“It was like finding yourself in a great library as a young writer, and gazing around at the thousands of books in it, and wondering if you really have anything of value to add.”
“…to get up and read my own words – such an exposed position, such possibilities for making an idiot of yourself – this made me sick.”
– both quotes are from Margaret Atwoods’ Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002).
My greatest difficulty in trying to write is fighting the compulsion to delete everything I’ve just painstakingly composed the moment I reread it. For me, there is no point in writing anything with which I am not completely satisfied. The problem with that benchmark is that I never meet it. I am occasionally pleased or amused, but never fully satisfied. If I didn’t have deadlines, I would never finish anything.
But to be a writer, one must, you know, write something and then, terrifyingly, have someone else read it. If that doesn’t happen then you become a would-be writer: I would be a writer but…. You find a day job to pay the bills and quietly stop finding the time to write.
It is scary to write and to open up your writing for judgment by allowing it to be read. That fear has kept me from writing for a very long time. The list of reasons for not trying is long and shifts but generally comes down to three fears: 1) I am not smart enough to pull this off, 2) I have nothing new/interesting/important to say, 3) people will laugh at me. But then I think I’m being too hard on myself, people who would laugh at me are mean so forget them, and I’ve already failed if I give up before the end.
I set myself up for failure if I define success as a critically acclaimed, commercially successful novel that is immediately added to English course lists across the country. The pressure to write that kind of book ensures that every word I write will be not good enough. A more reasonable goal is to write a novel. Full stop. Because, I got to tell you, that isn’t a small task. But it is a great one. Imagine being able to say, “I finished my novel.” If I focus on how it will be received rather than the task of writing it, I will miss out on achieving a personal goal.
So I’m trying to get out of my own way by remembering to keep things simple. I try to remember why I want to be a writer. I’m sure this list would be different for every would-be writer, but here are five reasons I want to be a writer:
- books are the best
- create something from nothing
- explore interesting topics and ideas
- coffee shop office
- find myself in the library
Now I think writing is like running a marathon. If you come in first, somewhere in the middle, or last, you still just ran a marathon. And that is pretty awesome.