If You Want To Be a Writer, Lower Your Expectations a Lot

When you decide to become a writer, there’s one truth that you must confront at some point: what you write will probably not be as good on paper as it was in your head.

I’ve come to realize this after multiple drafts and constant rewrites of fiction, nonfiction, blog posts and etc. I know it’s not just me who feels this way. Writers and artists like Philip Pullman and Leonardo da Vinci complain that their work is not a perfect reflection of their intentions either.

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It was Leonardo D that once said “art is never finished, only abandoned.”

So how do you know when to abandon your work?

Well…you don’t….

That’s what makes rewrites so exciting!

You never know if what you’re doing is improving your work or if it is becoming exponentially worse due to your constant attempts at redressing problems that may or may not exist, and therefore you chip away at your metaphorical sculpture until little remains but rubble and a caffeine high you obtained from drinking six cups of coffee in a row so that you could finish this one draft before you begin your shift in the morning at your dead-end job that you applied for to pay for your college loans and keep yourself a float until you get published which at this rate may be quite a long time as you’ve read from multiple sources that the likelihood of you getting your work seen by another human being, even if you chose to self-publish, is ridiculously low because so many people are more interested in making their own voices heard that they choose to ignore the other three million people who want the same thing so now you are all just screaming into the abyss, being heard by no one and eventually you become so spiritually malnourished that you start taking whiskey shots in your coffee every morning just to keep the edge off—

Fun!

But I would suggest getting a second opinion from someone you trust. Someone who reads as much as you do. They’ll tell you if you need to continue or not. And if they think it’s done, consider that it might very well be.

You do eventually want to finish this thing. Then it’s on to the next project. Aaaand it’s likely the same thing will happen all over again.

…….If anyone wants to start a support group, I’m on board.

Quality Posts vs. Quantity of Posts

I don’t really do New Years resolutions, but I am hoping to produce at least two blog posts every week in the future.

The problem with this is it can be difficult coming up with something to blog about.

I can make a list of all the things I want to write, but most of these ideas never come to fruition. Sometimes I don’t have as much to say about the topic as I thought I did, sometimes I have too much to say, or sometimes I just lose interest in the subject altogether.

I could write every single day if I wanted to, but in the end it all boils down to quality v. quantity. Conventional wisdom says you should favor quality over quantity. However, realistically, you’re expected to have both.

I don’t know about you guys, but I have to meditate on things. I have to let ideas stew in my head for a long time before I can properly articulate them and share them with the world. On occasion, I become so wrapped up in creating the best possible post that I go weeks at a time without posting anything.

However, I’m going to attempt to let more of my thought bunnies free rather than keep them cooped up.

Being a perfectionist, I think, can be just as bad as churning out crap every day. How can you improve if nobody sees your work?

So here’s me trying to update more frequently and produce fun content for all the book and writing nerds out there.

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What Sylvia Plath Taught Me About Perfection

I find it difficult to get started on a new writing project. Not necessarily because I lack inspiration, but I often can’t bring myself to make that first step out of fear I will be dissatisfied with the results.

I procrastinate giving out my work to friends or others for critiquing. I have this undying need for perfection. Every adjective has to paint the perfect picture, the pacing has to be exact, the reader must think exactly what I want them to. But, more importantly, I must be perceived as a literary genius. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Don’t answer that.

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With this in mind, none of my drafts are ever perfect enough to send out. I spend hours languishing over what makes a sentence work, whether or not my protagonist is likable, etc. This is what an artist is suppose to do, but as a result of my concerns, I often keep my writing hidden under a bushel and never allow anyone to see it. I pass up opportunities to enter writing contests and publishing in magazines, all for fear that it’s not good enough yet.

The other day I was researching depression in the library and came across a biography about Sylvia Plath called Rough Magic. I didn’t know much about this poet prior to reading this book except what Plath is, unfortunately, most known for: sticking her head in the oven and killing herself.

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A character I’m currently writing suffers from a similar mental affliction, so I thought reading about Plath would help me gain a better understanding of the condition.However, not only did learning about her help me with my research,  it also assisted me on a more personal level.

Plath was a well-accomplished person for much of her young life. She was a scholarship student at Smith (a very prestigious school at the time) as well as a published author of many poems and short stories. She was also very attractive and laid claim to so many hearts I would need at least three pages to list all of her conquests. Her teachers adored her, boys loved her, she was relatively popular and had a successful life. 

It was never enough for her.

Not only was she susceptible to bouts of depression, she frequently made herself physically ill with stress over her studies and writing projects. She was going to fail her history class (she made an A), her talent for writing was gone (she published hundreds more poems), and if she could not obtain perfection, then her life was over.

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Her lack of faith in her abilities haunted her throughout her life. Each victory only granted her temporary relief from her crippling self-doubt. It didn’t matter how many magazines accepted her work, or how much money she earned. There would always be one or two that would turn her down, and this was what she focused her mental energies on.

 On occasion, she would even experience long dry spells brought on by her negativity, a feeling I’m familiar with (although not to the same extreme). One lead to her first suicide attempt.

While her extreme behaviors were a result of her mental instability, her feelings of inadequacy aren’t unique to sufferers of depression. Most of us feel the need to achieve perfection and seek validation from others. After all, if we’re not the best no one will pay attention to us, right? And if no one pays attention to us, then we’re not important.

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Not necessarily.

We writers need to let our babies out into the world and create as much as we can. Not so people will pat us on the head and tell us we’re a good girl/boy, but so we can become better authors. If someone doesn’t like our work, it isn’t the end of the world. It just means that, perhaps, there is room for growth.

Moreover, we don’t have to be this century’s greatest author and we shouldn’t strive to be. All we need to do is aim to be the best that we can be individually, not compared to the greats or even our colleagues.

So let people see your work in all its prickly glory.

And remember:

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