Writing well is my main goal for this year; however, a kind of dichotomy has always existed for me: writing for the sheer enjoyment of writing and writing to be successful. Several years ago when I first started out, all I could think about was becoming successful and how difficult it would be. Many of us are products of the ‘instant success’ society, a world where people expect success without putting in the necessary hard work & I have to admit that I was similar. I could see the final goal – the JK Rowling level of achievement, yet there seemed to be numerous insurmountable hurdles in the way, and this created a kind of writer’s block, where I couldn’t write a thing.
However, last year something changed. I was able to let go of the final goal and start focusing on the process and this become infinitely more satisfying.This concentration on process has enabled me to slow down and think about how to improve and learn the craft of writing. Improvement does not happen overnight. I’ve come to realise that it may take months, years and even decades, but once you’ve accepted that, you can really enjoy the process.
Yesterday I spent about two hours trying to improve a couple of paragraphs of a short story I wrote a few months ago. This story is probably now in its tenth draft and I’m still not done, but I can see how much better it is compared to when I started. I’ve deleted at least half of the original and finetuned and added a lot to the rest and it’s only now that it’s approaching the story I intended it to be. This feeling is immensely satisfying. I have probably another ten similar stories that I need to work on and I know it’s not going to be easy. I posted a few of them in ‘Review my work’ in ‘My Writer’s Circle’ and have received so much valuable feedback and advice. At one point in my ‘writing career’ (actually not too long ago), I couldn’t have shown my stories to other writers, particularly experienced ones, like those in ‘the Circle,’ but as I can now do that, I realise how far I’ve come in terms of improvement and self-confidence. Of course not all of the feedback is good, but I think it’s a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff. As I become slowly more experienced and a better writer, I am better able to recognise which suggestions make sense, and which I should discard.
Returning to success, I said at the beginning that I’d let go of it, and that is true to a certain extent; however, once I’ve worked on a story and made it as good as it can possibly be, I want to send it out there in the hope of getting it published. Why is external success important? Partly it is a sign that what you’ve written is good, but it also makes you believe that your chosen path of writer is the right one & that you have the right to call yourself a writer.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a thread on a Facebook writers’ page. Somebody had asked the question, ‘when it comes to writing, do you ever doubt that you’re any good?’ Underneath were hundreds of replies. I skimmed through them, expecting the gist of the answers to be the same. I figured that most writers believed they were good. Why else would they keep writing? I believed that I was the only one harbouring any form of self doubt, that I was the imposter amongst them. However, I was astonished to see that every single one expressed the same belief, that they thought they were no good. Many, like me, were plagued with demons and little voices telling them that they should stop as they had no talent. I added my comment to the thread, then opened my laptop and continued with my short story. If nothing else, those answers had proved to me that I was the same as all those other writers. We were thoughtful, sensitive people who had begun to realise that writing takes time and can be difficult, and it’s only once you commit to it, you understand that.
This morning I was reading ‘Bird by Bird,’ by Anne Lamott. She talks about quieting those negative, critical voices in your head. She suggests isolating each one in turn and imagining it speaking as a mouse. Then she says to pick it up by the tail and drop it into a jar and do the same to all the others. When they’re all in the jar, she says to put the lid on and watch them all jabbering away amongst themselves. It’s a bit mean but it kind of works.