Earlier this week I was editing a short for submission that my editor had returned with the note “You need to write this from the other guy’s point of view.” I promise, the only thing worse than realizing you need to write a few thousand words from the other person’s point of view is realizing you need to write about fifty, seventy thousand words in the first person instead of the third. Rewriting sucks. Rewriting that kind of massive work sucks the monkey’s left nut off. And this is where it’s so easy to fall down, to throw up my hands and say fuckit, I’ll write something else from scratch and maybe it’ll be better. Or even, fuckit, I clearly can’t write.
I didn’t do that, of course. If you know me at all you know I’m an incredibly stubborn bitch. I dug my teeth in and I bashed my head against my mental walls, and I rewrote the damn story.
Writing is hard. As art is hard, as life is hard, as anything not involving instant gratification is hard, and even some things that do involve instant gratification (such as resisting it). It’s a struggle, and there are all kinds of obstacles you have to get over by any means you can. Get over, or get around, or crash through. You keep your goal firmly in mind, you plot your way there through the obstacles, and you make it eventually, right? Well, that’s the idea. In practice, it’s not even that simple. In practice, and a lot of the time, we’re the ones scrambling to find obstacles to put in our way and then realizing how far it is to to goal, and how thorny our path. And no, I’m not kidding.
But Kitty! I hear you say. I’m doing everything I can! I’m doing the work and I’m making the contacts, I’m taking the classes and I have really good teachers!
There are a lot of things you have to do to succeed. The first thing you have to do is define success. Are you a Real Writer when you’re published? Are you a Real Writer if you’re trying to be published? When you get that first rejection note? Are you a Real Writer when you make a shiny new blog and get your first comment or your first RT or your first person blogging about your blog? Are you a Real Writer if you make it onto the NYT Bestseller list? In which case there are an awful lot of us fake writers out there. I have what some might call really low and what I call really simple standards for who is a Real Writer, and I hate that fucking qualifier anyway: writers write. It might by my linguistic background talking, but I feel like it really is that simple. Writer is a noun derived from a verb, meaning, one who writes. If you write, not as in committing words on paper but as in putting together sentences to create a finished piece expressing an complex idea, if you do that? Then you’re a writer. Writers write. And you can take the classes, and you can make the contacts, and you can add all kinds of qualifiers or specifications to your title of “writer”. Published writer. Aspiring writer. Fanfiction writer, original fiction writer, essay writer, book writer. NYT Bestselling writer. But if you write, you’re a Real Writer in my book, full stop.
Which brings us back to, writing is hard. You have an idea in your head of how you want this thing to go, but ideas so rarely match the execution, right? We don’t start out with the strings of words unspooling from our brains, we start out with, oh man, wouldn’t it be an awesome thing if clones had this social structure based on their purpose, like, the ones for organ donation were at the top and no one talked to those guys because everyone knew they were going for, like, jello. Or the one where you read an article about Jim Wilson flights and think that’s an awesome idea for a story but you have no idea what the plot is or how it starts. Or you have about five lines of a scene but nothing to go with any of it. And all of these have happened to me. I don’t have a damn thing more than that, I have to make the story match up to the brilliance of the initial idea. It’s fucking hard!
So, as with all the other hard things we do in life (and everyone I know has admitted to this with things that are not their writing) we put it off. We find things to do. I will, as I previously mentioned, go get my hands dug into slimy cold raw chicken before I willingly sit down to write promotional copy. Other people clean their bathrooms. Other people exercise. Once a year you get to use “I have to do my taxes” as an excuse. Anything to avoid writing, even writing your best ideas, because writing that brilliant idea that thrilled and inspired you a moment ago and having the finished product turn out looking like crap? That hurts. A lot. So you find other things to do rather than try and be disappointed in yourself, angry with yourself. Sick at heart that this brilliant idea didn’t live up to its potential because you suck.
And getting into this habit extends it to other aspects of your creative life. You put off writing that story you had the brilliant idea for because the time isn’t right, because the muse isn’t there, because you’re not inspired. Let me tell you, inspiration as a necessity for writing is bullshit, there will be at least one blog post about that later on. It’s helpful if you have inspiration. It’s far from necessary, especially when finding that inspiration, that feeling, that passion, becomes an excuse not to plant your butt into that chair and get writing. Because anything and everything will become that excuse. You have to do dishes. You have to do laundry. You have to pay your bills, write your folks, go to work, go to the gym. Clean your bathroom. Prep your dinners.
This becomes, there are reasons you can’t submit to that short story market. Like, you have too many projects on hand right now, you’re keeping a much larger house and you have to clean it and do the DIY. You don’t have time because you have half a dozen other projects on. You have to do this other thing. The market will close sooner than you can get a story prepped. It’s too small, it’s not worth it. It’s too big, you’ll never get in. Shut up, stop whining, schedule yourself some time to sit your ass down and write. No, it’s not as glamorous as being inspired by divine muses, but if being a published writer is something you want to do (and note that qualifier, published writer; if being a published writer isn’t something you aspire to then by all means, write in the way that fulfills you best) then you need to submit to publications. Or self-publish. If you want to be a thing, you have to do the actions that lead to those consequences. If you want to be a noun related to a verb, you have to perform that verb’s actions. Writers write. Published writers submit for publication, or self-publish. Aspiring writers follow their aspirations. You see where I’m going with this?
Finding reasons not to do a thing that will fulfill your goals becomes an art form. The most common reason that I see for self-sabotage, at least in the people around me, is the crippling fear of success. Impostor syndrome’s a bitch, and it never goes away, not that I can tell. We look at the thing we want to do, we look at ourselves, we go holy fuck that’s a long ways off, and we find reasons not to submit to that magazine. Not to try out for that play. Not to sign up for that music course. Because god forbid we try and fail, nothing’s worse than failure, right? Nothing’s worse than public failure, than having all your friends and loved ones standing around seeing you face down in the mud where you fell. No, there’s something worse, there’s success. How scary is that? You could succeed, you could succeed yourself to death, build yourself up as a successful published NYT Bestselling writer and then people would have expectations of you. And what happens when you then fail to meet them, because you know in your heart of hearts that you’re just faking this, right? So why set yourself up for that? You can’t write that story, anyway, you lost that inspiring feeling. You can’t submit to that market, anyway, they close in two weeks, and you just don’t have time.
Self-sabotage. It happens more often than you think. It’s an insidious little fucker who sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear and gives you all the reasons why you should play it safe. And then you wonder why you’re not getting anywhere.
And yes, if you try, you will fail. And you’ll succeed. And you’ll succeed and then you’ll fail. And sometimes you’ll fail your way right into a success you weren’t expecting. I put off self-publishing all last year because I was buying a house, and felt like crap at the end of it even though I got my house of awesome, because I had failed to both buy a house and publish a book. And somehow I failed the self-publishing while buying a house thing, failed my way right into a group of contacts and a helper and more encouragement and, well. You get the idea. But in order to achieve either success or failure, you have to get your ass out there and try. Or, in the case of writers, get your ass in that chair and write. Do what you have to do, flick the self-sabotage goblin off your shoulder and tell him to fuck off somewhere else, you’re busy getting shit done. Because you don’t have time for that crap. You’re busy being awesome.