I like it when lots of people read my posts, something I know by looking at my stats thingies. But I am not comfortable with it. It’s not that I don’t like that lots of people are reading what I’ve written—after all, writing needs readers. It’s that I don’t like liking that lots of people are reading what I’ve written.
Recently I found an archive with all the writer interviews The Paris Review published through its decades. William Styron, before he was WILLIAM STYRON and just a young author with a first novel, found the writing life wrought with self-doubt and therefore very hard work and so he usually wrote in the afternoons with a hangover, because what he really liked was to stay up late and get drunk. But Styron, despite insecurity and self-doubt, despite hangovers, despite the not knowing whether his writing was any good or not, wrote.
Because if you’re a writer, you write. And you do this on trust, and especially without validation. Your insecurity is the knife-edge that pierces the self-complacent ego and allows the honesty to emerge.
These days with social media, we have the opportunity to post clever drivel that panders to a culture of “likes” and get instant validation for it. Human nature being what it is, why put yourself through the agony of writing and reaching for your non-validated best when you can be “liked” for a quick and clever effort? That’s the problem for writers, and there’s no solution except to be aware of it.
If you want to create the good stuff, you have to suffer in a vacuum of non-validation. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.
I’ve just read through several book reviews and I think they are all better written than the reviews I write. No wonder my editor doesn’t give me so much work, I think. Although my brain then immediately reminds me that she gives me the amount of work I have asked for. No matter, I am determined to feel inadequate. This determination leads me to decide that the hundreds of books that are published each month are all expertly written and professionally put together (even though, in my capacity as a reviewer I have occasionally experienced the opposite) and to come to the conclusion that I am wrong to I think I can get a book of my own published, much less get a good review on it. This leads to the coda that I am wasting my time writing my two thousand words each day on my current project, a middle grade mystery.
And yet, six days a week I write my two thousand words, letting the story find its own way, and at the end of the day’s two thousand words, I feel—what is the word—happy, that’s it. I feel contented and fulfilled. I have set myself a goal, I have filled it, and sitting down to write each morning with nothing in mind but the trust that the words will come is like jumping off a cliff and discovering I can fly.
Writing is not the acclaim of a good review or even the validation of getting published, is it? It’s the sense of purpose fulfilled. If a publishing house thinks they can make money off it or a reviewer likes it, yay. But the really valuable part of all this is the doing of it, and the pleasure it gives.
I know, I know, everybody has said/written/acted/sung those words before and so they have the impactful strength of anemia. But believe me, until you put yourself in the position of the continual rejection of the writing life, you don’t realize the sterling honesty of those words. When you do, they are that bit of oar you cling to in the icy sea of the publishing world.
So maybe everybody is better than me. Who cares? I can still try and delight in the trying. That is something no one can take away: the decision to try.