I was on a packed tube one sweaty Saturday, when a woman beside me said to her friend, ‘I worked on my novel yesterday. About three thousand words...’
‘Oh, cool,’ he said.
‘Not sure about that,’ she laughed. ‘I read it back this morning and it’s rubbish. I should’ve gone out with you instead.’
I can’t tell you how much that comforted me as a writer, who was at the time in a creative slump, convinced I’d never write anything worth reading again and no other writer knew such frustration. Without knowing, without meaning to, the stranger in the tube carriage put my mind at ease; her words were like a nonexistent nod that said, ‘We are all the same.’
There’s something to be said for knowing you aren’t the only one, that ‘it happens to the best of us’, that most writers – perhaps even every writer – has that little voice inside their head that enjoys talking them out of writing and away from their desk, talking their pen away from the page, talking them into self-doubt and away from self-belief with little whispered lies. It’s an odd, cockle-warming comfort. Just like the stranger’s words were to me. So for this blog post, I thought I might be that stranger on a train, by standing from my metaphorical chair and admitting to the circle the little lies I tell myself.
I’ve written for x hours and none of it is any good. I am obviously a terrible writer. Because proper writers don’t write for hours and produce only drivel. No, they sit at beautiful walnut desks, write with peaceful smiles, creating roving, flawless prose with a calm, steady tip-tapping of keys. Right? Wrong, of course, and this lie rears its head when I fail to remind myself that the first go-rounds are usually full to the tip with flaws and badly written sentences. Some may even say they’re meant to be this way, because you simply have to start somewhere, even if it is with words that make you want to head butt the desk. You need them. Without them, you’d never get to a polished final draft. ‘There is no such thing as good writing. Only good rewriting’ – Robert Graves.
So-and-so rejected my novel/short story/poem, so it’ll probably be rejected by everyone else. A rejection lands in my inbox and as if it's been waiting in the wings all along, this one swirls through my brain like a taunting ghost. Thankfully, it is usually easily extinguished by reading various articles about famous rejections and chanting ‘subjective, subjective, subjective’ loudly into the mirror...
I don’t have time to write. Oh, nonsense. But when I believe this one, amazingly, I don’t find the time, and at the end of a 'writingless' day, I’ll say to myself, ‘See, I was right.’ However, when I ignore it and decide that allotting some time to writing is a priority, even if it’s just a 30 minute slice, I manage to find more time than I thought I had. To quote an earlier blog post, ‘there’s no such thing as the right time, or enough time. Only time’ and to quote Louis L’Amour, someone that certainly falls into the ‘best of us’ category: ‘Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.’
Getting published is almost impossible. I’ll probably put all this effort in for nothing. I hold garlic, sage, mirrors and a crucifix in the face of this one and so should you. Okay, it isn’t easy, but it certainly isn’t impossible – some may even say with self-publishing, blogs and social media, that it’s easier than it’s ever been to get your writing seen. Every time I start to invest time into this doubt, I turn to Anne Rice’s words: ‘One of the great myths about being a writer is that it’s almost impossible to break in. That simply is not true. Every year people break in and they always have, or we wouldn’t have all these writers.’
No matter how hard I try, my work isn’t as good as/like ‘insert author or book here.’ Annoyingly, I hear this whisper when I’m feeling positive about my writing and it can be track-stopper. But to it I say ‘says who? Says you? Well, I’m afraid it’s not for you to ultimately decide.’ We all know reading is subjective. Even classics plucked straight from the literary canon have critics that have read them and disliked them. And it is good that your work isn't like your favourite author's. You’re not going to sound like Neil Gaiman because you aren't Neil Gaiman. You have your own voice, and that’s a wonderful thing. So this lie is a senseless, pointless one and no good can come of listening and comparing in this way. Ignore it. Own your writing voice, your style and your story un-apologetically and fearlessly. ‘Comparison is the death of joy.’ ― Mark Twain
I can’t write. I suck. Wince. A lie I seem to love to tell myself on impossibly bad days, where nothing seems to work. These are words that should be caught swiftly like moths and locked out firmly before they find their way back in again . I can write. So can you. And even if we do suck, every day that we do write, we are getting better. See, if we believe that little voice instead, then what’s the alternative? To not write? To throw in the towel? Yeah, right. Writing may be hard sometimes, but something that is far, far harder for a writer – an idea that is positively miserable – is not writing at all.
Lia is a mum-of-one, working as a copywriter and studying for a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing. Her first novel, Bubbles, is in the submission process and she is currently writing her second novel. She lives at home, in Hertfordshire, with her boyfriend, three year old, and stacks of clothes and books. Find her on Twitter here.