Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nobody tells this to beginners

I've been having a little (okay, not so little) crisis of faith this week regarding writing.

I entered a little writing competition (query and first 250 words of a manuscript) on a blog this week. I didn't win--but that didn't surprise me, particularly after getting some great feedback and seeing the strength of some of the other submissions. Losing didn't even particularly depress me. No, what depressed me was seeing the gap between what I recognize as quality writing and my own writing.

Now, I realize that, while I've been writing for years (and teaching writing for 10+ years), this creative writing thing is a more recent development. It doesn't help that I feel like the world's biggest cliche--how many English profs do you think there are out there who are secretly nursing a novel? Thousands.

Anyway, I'm getting off my point. My point was that it takes years of work to get good at something--even (especially) at writing.

I've found some comfort in a quote that made the Facebook rounds last week, attributed to Ira Glass:

What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Sometimes I wish there were an easier way around this (and I know my students wish this!). The truth is, there isn't. You just have to slog through. And believe in yourself, which is easier said than done.

After hitting a particularly low point last night (just ask my husband), I sat down with my husband to watch Castle. Now, Castle is not usually particularly high-brow, but we're big fans of Nathan Fillion. This particular episode was so apropos that I had to laugh. At the end of the episode, Richard Castle's daughter Alexis asks him about the framed rejection letter he has in his office. He tells her that rejection is not a sign of failure: quitting is.

I think I need to take the Castle quote and the Ira Glass quote and put them up in big letters where I can see them. And then I need to stop complaining and start revising.

(After I dig myself out of my pile of papers that need to be graded, that is!)


  1. Well said.

    I find it somewhat (although cruelly) comforting that you have hit a low or two. In reading your manuscript, I feel like you are light years ahead of where I want to be. However, I guess that means that even when I get to where you are, I will still feel like I do now.


  2. Tasha,

    My sister (who's been writing regularly and going to writing conferences for 4 years now) says that most writers--even published writers--still worry that their work isn't good enough. I guess the trick is to have faith in yourself and your vision!