My useless writing genius knows no bounds

Oh this tightrope between delusion and despair, between confidence and crisis! It’s something that is familiar to every writer especially those who are endeavouring, really endeavouring to create something that they hope ultimately might be enjoyed by someone other than themselves.

I’ve written a collection of stories called Random Acts of Optimism and that’s what writing is, every time, an act of optimism that we can do something with an idea and get it any way close to what we intended. And when we complete something and submit it to a mag or book publisher, when we enter a competition, we are saying YES, I’VE DONE MY BEST, I THINK THIS IS GOOD. GOD SPEED.’

When we sit down writing, sometimes it all flows, we love it, the words are just right, or perhaps we’ve worked on something for a while and know that yes, the shape is coming out of the stone and it’s really,  quite….brilliant. Or maybe not, is it? Is it really a load of baloney, clichéd, face palmingly so. Not at all what I was trying to do and yes, of course that story wasn’t accepted for the mag or placed in the competition at any level and it’s no wonder the publisher didn’t even acknowledge receipt of my manuscript it’s, oh, it’s absolutely useless, I am absolutely useless, however did I think I was ever going to get anywhere and you know the odds are against us, even more so now with the state of publishing and I shouldn’t have sent it out at all, I should have stuck it under the bed.

But… that phrase there, it’s quite alright, actually and well, that character feels authentic, pretty funny dialogue, and that plot isn’t at all obvious and I’ve read it back several times now and the writer’s group said it was basically all there and a couple of them said send it out now. Actually it’s brilliant, a touch of genius there. And I got some great feedback on that other thing last week and well, yes, I was shortlisted in that competition, not too long ago and well yes, this IS good, I really like it. I should keep going. But I don’t know how to solve that chronological problem with the twins, this is really going nowhere, oh why do I even bother.

Stops.

Starts typing again.

Deletes whole line.

Starts typing again.

Keeps typing.

Laughs.

Stops.

Puts head in hands.

Starts typing again.

My useless writing genius knows no bounds

The shape is emerging from the stone.

I’ve nicked my finger with the chisel.

How can we maintain confidence (rather than delusion?). How can we curb despair and start again?

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8 comments

  1. Perfectly put, as always, Alison.

    Some (occassional) days my heart sings at what I’m working on; on other (most) days it sinks, plummets, to unfathomable depths. Largely, I think I’m kidding myself, but something – I’m not sure what – keeps me going.

    But so much work, time and effort, with no guarantee that the end result will be worthwhile!

    So I’ve really no idea how we maintain confidence, other than to: ‘Stop. And start typing again.’ :-)

  2. How well you have described the conflict and contradiction that is the writing process, the self-doubt, the questioning & (hopefully) eventually the buzz of joy when something gets finished. Good to read that even someone as obviously talented as you, Alison, struggles too. Lovely post.

  3. EXACTLY how I feel. Very articulate post on the writing conundrum of confidence meets despair. Wish I had an answer to your question. Maybe it’s just persistence. Peace…

  4. One of the most common bits of advice writers are given is that you shouldn’t edit yourself while you are writing, just plow on through until you reach some sort of end. This is actually the best advice, I think as it forces you to not think about whether it is good or not. If you stop to edit, you will start to lose your confidence. Having someone you trust, someone with a strong literary sense, to give you honest feedback should be the next step. In a perfect world, of course.

    You spell it out perfectly here, and I can only speak from my own experience, but it is true we are our own worst enemies. There are precious few things I’ve ever written that I can finish, put down for months, come back to, read again and think ‘Right, not bad.’ At some point you have to give it up, let it go and try to have a life of it’s own. The only important part is to never stop. To keep writing, reading, pushing yourself if you can, evolve, if you can. If you are compelled to write, to paint, to make music, these are powerful, consuming desires. We have to do them, no matter what. At the end of it all, it really is about pleasing yourself. If you are looking to please someone else, to make a business of it (and that is the ideal, isn’t it?), you might hit the bullseye, but your work might not really be yours.

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