In this world of indie publishing, anyone and everyone is writing a book, but should they be?
I might be a jerk for bringing this up, but I’ll say it.
I see a lot of crappy books out there.
It makes me wonder—if all these writers think they’re good, and I am just as optimistic about my abilities, could I be mistaken too?
Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham is one of my favorite books about this creative dilemma. Fed up with a dreary accounting job, our protagonist, Phillip, goes to Paris to become a painter. He does well, but never creates anything extraordinary.
After the suicide of a classmate, who for all her artistic passion was a lousy painter, Phillip reevaluates his reasons for becoming an artist. He wonders what his future will look like if he continues to pursue his dream.
Phillip finally works up the nerve to end the subject once and for all by asking one of his painting masters to give an honest opinion of his work. The teacher is perplexed by his request.
Monsieur Foinet: “I don’t understand.”
Phillip: “I’m very poor. If I have no talent I would sooner do something else.”
Monsieur Foinet: “Don’t you know if you have talent?”
Phillip: “All my friends know they have talent, but I am aware some of them are mistaken.”
After Monsieur Foinet evaluates Phillip’s collection of work, he respectfully tells Phillip that he will never be anything other than a mediocre artist. Phillip decides to give up painting and go to medical school. Just like that — his abandons his whole Bohemian dream.
Unlike Phillip, I won’t give up writing no matter how paranoid I am about sucking. Although I would feel foolish pouring all of my energy into something I lack the talent for, whether anyone likes my writing should be secondary. Phillip’s friend and fellow painter, Clutton, puts it perfectly earlier in the book:
“What happens to our work afterwards is unimportant; we have got all we could out of it while we were doing it.”
That doesn’t mean I don’t care if my writing is bad. Like Phillip, I‘m afraid I am not, and will never be, any good. But I have to remember that I am still learning and to be okay with that. You should be okay with that too.
You wouldn’t expect to shoot par on your first trip to a golf course. You will hack and slice and end up in bunkers covered in sand. You will be humiliated and discouraged and tested, so don’t expect to sit down and write a brilliant novel if you haven’t devoted yourself to learning everything you can.
Sure, writing, like painting, seems to involve a certain amount of innate talent. I read scores of writers who create beautiful, technically perfect prose but whose writing is devoid of passion. Then there are those who are great at inventing characters and plot lines but lack the ability to make it all mean something. I used to believe they were missing that “it” factor that makes a great writer.
But the “it” factor is not always a mysterious gift bestowed on few. It’s mostly doing what you need to do to get better, whether it be technical or intuitive. I believe that with the right tools, instruction, feedback, and hard work, anyone can become a good writer.
Are you frustrated? Unsure? Do you feel like something’s off but you don’t know what?
Then think about this…
How many years did you have to attend school to earn a diploma? How much training did you go through for your profession? Now, how many hours have you devoted not just to writing, but to actively learning how to become a better writer?
Imagine if you took your writing as seriously as your job.
What training do you need?
Where can you get qualified feedback?
Think about where you feel a lack of confidence.
Analyze the areas where you can improve.
Respect your creative compulsions. Invest in yourself. Make a plan and take action to learn all you can.
Christa Wojciechowski is a dark fiction author and the founder of letsgetpublished.com, a virtual Mastermind Community where writers will learn how to become successful authors through live video chats, critique swaps, monthly masterclasses, and featured experts. Sign up for the wait list here.