I intended to start this week’s post with a series of quotes about writers, even (especially?) very good ones, being insecure about the quality of their own work, after which I planned to quote Ernest Hemingway and Ira Glass in tandem to suggest that those of us truly insecure about our work are probably the ones doing a better job. An orgy of quotes venting my own writerly self-hatred and, I thought, helping empathize with your own, the reader’s. There are many such quotes, and I could list them out one-by-one and offer some cursory analysis, but I realized that would only make me feel insecure about this writing, which I didn’t intend to be a serious piece of prose in the first place.
That’s sort of my point. There are endless quotes out there by the Hemingways and Joyces, Wallaces and Franzens that serve to aggrandize our own tendency to self-loathe. Some are by kindred souls, expressing their own personal distaste; some are authorial peacocking, puffery of an insecure nature. But what is the point of all this self-loathing? Does my insecurity make me a better writer, whether out of pain and suffering or merely the sense to keep hold of my shitty stories instead of sending them out to publishers (or into the blogosphere) like so many others? More likely it stops me from even sending out the good ones.
But I have to rationalize, to justify, to prop myself up by standing behind this common belief that being dissatisfied with my own writing means I have better taste & higher ambitions, that hating my own stories means someday I’ll find a way to write something better; there is this need to believe that the writers who actually like their own work, can reread it after publication and live with it, are somehow lesser beings. Less refined, less driven to make good art.*
And so I’ll leave you with the two quotes I’d originally set aside to fulfill noah’s weekly “having something to say” requirement. First, a spirit-lifter from Ira Glass:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
And finally for those who want to wallow, from TS Eliot:
Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.
Keep on trucking, writers. There’s gotta be some greater point to it all. (Crossing my fingers.)
*This is all of course totally unfair, and I’m not sure I even think it, but a certain amount of self-delusion becomes necessary to keep yourself going through grad school applications and literary journal rejections. I trust those of you who don’t hate your own work will still understand. Nothing personal.