What’s Hard About Writing For Me

When I was young, I dreamed of being a published writer, my novels on shelves of stores, interviewed by important people like Oprah. Such fantasies were easy to conjure because I knew what my writing end-goal looked like: a hardcover novel you could hold between your hands, with pages that smelled of ink and time and anticipation.

This fantasy was an inexhaustible vehicle for my creative intentions. I found no issue tucking myself away in my bedroom while the rest of my family hung out in the kitchen, talking about everything other than reading or writing. At school during indoor recess, instead of playing Scrabble I was working on a murder mystery. My stories filled dozens of notebooks and journals. In other words—the act of writing, being motivated to write, clearly wasn’t a problem.

 

What's hard about writing for you? Read this post from Kate Johnston | Author & Story Coach to learn how writers can overcome one of the most difficult obstacles in writing

Rather, I was stymied that I couldn’t just become a published novelist because that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. Plenty of other people get to be what they wanted to be when they grew up … why couldn’t I? I mean, I was doing the work, paying the dues. How come things aren’t happening the way I dreamed they would?

Well, I was never forewarned that my success would be highly dependent on what other people think and if they like what I wrote (that writers don’t get published simply by sending in a completed, proofread manuscript and waiting your turn—did anyone else think that’s how it happened? Rejections and query letters—nope, not something I knew about at the tender age of fourteen, the height of my dreaming).

I didn’t have a mentor to guide me, someone to tell me, “Dreams are great! Now you have to think about how you’re going to make it possible, because to make a dream come true you need a plan.”

Unfortunately, I went sideways a bit when I kept hitting these strange roadblocks on my writing journey otherwise known as “literary agents.”

What the hell is going on? I couldn’t figure out the problem. I’d been taking workshops and reading plenty of How-to-Write books and attending my fair share of conferences. Why couldn’t I make things work? Why don’t people like what I’m writing?

My difficulty finding success made me think I had no talent.

And then the torrent of bad thoughts swooped in. Writing is as impossible as breeding unicorns. I should go back to school for paper shuffling, because I’m super-good at that. I hit my first real writer’s block, paralyzed, no doubt, by the fear of having no talent. These people don’t like what I’m writing because I’m untalented.

 

What is hard about writing for you? Read this post by Kate Johnston to learn how writers can overcome one of the most difficult obstacles in writing.

This is the moment where I began to see the set of rules I once operated by were no longer effective, if in fact, they even existed outside of my own magical thinking. Much like a child’s subsequent breakdown and assimilation of reality upon learning there really is no such thing as Santa Claus, I lost faith that I could ever be what I wanted to be when I grew up.

All because I was looking at my work through someone else’s eyes.

The subjectivity of art, and how I allow that to manipulate my own thought process, is what makes writing hard for me. My worst flaw is putting the brakes on a project when I get one dose of negative feedback. Conversely, when I receive ten doses of positive comments on the same project, I will tell myself, “Mm, I should still send it out to other readers.” Why is that? Why do I allow one person’s dislike of my work stall me out, but encouragement and cheers from ten readers aren’t enough to make me think my book works?

Of course, this ridiculous behavior boils down to fear of not being accepted by general society. This fear I can point, in all certainty, to my childhood and adolescence. I was the quintessential outcast because I was Miss Goody Two-Shoes and a bookworm. Add the sad fact my mother liked to dress me in bright-red corduroys printed with blue French horns or frilly calico dresses with petticoats and stockings. I was not the popular kid. I was usually picked last for PE teams (and not because I wasn’t athletic enough, but because I wasn’t liked enough). To avoid awkward social situations, I buried myself in my writing. But choosing to hide away with stories rather than be snubbed socializing only worsened my social status.

Vicious cycle is established.

Taking a page from my psych courses in college, I theorize that, somewhere in my subconscious, I have blamed my writing for my lack of social acceptance. Ergo, my writing will never be socially accepted.

Boom.

A while back, a young writer paid some money to have a very popular blogger/writing teacher read and provide feedback on the first fifty pages of her manuscript. She did not choose the help frivolously; she thought she had picked wisely based on this person’s witty blog posts, hard-nosed writing advice, and because her website has won a number of awards (not the kind bloggers give each other, but handed out by high-status writers–you know, like from one popular person to another …).

Well.

The popular, award-winning blogger/writing teacher TORE this young writer’s pages apart. Having no premise or synopsis to work from, edits and comments were made on pure guesswork of what the story was about. Added to that was an overall snarky, pompous, degrading attitude that backhanded the writer into next week; an attitude that this particular “teacher” actually brags about as being “effective”—as if the truth is supposed to hurt, otherwise it can’t possibly be the truth. The kind of person who gets off on their own half-wit—I’m sure we’ve all met someone like that.

By the time this writer came to me, she was leveled. She thought her writing was no good, all because someone on their high horse took advantage of an opportunity. To me, it seemed as if this teacher had personal unresolved writing aggressions and abused their position of authority because they happened to be well-liked, even lauded, in the blogging world.

Sounds just like middle school, doesn’t it?

But creativity is hardy stuff, fellow writers.

The cruel comments might have knocked her down, but they didn’t destroy her. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have come to me for writing help. Over time (and lots of wine), not only did she gain a clearer, stronger, healthier perspective on herself, but I learned something too.

Maybe subjectivity can be a positive force. We are human, so we will make art that sucks and we will make art that soars. The fact some people will like what others don’t like (and vice versa) should serve to remind us that there is room to grow and improve and learn, if we so choose. Or we can opt to simply enjoy the experience, and take it day by day, and see where our journeys lure us.

Subjectivity allows us that freedom, because, in this realm, there are no steadfast rules by which to operate. Here, magical thinking is actually a buffer, a cushion to rest upon when you need to reassess or rejuvenate. What you believe will differ from what I believe will differ from what Conroy or Follett or Hoffman believe. And they all count.

You know how much room to play that actually allows us? We are not stuck to meeting one expectation; there is a spectrum of possibilities at our whim. We are free to take our time, mold our lumps of words however we see fit, and find the right readership that make us feel good about the work we’ve done. A readership we want to write for again.

I could see the victimized writer’s talent, where another writer couldn’t.

Art is subjective, after all.

How about you, fellow writer? What’s hard about writing for you?

Have a writerly day!


Advertisements

21 thoughts on “What’s Hard About Writing For Me

  1. That is the hard part about doing anything involving creativity. I hear others tear apart songs on the radio that I think are pretty good. I hear people bash books for quirky reasons constantly. Movies are torn apart that I find enjoyable. I think some people just get a kick out of bashing things, like a spoiled kid with a bat looking to destroy as much as possible. What I’ve learned from writing is to look harder for what is good. It is easy to find fault with almost anything. It is harder, but much more soul-enhancing to find the good in what we experience. I’ve tried harder lately to not just make quick judgments about whether I like or don’t like something. Instead I try to find something I like about it, even if it takes some searching. It helps me grow and be a better person that the anonymous critic with his proverbial baseball bat.

    Like

    • I think you’re right, Char, about how some people like to bash things for the sake of bashing things. Who knows why that is? But it’s a human flaw that is found not only in the creative world, but everywhere, sadly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. …What was that about Santa Claus?
    😉

    Great post, Kate! And, my deepest sympathies to that writer who’d been trampled on by someone else’s small-mindedness. 😦 I think many of us make an assumption that we have to be tough when we critique, because we’re taught that it’s more important to be critical than it is to be supportive. And, that tough love is the better love, the kind that helps us grow. We can be tough, but we also have to have compassion. That balance can be difficult for a writer who wants to prove themselves to others. That doesn’t seem to be what you’ve described here, though. This sounds more like someone taking the opportunity to knock down somebody else for their own self-aggrandizement…which is, unfortunately, all too common in our world.

    We seem to better understand the subjectivity of art when it comes to visual artists’ visions. A Pollack doesn’t speak to everyone, and we understand that that’s okay. What seems harder for us to accept – for whatever reason – is that not everybody will take to a Charlotte Bronte or Angie Thomas. But, as you point out, subjectivity applies to prose and poetry just as much as it does to painting or music.

    As for what’s hard for me regarding my writing, it’s finding the audience. Because I decided a while ago that I would concentrate on writing stories that I love. If somebody else finds them, reads them, and likes them, that’s awesome. If they don’t, well…too bad. Compromising my characters or plots to make them more palatable to a mass audience is not a path I’m willing to go down. Now, that’s not a perspective that many realistic, book-deal-seeking authors will take in this economy and publishing climate, where everyone’s chasing after the next hot thing. But I made a choice to write for my own joy. Life is too short to do anything less.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Mayumi, finding an audience is really tough, especially in the commercially-published realm. I think that’s because we have to be specific with who we’re writing for in order to know where to position our books.

      I feel like audiences have more eclectic tastes than not, though. I mean, I don’t run across many people who read only one genre. There seem to be more people who enjoy multiple genres. So to say we’re writing for middle-aged women might be a good target, we are cutting out other groups that don’t fall under that category but that would still probably love our book. How do we cater to all of them effectively??

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A very thoughtful post. I could say that it’s getting the words in the right order but plenty of folk say that.
    For me it’s the sheer physical effort of maintaining the disipline to achieve what I want to achieve.

    Like

    • The dirty D word. 😉 Discipline is tough because it is ALL on you. No one else can get your butt in the chair and make you write. We have to be very strict with ourselves, and that takes practice. Seeing results can sometimes be a good motivator, but often it’s not enough … especially when something else more fun beckons!

      Like

  4. I’ve had the Oprah fantasy too! And the thoughts about the unfairness of not being able to just become what I want to be, but ultimately I stay hopeful – most of the time – and each small success helps along the way.

    Like

  5. Hi Kate,

    Great post. That was sad to hear about the brutal critque. Glad the writer kept hope.

    I have a friend who recently got a rough critique of a manuscript. The next draft will be much better.

    Finding the right audience is one of the hardest parts of writing. Besides the actual writing part that is 😛

    Like

    • Sometimes, a rough critique can work magic, and I think that happens when it’s handled with respect and tough love. Being unkind is not necessary. That “teacher” should have knuckles rapped with a ruler!! 🙂

      You’re the second person to say “audience.” That’s an interesting one to contemplate. How does a writer go about finding the right audience? My first thought is to find authors who are similar to you and study their audiences. If those authors blog, perhaps you can learn some of the strategies they used to reach ideal readers.

      But if your work is fairly unique, then it will be much more difficultt–your audience might likely be unique. Blogging is a great way to get started though, so I feel like you are on the right track, now that you’ve started your own blog. 🙂

      Like

  6. The best thing I ever read about being a writer was (and I paraphrase):
    If you want to write, write – there, you are done.
    If you want to write and be published, Amazon allows you to publish almost anything free – there you are done.
    If you want to write, be published, and paid for it – ah, now it is a job – you must follow rules, do as they tell you, and so on….

    The other thing that helps me was that I did my due diligence, studied several publishers, their ways and wants, and I sent my well-reread-reedited short story to a couple of them in just the way they asked for it, from font to all – the result? I only received 1 rejection for my 1st story. I am told that is quite special. My contention is that I read an article telling me to do the above, I did it, and it worked.
    Because I didn’t go through the usual 20-100+ rejections of others, I am more confident in myself and my writing. So, I normally expect my work to be published. I also have published myself and I have been paid (a little) for my works – I am happy, now, I want to do my book! We shall see…
    Scott

    Like

  7. What a wonderfully honest post, Kate. Writing has more ups and downs than anything else I’ve known or experienced, and I’m sure that’s the same for every writer. And you’re right: there is so much subjectivity out there. In some ways that’s a good thing–it means there’s something for everyone. But on the other hand, it means writers need to spend a good deal of time trying to find that agent or publisher or reader who’s just right for their material.

    Like

      • I agree with you, Carrie — the ups and downs of writing might even surpass the ups and downs of motherhood … or is that being overly dramatic???

        I like how you connect the dots … subjectivity means that writers have to work that much harder to find the right reader, agent, or publisher. Like searching for a needle in the haystack. I guess we have to figure out how to work that to our benefit, or else we’ll simply become too discouraged.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. For sure – art is subjective. And I believe that the most successful artists do their art no matter what. Although, it’s hard to be rejected, and to not take it personally. To have someone stop creating simply because someone else doesn’t share their vision, is one of the saddest things I can think of. I’m so glad the young writer found you, despite having been torn to shreds.

    Like

    • Having a team of supporters or even just a mentor is hugely important for any creative. That’s why I love blogging so much. I don’t often need to vent, but when I do, thank goodness I am part of a safe community! Beyond that, there is simply the exchange and support of ideas and I love knowing I have place to go for that. Luckily, this young writer kept seeking guidance, and other writers who suffer negative feedback or rejection should follow suit — keep seeking guidance.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Such a beautiful post. I think creativity should always be honoured. One can critique without condemning. Something I learned when I was marking my students’ essays is that they will be most open to learning and to criticism once they see that you are on their side. I don’t teach creative writing, but I think this example might still apply to human nature in general. Thanks for your positive and thoughtful piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love this: “they will be most open to learning and to criticism once they see that you are on their side.” 100% absolutely agree! It does no one any good to give false praise, and of course, few of us want to hear that we have to re-do an assignment, but still. When we know that we’re being encouraged to try again rather than chastised for not getting it right in the first place, we’re more willing to learn and give it another go.

      Liked by 1 person

Give me your thoughts. Or your pizza. I'm not picky.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s