(AKA What to do when your Muse abandons you)
The writer’s life is an up and down struggle, especially for the aspiring writer who is on the verge of breaking through to having their career choice validated (read: publishing success). Unfortunately, writers have their own brand of a “dark night of the soul”. See if any of this sounds familiar:
I almost had a good day today.
I’d just like to get through a week without a rejection notice. I know, I know: a consequence of putting yourself out there, much less having a lot of stories out there, is the possibility of being rejected. However, it’s been a long streak of rejections and I’m looking at any writing that I have yet to complete and I wonder if it’s even worth it.
Some rejections sting more than others. Let’s be honest, not that I necessarily have favorite children, but there are some stories that I’m more heavily invested in, some markets I really wanted to crack, some editors I really wanted to impress. And there are some personal rejections TOO on point, dissecting why my story didn’t work.
It’s tough learning and staying focused on the fact that rejections are opportunities to learn, to figure out why a story isn’t working, how to improve. That maybe I am sending my children out into a hostile world apparently prematurely.
This isn’t one of those fishing for compliment sort of posts (though, Lord knows, I’m not above writing one of those). I wonder if I have what it takes to be truly great. To be great requires a certain amount of monomania. The kind of focus where their vocation becomes their mistress. It takes up the choice time and the choice energy. You end up doing things for your job you’d never do for your spouse: get up early, work 14 hours, stay up late. Too bad that usually doesn’t make for very good human beings. Great artists, maybe. Great athletes, certainly. Great scientists, probably.
So this all might just boil down to me not being dedicated enough. I don’t put in the time attending to the process: revision, reading, studying. Maybe I’m destined to be only good, but boring. The craft requires time.
There it is.
I realize that I talk a lot about craft and the art of writing, when the truth of the matter maybe that I’m a hack. In the same way religious folks talk about “the Pharisees” little realizing that they are actually one of them, maybe I’m simply being revealed as the fraud that I am, a dilettante of prose. I’m trying to think of the last story that I wrote that moved me, had any feeling behind it. Came from within my emotional core. Touched some truth from within me.
Maybe I just need a little validation. Every so often, a win to encourage me to keep going on. I’m sure this is the lure of vanity presses. Maybe I need a good vice to help vent my artistic frustration, like a romance with alcohol or a dalliance with a harder drug. Something to take the edge off, to make the self-doubt to ease a little.
Because I just want to quit.
That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? Crippling self-doubt makes me put down the pen, too self-conscious to write, too exposed to put myself back out there, too exposed as the fraud I secretly think I am. It makes me want to put writing down. To lay in bed under the covers and cry myself to sleep, tortured by my frustrated hopes and dreams and untold stories. Maybe I ought to find a new hobby, something safer, like collecting salt and pepper shakers. Or China patterns.
But I can’t.
Writing is what I do and who I am. How else would explain wanting to do something that makes you both miserable and so fulfilled at the same time? It has to be love. That’s who I am: the often neurotic and insecure. A writer. I can only imagine how tough it must be on the significant others of writers. Having to contend with this mistress of ours, our Muse; cuckolded by this thing they can’t hope to compete against. Yet having to deal with the frustrations, the anger, the discouragement, the occasional self-loathing that comes in its wake.
I wish I had some deep lesson to impart to help get through this. This is part of the business, the cycle of creation, the ugly part that few people talk about. I’m guessing what many go through and struggle with. Writers finish things, professional writers send their work out into the world, face rejection and criticism. So writers have to develop thick skins. Yes, we’re going to have doubts, but like with any crisis of faith, you have to put that aside and keep going because writing is less about talent and more about perseverance.
In the end, like any crisis of faith, perseverance is the key. To keep writing, even when all you feel like you are writing is crap. It’s like a car stuck in mud spinning it’s wheels: sometimes you have to spin for a minute until you get some traction. That’s all we’re waiting on. a little bit of traction, something to catch and get us going again. Me? This is me purging this from my system so that I can find that “fearlessness” to commit something to paper AND send it out. You? Your moment of doubt had been indulged. Now get over yourselves and get back to writing.
And don’t let the troll critics get you down.