3 Reasons You Think You Suck as a Writer (and 3 Reasons You Actually Don't)
So, you want to be a writer. You've got a book just burning a hole in your chest that you have to get out, or you'll implode, or combust, or what have you. You commence the writing process, and at some point partway through your novel, you realize, "Wow...I'm really bad at this." Or, "Wow...I really suck at writing." Or, "Wow...this story really blows." Or any of the other abuses we inflict on ourselves during the creative process.
If this sounds like you, read on for the top 3 reasons you think you suck as a writer...and 3 more reasons why you really, super, absolutely don't.
Reason 1 You Suck: You're not "a writer"
Writers are people who actively publish books all the time. A writer is a person who has at least one published book and is drafting the next. A writer is a person whose day job is to write. All day. Every day.
And that's not you. You hold down a regular 9-5 desk job and you're lucky if you can eke out a thousand words a week. You have a spouse and kids, or sick parents, or are active in your community and you can only spend fifteen minutes a day, a few days a week, drafting the book you've been working on for the past three years. You've never published a book before. You can't get an agent. You've been getting hit with so many rejections from publishers, you want to take your manuscript and put it right into your desktop trashcan.
"Writers" don't have those struggles, right? Writers are people who have agents, who get fatty advance checks they can live on each year, who have "best seller" next to their name. Right?
Reason 1 You Don't Suck: You're totally "a writer"
Dude, are you actively writing? I mean, like, making sentences and shit? Are you sitting at your computer in your writing office, or in the bathtub on your tablet, or in bed with your laptop, or wherever you create, making paragraphs appear on the page that are meant to be included in the telling of your story that is your novel? If so, newsflash:
You're a writer.
Apparently, there's a misconception that you have to be published, or successful, or a full-time writer in order to be "a writer." No.
You are a writer because you write. Period.
Reason 2 You Think You Suck: You can't tell a story
Writers are people who tell compelling, engaging narratives. They paint vivid pictures with words. They create complex and beautiful worlds from another time or in another realm. You, the reader, can feel every character's emotions. You fight the battles along with the characters. You cast the spells, you plan the hits, you claim the spoils. That's what a good writer does. They tell. The. Mother-effing. Story.
You didn't study creative writing in undergrad. You use very to indicate emphasis all the time. You barely managed to complete your research papers on time in school. You don't read that much. Your novel reads like a long, never-ending prose poem. You never realized you wanted to be a writer...until you did. But you have no idea how to tell "the story."
Reason 2 You Don't Suck: You can totally tell a story...maybe.
Okay, this point requires an asterisk. Basically, does your story have a beginning, a middle, and an end? Congratulations! You've just told a story!
However, good storytelling is more than just hitting these required landmarks. Good storytelling is about painting those vivid pictures, about capturing emotion, about having a strong plot and interesting characters through whom the story channels. Also, having a good technical knowledge of how to write helps, too, but then again, that's what editors are for.
A good story is constantly pushing forward to the end. Everything that happens serves the narrative, meaning it's there to drive it forward instead of holding it back. If you're writing a story about a lost princess returning to her kingdom to overthrow the evil overlord on the throne, even the tame moments, or the moments of reprieve, or the moments she steals with the charming, brave vagabond she meets along the way should further the plot. Don't send the princess on a meaningless side quest to help a pack of elfin wolves (sidenote: how cute) battle a sea monster, when neither the wolves nor the sea monster ever show up in the story again.
Also, for those of you who want to be writers and you don't read, you're already setting yourself up for failure. Whether you read strictly within the genre you want to write in, or you read everything, reading is fundamental to storytelling, and more importantly, it's a lesson on how to tell a story that costs no more than the price of the book.
Don't tell my creative writing MFA program that.
Reason 3 You Think You Suck: No one wants to read your book
So, you've done the reading and the studying and the refining of the craft, and now you have written the best two words any writer can write: THE END. Great feeling. Pop the bubbly. Clink-clink.
But you didn't write a book for it to stay on your computer. You want to make it, you know, a book. With a cover. And an Amazon listing. Or maybe you want to get it into the hands of an agent or a publisher.
One question you might be asking yourself: Who the hell is going to want to read it?
Maybe you're shy about the kinky sex you've written that you don't want your grandma reading. Or maybe you don't want anyone to know you wrote a book about a woman who goes berserk and kills her kids. Or maybe you don't want anyone to know you secretly love unicorns and princesses and wrote a whole series about them frolicking in a meadow with the kind trolls who live in hillside huts. Or, maybe you're dying for the entire world to read your book, but you fear no one will want to. In fact, after you've gone through and read your first draft, you're certain of it.
Reason 3 You Don't Suck: There is at least one person in the world who will totally read and enjoy your book, and not because they're obligated to like your mom
First of all, let's address the most important part here: you wrote a book. CONGRATS! You wrote a book. It doesn't matter if it's the next Game of Thrones or a trendsetting work of written art all on its own. It doesn't matter if the book even sucks. What matters here is that you wrote a freaking book. That's something that the vast majority of human beings on this planet will never do. But you did it. So hat's off!
Second of all, I don't personally know any writers who read the first draft of their novel and are all like, "OMG THIS IS GREATEST PIECE OF LITERARY ART EVER TO EXIST! I'VE DONE IT!"
Well, okay. I actually do know some writers like that. But that doesn't mean it's actually true (psssst: it's not).
There's a reason Ernest Hemingway once said:
Now, I have no way to confirm if Ernest Hemingway actually said this, but I'd like to think it's true. At any rate, it doesn't matter who the hell said it, because this is indeed the case. First drafts are rife with typos for even the most careful, intentional of writers. Missing words, sentences that make no earthly sense, entire sections that have to be deleted. Plot holes galore, inconsistencies. Just utter excrement.
But that's okay.
First drafts are meant to be a foundation on which to build the home of your story (I just made that up. Thoughts? Meme it?). I wrote BLOOD & WHISKEY eight times, just to get to a working first draft. I'm talking hundreds of thousands of words here that will never see the light of day. And now that I'm well into revisions, I can tell you that the first official draft of the story. eight rewrites later, was a steaming, nutrient-enriched fertilizer pile of hot cow dung. But that's totally fine, because that's what revision and editing are for.
So what happens when you revise and refine your draft into a finished story? Then what? Who's going to want to read it? Well, that's where marketing comes into play. Whether you're an independent, self-published author, a signed author to a publishing house, or a hybrid of both, you are going to have to market your book (do not ask me how. I'm still trying to figure that shit out myself. I only know it needs to be done). Readers can't pick up your book if they don't know it exists. So make them know it exists. This requires research, trial-and-error, and, unfortunately, a fair amount of money. On a scale of "nothing" to "fuckton," the amount you spend is up to you. I know of writers who've had tremendous success with almost no ad spend, and I know of writers who budget thousands monthly. A big part of that is the kind of story you've written. Did you write something for which you have no idea if an audience exists? You might need to shell out some serious dough to make that thing visible. Did you research what's selling like hot cakes on Amazon, and write to that specific genre/market? Then your book may take care of itself. This matters.
But that doesn't mean you have to write to market or trend, although some writers who do this have incredible success at doing so. And if you're broke, and spent all your money on a dope cover or a killer book trailer, and can't afford to spend money on ads, that's okay, too. Because inevitably, there will come a day where someone stumbles across your book in the jungles of the ZON, buys it, reads it, and loves it.
Congrats. You've just earned this thing called a FAN.
They'll be waiting on your next one. Which you're writing now, right?