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Walking the Tightrope--How Authors Angst Over Their Work
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a_r_williams
*note: Partly inspired by rippatton's The Wrong Person to Ask

I know you do it. Hell, I do it. You just finish reading a book and you sit there stunned for a minute, the way a deer is stunned when the lights on your car hits it in the eyes. Then you marvel at how great the author is and go--" I want to write a book like that. "

Or it's the reverse. You fling the book against the wall as though you're pitching for the New York Mets and say--" I can write better than that! "

And those are only some of the self-torture techniques writers put themselves through. The problem is, they are often necessary.

As writers we often come to our craft after having read countless books. We have our favorite authors, who unknowingly, inspired us to become writers. Their words moved us in such a way that we seek to record the workings of our imaginations on the page. We compare ourselves to them, judge our works, our progress, and our failures to how well we measure up. We examine their words in hopes that we can gain some secret to the craft that will let our stories become equal to their works. And because we do so, we learn, we grow, and we inch slowly towards making our writing better than it was before.

But then...there's the reverse of that.

We become too critical. We see that we will never be able to write as well as Writer X. We hate our words because they are not good enough, because they do not measure up. All the stories that we've read in the past hang like an Albatross around our necks--not good enough we think--because we are comparing our developing skills or the first draft of our novel or short story to works that have already been through countless revisions. We compare ourselves to authors that have already experienced the same feelings we feel now. But we can't see that. All we see is the finished product and not the blood, sweat, and toil behind their writing.

Then...

In order to push on, we learn to silence this critic of our skill. We write. And write some more. Yet, we have to tell ourselves that our words are good enough, that our writing matters, that we will be published. This belief, this dream, gives us the courage to push through the doubts, to get the word on the page. Then every so often the muse catches in us, our fingers strike the keyboard as though they had wings and we know that we are writing the G.O.A.T ( Greatest of All Time ).  We push on because our passion drives us forward, our state of delirium dampens the pain of failure and makes us ecstatic. We are writers.

And then...we have to edit.

We have to take those words that we thought were so great and rip them apart. We have to look at them with a non-sympathetical eye in order to cut, slash, and kill any word that doesn't pass muster. We have to tell ourselves yet again...this isn't good enough. So that we can improve it, sharpen it, make it nice and shiny when we send it out to an editor--so that they can sit with stunned eyes, like the way the light from your headlights cause a deer to pause--and say--" I must buy this story! "

So we send it out...

To one of the many magazines that have a rejection rate of 98% ( maybe higher ) or an agent that gets 300 queries in a month and selects less than a handful them for perusal, and we know, We Know, that this novel or short story is going to make that 2% cutoff, because its the greatest thing since A Song of Ice and Fire ( yeah right! ). So we wait anxiously for the good news or we jump into writing another story that someone, somewhere is going to love. Because we are writers.

But it comes back rejected.

We sigh, take the story and send it out AGAIN. Repeat previous step.

But it comes back rejected ( AGAIN ).

We sigh. Look the story over and figure out how to make it better. Or maybe we feel that we're not good enough after all and feel lousy.

So we read our favorite authors. We marvel at their words and they inspire us. We feel the muse tugging at us, telling us it has an idea that will rival the Bible in its popularity. We dash to our computers, or typewriters, or pen and paper and get to work, because we're writers. And we have to tell ourselves that we are good enough, that our words matter, that we can become the next J.K. Rowlings and have movie deals and best sellers and be invited to the Playboy Mansion ( well I dream of that sometimes ). We have to push ourselves, and measure ourselves, and doubt ourselves, and dream, and grow, and learn, and angst. Because we are writers.

So, you really want to know what it's like to be a writer?
 
Well, it's kinda like walking a tightrope.
 


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Lol. I never thought about it like that, but you're right :)

I think the back and forth is one thing that adds to writer frustration. You have to judge a piece of work in so many different ways.

"You just finish reading a book and you sit there stunned for a minute, the way a deer is stunned when the lights on your car hits it in the eyes. Then you marvel at how great the author is"

Yep. Guilty as charged.
Oftentimes, I'm jealous of how "clean" their writing is. Like the words are polished silver set in pristine white marble. It makes me terribly sick and mildly annoyed that even after spending months editing something, I still don't feel like I've gotten it that clean and perfect and I never will. I keep trying, though... because I'm a writer.

I was once asked to Beta read/edit a story for someone. They had chosen to get a beta reader because someone anonymous had reviewed their posted work with a suggestion that they take another look at their story and improve their craft. The writer had said to me that the reviewer was being mean and the writer was considering quitting writing completely. I looked at the review, I looked at the writing. Their writing really WAS terrible and the reviewer wasn't being mean at all, just politely honest.

In the end, I had to tell the writer that I couldn't be their beta/editor because if a mild review like "Please edit this?" sent them to the brink of quitting writing, than anything _I_ would say would destroy them and I didn't want that on my conscience. I did offer that after reading my full review of their work if they were still interested in writing they could ask me again. They never replied.

My point being (I'm on topic, really!): Writing is like a drug. If you're not really a writer, you can quit anytime. If you try to quit and just can't, no matter how many times people tell you it sucks, or how many times you're rejected...

There was a point in time where I wasn't writing. I would think about it every now and then, just wouldn't commit. I have never thought about quitting, but those lulls where you just don't write feel like the same thing.

But I'm back, and commited more than I've ever been before. There comes a point where you have to go for your dreams instead of saying "I'll do it someday!" or "I'll do it tomorrow!"

Those types of thoughts will see years fly by without anything coming from it. If you want to write, you have to commit to it.

Maybe slowly at first. Just don't quit.

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