Why you'll never be any good....

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Hillsy
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Why you'll never be any good....

Post by Hillsy » February 27th, 2013, 6:22 am

I suspect that like many of you I’m a veritable Petri dish for cultures of self doubt, exasperation, frustration and crazy catastrophization. As such, I have several reasons I’ll never succeed in getting published “on the go” at any given time. Despite knowing I’m not an eye-gougingly terrible writer, I am convinced as to the futility of trying to turn a hobby into a career, and I’ve constructed some pretty convoluted reasons to insulate myself against failure.

I thought that perhaps by sharing them, and finding out how many others suffer the same comforting delusions, we might be able to view them as they are: crutches for our confidences, not shackles.

That and the forums have been apocalyptically quiet recently:

So I’ll start with a few off my list:

I failed English at school – I’ve no idea what the equivalence is in other countries, but at GCSE (exams taken in the UK at 16) I got and E and an F. As such I’ve always had this niggling worry that I’ve missed some vital stage of literary development: be it grammatical, analytical, cultural or all three plus more. It probably didn’t help that I was reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz at 14 (give or take a year), so in the classroom when someone produces Silas Marner (AAARRGRGGHHH!!!!) as our study text…well I’m sure you can get the level of engagement there. Which brings me onto –

I don’t like poetry – Sorry, don’t get it. I mean the punch of tight, dense, language I can appreciate. I love evocative language - but the format? Nope, does nowt for me. And don’t get me start on haiku’s! Yet all the writers I admire, in fact nearly every one who speaks on the topic on writing for any length, seem to love it – many go as far to say studying it can only improve your writing and the lessons learned are myriad. I immediately feel like I must be missing something. Like potential agents will be gathered outside in the smoking area sniggering over a copy of my MS because it’s sooooo obvious I’ve never read poetry….And then there’s the greater sin of –

I don’t like the classics/Shakespeare – Silas Marner (AAARRGRGGHHH!!!!)? I’d rather have unnecessary throat surgery than read what little of it I read at school again. Pride and prejudice doesn’t appeal to me, though I’m not the target audience, but then neither does Ulysses or Great Expectations or Moby Dick or Dracula. It’s not for me. Shakespeare I’ve a little more of a soft spot for because of some of the eminently quotable lines, and the fact it’s supposed to be acted, but even then after about a page my eyes glaze over and I’m re-reading lines again and again to divine their meaning. But again you see these texts, almost universally, held up as the pinnacle of quality, the stars you should aim for in order to hit the moon. And even if you don’t like them you ought to study them intently. But I don’t want to, I don’t think they’re that good, and I’ve got better things to read, which is a problem because –

I read too slow – I read probably 3 hours a day due to the commute. Doing some napkin maths I’ll probably average out 6000 words an hour – which means a modest John Case crime thriller will probably take me 15 hours of solid reading, or a week of commute. Unfortunately I don’t read modest crime thrillers, I like door-stop sci-fi and fantasy novels….which in terms of a commuting starts knocking on for three weeks. Which means realistically I’m reading somewhere between 15-20 novels a year. That’s it. The Wheel of time is 14 novels! (I’m re-reading it at the moment and I’m 100 pages into book 6. I started in November). Now couple that with the “read widely”, “read a lot”, “Know your genre”, “Study books you don’t like”, and all that advice…..I don’t stand a chance! Does that mean I’m doomed to produce hackneyed, trite garbage because I haven’t absorbed a library’s worth of literature? Do I have to now miss out on reading books I want to because I don’t have the time in the year to read them AND the next book I have to pluck randomly from the memoir aisle of Waterstones in order to “broaden my horizons?”

I’ll stop there……

So you see these are some crazy-ass, fruitcake reasons I think I’m incapable of writing a novel good enough to sell. I know they’re bonkers, but it doesn’t stop me wondering about how close to the truth they actually are. I have a ton more, but I’ll wait to see if other people offer them up first

So over to you. Recoginise any of these? Got any of your own irrational reasons why your own writing is destined to be deficient in one capacity or another??

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polymath
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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by polymath » February 27th, 2013, 5:56 pm

I failed a few high school courses and my first basic English composition college course. Straight 4.0 GPA since and into and through graduate school, with honors and academic distinction. Magna cum laude associate's degree, Summa cum laude bachelor's degree, and magna cum laude graduate school, English, creative writing concentration. I'm driven to the point of obsession by reading and writing studies. I'm so passionate about them I loose myself in the fascinating complexities and intricacies of language and dramatic arts. I'm due for a rest and regroup assimilation break. If I can see my way past the fascination with the many splendored qualities of writing creatively, I might write a narrative or two of consequence.

I love the classics, including Shakespeare, George Eliot, Edmund Spenser, Aristotle, Virgil, Homer, Laurence Sterne, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Gustave Flaubert, William Thackeray Makepeace, the list is near endless, all current and past masterpieces recognized for their craft and flair with language and rising above their contemporaries and distinguishably marking significant departures from what came before them. They are the shoulders writers today stand upon and ideally surpass. If I could set aside my passionate craving for reading, I might just write and accomplish a minor surpassing departure quality that will frustrate future high school and college unimaginative literature teachers and students.

I read at a phenomenal word count and comprehension rate, though before I took reading skills coursework in high school I was far below average. I read so close I squeeze out every tear, every blood drop, feel every blow, every breeze, every lap of water against a river bank, appreciate every turn of phrase, every exquisite, artful use of language and idiom and irony. I read so close and so fast that I exact every bit of meaning available. The complication is I write assuming my audience is equally able and consequently readers miss the mark, which is my failing as a writer. The fourth law of writing: do not write smarter than your audience. If I can find the happy medium, look out. I just might manage to write the narratives I have within my grasp.
Spread the love of written word.

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wilderness
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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by wilderness » February 28th, 2013, 1:15 pm

Perhaps it would be more constructive to focus on the reasons that make you a good writer?

I think we have all heard of famous authors who weren't great students, fell outside the mold, etc. I myself am not a very fast reader, but who cares? I read carefully. Sometimes I discuss books with fast readers and am utterly appalled by the plot details they seem to have missed.

Hillsy, I feel you've always displayed a writerly savvy here that tells me that you will someday make a success of your work. Good luck!
Last edited by wilderness on February 28th, 2013, 1:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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wilderness
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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by wilderness » February 28th, 2013, 1:18 pm

polymath wrote:The fourth law of writing: do not write smarter than your audience.
Ha! From anyone else, that statement might seem arrogant, but in your case, yes! You will have to work hard to make your notions understandable to most. I mean this as a deep compliment, of course. I'm often blown away by your posts, but I have to read them a few times to absorb them usually. Good luck in reaching that audience!

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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by abc » February 28th, 2013, 2:45 pm

I say if you aren't a person with self-doubts then I'm probably not going to want to read your book. I mean, what kind of person doesn't? No one interesting. Mine are thus: grammar issues (I never failed English courses, but I'm still unsure about a lot of the rules), good old-fashioned am-I-good-enough? worries, and discipline. I seriously need a discipline injection.

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polymath
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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by polymath » February 28th, 2013, 9:04 pm

wilderness wrote:
polymath wrote:The fourth law of writing: do not write smarter than your audience.
Ha! From anyone else, that statement might seem arrogant, but in your case, yes! You will have to work hard to make your notions understandable to most. I mean this as a deep compliment, of course. I'm often blown away by your posts, but I have to read them a few times to absorb them usually. Good luck in reaching that audience!
I did intend a bit of self-deprecating verbal irony, that I don't really know my audience.
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Hillsy
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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by Hillsy » March 1st, 2013, 7:30 am

wilderness wrote:Hillsy, I feel you've always displayed a writerly savvy here that tells me that you will someday make a success of your work. Good luck!
Thanks for your support!

What I was trying to highlight, though, are the irrational beliefs we hold up as ridiculous barriers. So in reply to what you said I might say "But I don't like poetry! I'm obviously missing something and it'll be obvious to agents/readers. NOOOOOOOO!" - clearly ridiculous, demonstrably so, but it nags away anyway.

I'm sure everyone has these irrational pressure points (the reason I expounded on them was to delve a little deeper into the history of them: why I think they exist), and they are relatively core writing worries. But of course it could be just as ridiculous as "I'm from Malta - there's never been a succesful Maltese sci-fi author. There must be a reason for that. NOOOOO!!!!"

The point is that I think these crazy, unhelpful thoughts, probably exist in every writer's mind somewhere, but they think they are the only one. Ergo, here's a forum to share them and thereby, through identifying them for what they are, lessen their power

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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by writerly_black_cat » March 1st, 2013, 12:51 pm

I agree with abc, I need a discipline injection sooo badly. I've been writing everyday but my biggest issue is that I need to write longhand. Whenever I go to type something, and write directly into ms word, I just delete and revise every sentence at least twice and I get nowhere. At least writing longhand forces the words to stay on the page (although I'll cross out some or just rewrite the entire sentence if I don't like it). My self-doubt makes me question everything while I'm writing it, when I'd rather have that kick in while I'm revising. It's hard to get stuff on the page, and I think every writer faces this once in a while.

Is it bad that I need to write longhand first? I don't know. It certainly is slower, but I'm able to let go of my self-consciousness enough to keep the words on the page. And I'll try more things/take more risks writing longhand. It makes me feel free and I can get absorbed by the story and not obsess over the wording. It allows me to create, versus creation constricted by constant self-editing. And then when I'm typing it up, I fix all the little things that are bothering me. No matter what, I feel like I'll always want to take out a pencil/pen and a notebook, and write. I've tried making myself write directly into ms word, and it's just not my thing.

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dios4vida
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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by dios4vida » March 12th, 2013, 11:34 am

Well, let me start here...

I read very quickly so I plow through books left and right, English has always been my best subject, and I do enjoy a smattering of the classics (but don't you dare try to make me read Austen!), but...yeah.

I hate poetry. And you're right, so many people say poetry teaches you so much.

I have never won an award or any kind of recognition for my writing. Granted since I've started writing seriously I haven't entered any fiction contests, but in school when you wrote stories and essays and they were judged for cute little awards? Nothing. Ever. I would pour everything I had into those and never got an honorable mention or anything. But I have science fair award ribbons and geography bee certificates and all kinds of other things. Writing, the one thing I love? Nope. Which, in fits of terror, make me worry I chose the wrong career.

After four books under my belt, I'm still trying to learn how to describe my world properly. I have a chronic case of White Wall Syndrome that no matter how hard I try to put some description into my writing, it's never enough.

And on that note, I've queried three novels and never gotten so much as a partial request. All form rejections. If that won't depress a young would-be writer, I don't know what will.

So yeah, I've got plenty of reasons, too. I could never keep up with the pace publishers would want me to, I write too slowly. I don't handle stress well so if I had a contract and deadlines oh my gosh would I have a nervous breakdown? Holy crap they'd want me to do publicity stuff and meet people. <Heart attack>

And yet, here I am. I'm still chugging away and feeling better about my chances every day. Why? Sometimes I feel like I've just gone beyond all sanity and have found a happy place where those worries can't bother me. But the little sane part of my brain knows it's because I refuse to give up, and in pressing on I'm getting better.

(At least, that's what I tell myself.)
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by thewordsmith » March 13th, 2013, 4:59 pm

polymath wrote:The complication is I write assuming my audience is equally able and consequently readers miss the mark, which is my failing as a writer. The fourth law of writing: do not write smarter than your audience. If I can find the happy medium, look out. I just might manage to write the narratives I have within my grasp.
"Fourth law of writing"? "Don't write smarter than your audience"? From the ignorant masses standpoint, that sounds like a lot of claptrap nonsense. Not to mention incredibly condescending and insulting.

Then, too, it is said, one of the best signs of intelligence is to be able to communicate with anyone. the key here is "communicate". If you target a particular audience but they "miss the mark" then you, as the author, are also missing the mark. The trick, as you suggest, is to be able to write to the target audience. But, if you become so enthralled with your own words that you fail to communicate with your audience then, you may be a great orator but still be a lousy communicator.

Writing is a slippery slope to navigate and it is sometimes difficult to know when you are, indeed, 'writing above' your audience. But, if you become so enamored of your words, you may well need to dial it back a few notches and start focusing more on the reader and less on the writer. Suffice to say, the best rule of thumb is to 'keep it real'. Keep your writing in character, as it were. Make sure it always reflects your characters' and their backgrounds, personalities, education, motivations. That way, you never have to worry about violating that "fourth law of writing".
Last edited by thewordsmith on June 28th, 2013, 8:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by SquarePen » June 24th, 2013, 1:11 pm

Hi Hillsy!

Do limericks count as poetry? I like them - sometimes. Other than that... yeah, I can take or leave poetry. Mostly leave, actually.

And I also hated Shakespeare until I did an OND in Performing Arts at college, where I discovered that a large part of the problem is actually not being taught how to read Shakespeare properly at school. Most teachers still get you to read it as if it's poetry, speaking each line and then pausing at the end of it before going on to the next line (resulting in that woeful "da-derr da-derr da-derr da-derr" rhythm that helps not one bit to add sparkle and zing.) Actors, on the other hand, are taught to let it flow on and only stop when the punctuation tells you to, which very often means reading on through to the next line/s without pausing at the end each time. Do it that way and Shakespeare instantly makes far more sense - and consequently becomes more exciting. Not mind-blowingly more exciting, admittedly... but a lot more so than the stuff endured in the average English class.

I do though, have Big Beating Sticks of my own.

My top one is: "You're [insert age I'm trying to forget] years old now - if you're so chuffin' good at this here writing lark you'd have become a rich and famous author ages ago. But, since you aren't playing tiddlywinks with two-pound coins and using fivers as toilet paper you're quite obviously rubbish and you'll never, ever ever get any better!"

Another one is: "Everything you write is a rubbishy copy of something else somebody else has already done. You don't have one single original idea in your head. And you know what? Those copied ideas of yours couldn't even kiss the boots of the original ones either!"

Oooh, and of course I mustn't forget: Most of the successful novelists write a book a year. You started this one a whole year ago - and you're not even a quarter of the way through the second draft yet! You could very plausibly be dead before you get around to finishing it. Lazy! Slacker! Not how proper novelists roll, you un-motivated little pretender you!"

Did I mention that my Inner Grinch doesn't pull any punches? :)

Self -doubt can also be good though. Used in the right way, it can act as fuel for the desire to improve. It's the ones who think they are so good they couldn't possibly get any better that... well, usually could, not to put too fine a point on it.

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Re: Why you'll never be any good....

Post by thewordsmith » June 28th, 2013, 9:19 am

Ah! SquarePen, how funny! You have quite nicely delineated the basic fears and insecurities of the majority of writers. And you are quite correct in saying, "It's the ones who think they are so good they couldn't possibly get any better that... well, usually could, not to put too fine a point on it." Sadly, too often those are the ones that have reached the pinnacle of the industry and the agents and flacks that 'handle' them know the name will sell regardless what is between the covers for the most part so they don't stress too much about the in-depth quality of the work, or the lack thereof. And, of course, the truly sad part is that some of those big name writers really need someone to call them on their sloppy haffast work while others, at their worst, are still better than the majority of garden mulch agents see on a daily basis.

But it's the really outstanding rare few that are so filled with insecurity that, as one top level author once put it, they are certain that, "this is the one where they'll figure out I can't write, my stuff is no good", that keep struggling to make their work the best it can be. And those are the ones worth reading because they DO care about the quality of their work - as we all should. And as you pointed out, Square Pen, it's when you stop caring and consider yourself the best you can be that you lose your edge, stop being a writer and become a has been - even if you 'never was'.

And, on the subject of Shakespeare, I guess I never realized how fortunate I was as a child. I started reading "Will's Works" long before the age when the educational system introduced him to the tiny, intellectually starved minds of school children.

I never "learned to read Shakespeare". I just read his works like any other book. Now, the sonnets, on the other hand... that was a totally different matter and I think, for a part of me, it was reading those sonnets that truly introduced me to the beauty and music of poetry.

Imho, there are too many people in front of classrooms with teaching degrees and no idea how to actually teach!

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