This week, we have another guest blog from a new writer, Z Lee Schulein. You won't be able to find their work anywhere at the moment, as this is their first published work, but you will know their name soon. They've been struggling lately with an overwhelming feeling that writers new and weathered (and people in other artistic fields) deal with all of the time: the feeling of inadequacy. I can tell you without a doubt that Z Lee is MORE than adequate, and I am happy to share with you their thoughts on that scourge we've all had to deal with before.
A few weeks ago I submitted a three page piece of fiction (a very small fraction of a larger novel) to my writing critique group. I've been putting off asking the group to critique this particular work because I've been writing and re-writing it for the better part of my life* and it has become my baby.
I wasn't hesitating to submit it to the group because I thought they were not going to like it. I hesitated because I was sure that these people, who I knew could be trusted to give me their honest and professional opinions about my work (and have done so in the past) would tell me exactly what I feared and secretly did not want to admit to myself: I'm wasting my time with this idea and I'm a shit writer. I was worried they would hate what had become my life’s work.
Nobody said anything like that. Not even close.
And yet, no one seemed terribly impressed with the idea or interested in the rest of the story, either. To be fair, they didn't have much of it to begin with. It’s nearly impossible to tell what you feel about a novel after only reading three pages. None of that mattered at the time, though; when one settles into a state of feeling relentlessly inadequate, rational thoughts are only worth their weight.
So I took to Facebook in the wee hours of the morning, convinced I couldn't bring my concerns to any of my friends and also needing an outlet to complain through. A half dozen vague** posts and several sugary treats later, and I didn't feel any better. I would have to worry about my complete lack of skills another day.
Only, if I really lacked skills, I would have quit a long, long time ago. And I know that--friends told me so in the comments. Why then, does imperfect creativity breed an unending sense of failure in some people? I actually didn't think I was going to have an answer to this question when I started. I thought I'd just type up some snarky self-deprecating piece that might be weirdly cathartic.
Art isn't supposed to be perfect, and yet artists put themselves under such pressure to remove every flaw. It can sometimes turn what was once a hobby into a chore. Most people who pick up creative habits don't do it because they think they'll make a quick buck off it. They do it because it brings them some kind of joy, and if at some point along the way they can share their work with others (perhaps even turning it into a career) then all the better!
I started writing because I wanted to keep track of the fantasy world and adventures my neighborhood friends and I were creating. As a kid I didn't know what plot holes were. I didn't care about themes or genres. I just made something up and did what I could to make sure I would remember it. At some point along the way, it stopped being for me and my friends, and started being for "the publisher"***.
The realization that writing isn't much fun anymore shouldn't have been a shocker. Writers will tell you all of the time to just write the story you want to write so that it's still enjoyable. Maybe the reason it's the most common advice isn't because people think I need to hear it, but because this sense of inadequacy is so normal, everyone needs the reminder.
Mac asked me if this was the end of my writing career. I hesitated before answering. I still feel like my writing is shit. Maybe it's not as shitty as I first felt after the critiquing process, but it is still hard to open that novel and do anything with it. What if nothing helps? What if everything I've done to preserve the memory of those popsicle-sticky, humid summer nights a decade or so ago, when we raced to have as much fun as possible before the street lights came on, has been utterly useless? What if I wasted all of the countless hours trying to improve my writing-style so others would appreciate our game as much as we did?
I submitted the piece in the hopes of getting a serious critique, and that's what I got. But is this the end? I've been with this story for so long that I'll be damned if anyone is going to call me a quitter over it. I've put it down in the past, sometimes for a year or two at a time, but I've always come back to it. If there was only one story I'd ever be able to put out there for others to read, it would be this one. So it might be a bit before I continue with it, but no one has seen the last of the story I have to tell.
Especially not me.
*This makes me sound older and wiser than I am. I started writing this at age 11 and I am now 23.
**Here I’m using a word which would typically mean "communicating in an unclear or imprecise way". If you had seen the actual posts, you would agree this is a gross understatement.
***Which I don't even have, by the way.