Authors seem so confident, don’t we? Buy my book! You’ll love it. Promise. Why? Because it’s awesome and wonderful and all that good shit that makes you happy.
The truth is while many of us confidently proclaim our work worth reading, we’re not so sure of all of that. We’re usually terrified you’re going to hate what we’ve written, and in my opinion, anyone who isn’t convinced their work sucks at least a little bit might be a tad too arrogant for their own good. It’s okay to love yourself and your work, but if you love it so much you can’t smell the stink…
My feelings about my ability to write well change almost hourly and I’m pretty sure I’m not a rarity among writers. I love what I’ve written as I write it, but hate it as I revise. I think maybe I’ve struck gold with a particular book as I click “Publish” and then I’m convinced it’s a monumental clusterfuck of awful when it sits there reviewless for any length of time. Reviews, by the way, kill me, but let’s move on.
I know I write well. I know I have cool ideas. I know I’ve worked damn hard to learn what makes a good book and what makes good storytelling. I know characters. I know dialogue. I know tension and pacing. I know. I know. I know.
I don’t know if I should’ve waited before publishing this book. I don’t know if I’ve learned enough to ask people to pay for my work. I don’t know if I’ve caught all of the typos. I don’t know if anyone cares. I don’t know how they couldn’t. I don’t know if the idea is so cool after all, because I don’t know if what I’ve written is still relevant to readers. I don’t know if what I love to read is going to be something a reader will enjoy. I don’t know anything.
But I know some things.
I don’t think I suck, but I might.
I. Might. Suck.
This is sad, right? Are you all “God, I was in a good mood, Renee. Now I want to cut myself or jump off something really high.” Yeah, I’m depressing myself too. Let’s look at the happy side of all of this.
Writers are full of self-doubt. We’re rejected regularly, after all. Shaky self-esteem is hard to avoid. However, we are more confident and resilient than the average non-writing Joe. If we weren’t, we’d never share a single word. We’d stop publishing after the first negative review instead of jumping back on the mean old horse that bucked us into the shit bog over there. This constant flip-flopping between believing we’re the best of all the things and self-loathing/second-guessing/self-doubt is a good thing for us. When we love our writing, or start to believe we’re so awesome we could shit, we stop trying to be better. Our writing stops improving. Our stories become less original, the characters less engaging.
If we know there’s room for improvement, the sky’s the limit. Right? Of course.
So, don’t feel sorry for your writer friend when he’s wallowing in his awfulness. Don’t worry about those tears or that empty bottle of bourbon (those pills might be a problem, so take those away from him). Maybe worry about the dead cat hanging in the yard… that’s probably a bad sign. But if there are no dead bodies, leave him alone. He’ll be okay in a while.
While writers are confident in our ability most days, we embrace the moments where we wonder what the hell we were thinking when we published a single page of our writing. We savor them. We roll around in the tortuous feelings of inadequacy and misery, until they have crept into our pores, saturated our psyches, because we know these feelings will push us toward greatness. These feelings force us to learn something mindfuckingly amazing about ourselves or our writing. For me, those dark moments are the days I study an author I admire so I can learn a new skill or refine an existing one. Those are also the days I edit. When I hate myself, I do some damn fine rewrites.