly little fantasy story and feel proud of it, or should I dismiss the piece as “practice”? Do I want instant success? Do I want to mass-produce popular novel after popular novel and get swamped with film offers? Does every word and sentence have to be laden with imagery and metaphor so I have a chance at winning prestigious awards? Is it too ambitious to want to be remembered in a century for my contributions to literature? But then does that mean I’ll die starving and poor and unappreciated by my contemporaries?

It’s damn stressful. And being a perfectionist who over-analyses and ruthlessly criticises her own work is not helpful.

But there’s more to this than just obsessing over content … There is also the issue I have with my own self, with my confidence (or lack thereof) and with my perception of my ability (or inability would be more accurate). Above all, there is that constant, ridiculous internal conflict.

When I tell people I’m writing, I feel like I’m telling them that I’m not doing anything. I feel like I may as well admit that I’m still in my PJs hunched over my laptop with a firm grip around my coffee mug, cat perched on my lap and eyes watering from over-exposure to a bright screen. Do they have to know I haven’t washed or brushed my hair for a week, too?

I am terrified that if I tell people I’m a writer they will dismiss it as inconsequential – it doesn’t help that the few times I’ve tested this out the response has been: “But what’s your real job? What do you do for money?”

“Well,” I smile and look them in the eye, “I work for an escort service to fund my dreams of literary success.”

I don’t say that though. (Incidentally, I also don’t work for an escort service – in case you were wondering.)

It’s very hard to write, write, write and not glance back over your work and think “Ergh, same old crap”. NaNoWriMo helps in terms of motivation, but then there’s the ever-confronting editing process which inevitably leaves me drooling with a stupefied expression on my face after the third page: “I wrote this ridiculous, far-fetched nonsense?”

Sometimes I read books that I fall madly in love with and wonder if I will ever write anything so intricate, so creative, so original … But then there’s a degree of frustration when I flick through a book and think “Seriously? They published this?!”

I know, arrogant much? Sometimes I read a book dubbed ‘bestseller’ and think “I could do that”. Is that arrogant? Hopeful? Confident? Delusional?

If “I could do that” then why don’t I?

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25 comments on “Write like nobody’s reading.

  1. Pingback: Off to a good start (but what about the finish?) « dodging commas

  2. Pingback: What do you want to do? « dodging commas

  3. Oh, I also meant to say…. you can’t “write like Stephanie Meyer, or Tolkein”… and comparing yourself to others is a pathway to nowhere.

    Write like Stephanie Thompson. She’s amazing.

  4. Stef, the “milk crate” quote was from Tom Robbins. The author (published several times) who shared that with me at a recent writing retreat also said, “you must write for yourself. because no-one else gives a shit”.

    If you write in hopes of fame, recognition, external stuff, you will never say what you REALLY want to say. It’s no different from other forms of expression. It is the same for leadership, painting, architecture, catering… the “Thing” you do is not the issue, it is WHO you are (and how that expresses through whatever it is you are contributing to the world) that matters.

    An old Zen saying: “before enlightenment – chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment – chop wood, carry water”.

    P.S. You have some very wise friends who comment here 🙂

  5. Are you actually me? This glorious post says pretty much everything I think about writing! What a pleasure to have discovered your blog and, with it, another comma-obsessed perfectionist who wavers between genres. The difference is that you are at the stage of being able to say ‘I am a writer’, whereas I am still at the stage of dreaming that one day, when I grow up (I’m only 42, after all) I might eventually be able to dare to claim etc. etc….!

    And thank you for visiting me at Dancing Beastie, by the way.

    • I am so pleased you enjoy my blog! I’ve found a lot of kindred spirits through this blog – we are never as alone as we think we are.

      I may be saying “I’m a writer” (or at least gaining confidence in doing so) but I’d looove to be saying “I live in a castle”. Want to swap confidence lessons for castle accommodation?!

      • Well….maybe we need to make a Writer’s Tower here, where writers could retire to the 15th century tower for a month to work on their masterpiece! I did seriously offer it to a friend (a real live, multi-prize-winning, published author) but I think the lack of plumbing, heating and electricity might have put him off…

      • Well, I was thinking of going to Peru, so the lack of plumbing, heating and electricity really doesn’t worry me! I think a Writer’s Tower sounds wonderful!

  6. Writing is an adventure in self confidence, for sure. Even if it’s an audience of one–yourself–it’s a huge accomplishment…don’t allow it to feel small. It’s a big, grand thing. And…the editing? Well, that’s what editors are for, girl! You’re a writer–focus on that and outsource the rest. Just like the “best sellers”…

    • Excellent suggestion! It’s always hard to edit your own work because of that “self-critical” aspect … Thanks for stopping by, and for the advice!

  7. You, too, are an amazing writer! And that IS what we are; we are writers. Perhaps part of being a writer is looking people in the eye and saying it with such conviction that they simply cannot comprehend the possibility we would be anything else.

    The last few weeks I’ve returned to surrounding myself with inspirational quotes and images and, I must admit, I really feel the motivation. Once I lectured the cynic within about her nasty and unhelpful snorting at “you can do it” quotes, the optimistic, romantic writer emerged with hope and an open heart. I guess there are other factors that are helping this sudden feeling of “yes I can” but overall I am bursting with energy and enthusiasm. I guess that’s what happens will you do a big “clean up” in your life. And I’ve come to realise: what’s the worse that can happen? Epic failure and I go back to selling bras (or something). No biggie – at least I can say I failed beautifully, creatively, and with every part of my heart.

    Creativity takes courage. – Henri Matisse

  8. God I know exactly how you feel Stef. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the feeling that I could never write something as good as Rowling or Tolkien, so what’s the point? Then I have (rarer) moments of insanity where I’m convinced I can do it and do it well (reading poorly written published books helps with this A LOT).

    I am looking forward to NaNo just to push myself to get started, but I’m also worried that in my attempt to reach 50,000 words I will spurt out such dribble that when I reread over it I will disgust myself into never writing a word again! Ha!

    Sigh. Really it’s all about a fear of failure, yet deep down I know that if I don’t at least try then I’ve already failed.

    Meanwhile, I’ve met more than enough people who have given me ‘the look’, which makes me doubt myself more. It’s destructive. Nowadays I will avoid those people like the plague and go out of my way to surround myself with people who do understand (Hello Blogosphere!).

    Just keep on keeping on Stef! You are an amazing writer and you will make it happen!!!

    • You, too, are an amazing writer! And that IS what we are; we are writers. Perhaps part of being a writer is looking people in the eye and saying it with such conviction that they simply cannot comprehend the possibility we would be anything else.

      The last few weeks I’ve returned to surrounding myself with inspirational quotes and images and, I must admit, I really feel the motivation. Once I lectured the cynic within about her nasty and unhelpful snorting at “you can do it” quotes, the optimistic, romantic writer emerged with hope and an open heart. I guess there are other factors that are helping this sudden feeling of “yes I can” but overall I am bursting with energy and enthusiasm. I guess that’s what happens will you do a big “clean up” in your life. And I’ve come to realise: what’s the worse that can happen? Epic failure and I go back to selling bras (or something). No biggie – at least I can say I failed beautifully, creatively, and with every part of my heart.

      Creativity takes courage. – Henri Matisse

      • Just this weekend I decided to frame the email that Robin Hobb sent me in June for inspiration. She wrote:

        “Good luck with your fantasy novel. I will tell you the only trick I know. Persevere. Push those keys down every day. The only way that anyone writes anything is one key stroke at a time. So when it is dark outside and you are alone with your little lamplight shining out the window, think of all the writers all over the world who are doing the same thing, and keep at it.”

        I love her. But I digress. The point is, even those poorly written published novels, the ones that make us feel better about our own writing, are the result of someone actually sitting down and finishing something, which is more than I can say for myself. Creativity does take courage! Forwards and onwards! *motivated fist pump*

        And if all else fails, well, selling bras is certainly a valid life choice as far as life choices go.

  9. I’m going for no one saying I’m the next Stephenie Meyer. If I get compared to Ms Meyer I’ll cry. I don’t want to be compared to Tolkien either, but I’m not writing high fantasy so I think that’s unlikely. I could cope with being the next Kim Harrison… except I’m a guy, so that could be a little difficult. Why are so many urban fantasy authors women? Or at least have female pen names? I’m a guy who writes urban fantasy, with a female lead character, and I’m proud of it!

  10. They published See Spot Run. The way I look at is, how big of a failure do I have to become to not be able to publish something… if a book about a derping dog running amok got published. It wasn’t even a good book either.

  11. I get the “oh, you’re not working” when I’m at the computer. Well, guess what: this IS my office, and this is my work. Yeeesh. Does it generate money? Sometimes. Will it? we hope so.

    As to your title: it’s how I do it. I have an agent I kinda work with: all I hear out of her is “write to the formula” (yeah, not too crazy about that comment) to get published. I have tried to do what she wants, and guess what? That manuscript sits and i am loathe to work on it, but the other stuff? THAT has my passion. So..what’s a boy to do?

    • This is one of my favourite quotes: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” – Cyril Connolly

      I will find exactly who said it and the precise wording later, but recently I read an article that essentially directed writers to live out of a milk crate, to starve, to not worry about money – just to write, and write well. I loved the sentiment, but I’m not sure the rational, planner side of me is ready to commit to being a pauper.

  12. You’re certainly not the first to think “I could do that”, and you won’t be the last.

    I know too well that “look” that people give me when I respond to their question of what I want to be when I “grow up” with the answer: “A writer.”

    I hate that look.

    Guess I’ll just have to prove them wrong. 😉

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