I don’t want to dwell on the fact that I got feedback on my current project that essentially told me to go back and try again. What I had written wasn’t very good. I know this. But I did NOT want to hear it. Not at all. But, here’s the thing I want to focus on instead of the fact that I’ve got more work to do. I can make it better. I WILL make it better.
The group that read my book also gave me a book to read. At first, I was like “whatever!” The last thing I wanted to do was read writing that was much better than mine. When I did read it, something happened. It spoke to me.
Okay, that sounds bizzare and freakish but it was EXACTLY what I needed to read. The book is, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. The thing that’s ironic too is my book and my writing are nothing like this book, which is essentially a compilation of letters to an advice columnist but this book told me in the most direct and most compassionate way to stop whining and just write.
One reader, Elissa, wrote Sugar to ask a question about how she could stop comparing herself to other amazing writers and get out of her depression so she can write. The letter went on to explain that Elissa feared even if she got over her depression and began writing, it would still be crap. Elissa was only 25 years old but she was afraid that she would never achieve what she thought she could and the fact that she was in her mid-twenties made her feel like she was running out time (At 25? As IF!!) She asked: “How does a depressed, headcase get up and become the writer she wishes she could be?”
Sugar wrote back: “The first product of self-knowledge is humility,” a quote by Flannery O’Connor. Sugar, who really is Cheryl Strayed, a successful novelist but of course she didn’t start out that way. Cheryl discovered that she had to be young and stupid in order to gain the self-knowledge she needed to write her books. Cheryl had to give up all the grandious ideas about herself and writing get down to the only thing that mattered, which was writing the stories. She tells Elissa that coming to be humble like the quote says is not easy. She goes on to tell Elissa that the only way to write get the story that is meant to come out is to “gather everything within [yourself] to make it happen. [You] wil have to sit and think of only one thing longer and harder that [you] think possible. [You] have to suffer. By which I mean work.”
When I read that, I felt like it hit me square between the eyes. There is no magic pill. No combination of things to do or things not to do. No amount of workshops you can take. No matter how much I kid myself that doing all this other crap contributes to my writing, it doesn’t. I have to work. WORK. And stop comparing myself to other people who have done the work and reaped the rewards.
Do you do this? Do you busy yourself with everything else BUT writing sometimes? Do you also get caught up in all that drama about being a great writer and get down on yourself because it hasn’t happened for you yet?
I do, and I discovered the reason why. WRITING IS HARD. It can be painful. It can be infuriating. I want to give up! Good writing is EVEN HARDER. It takes WORK. I know I dillude myself into thinking I can crank out something, tweak it a bit, and then it will be fantastic. This almost NEVER happens. I needed the book club to tell me this, even when I didn’t want to hear it. I may not be a great writer, but I sure as hell will NEVER become one if I don’t do the work. Like, DUH! Why hadn’t I thought about this before?
If you obsess about writing…if you read every single “how to write better” article you come across…if you read and read and read trying to become a better writer…then you need to WRITE! For God sakes, write! Not like anyone else you admire. You need to write like YOU and do it with everything you’ve got. You need to write like a badass, motherf*cker. Oh yes.