Monday, August 25, 2008

Dealing with the suckage

When I returned from Worldcon, oh about two weeks ago, I had a realization. It came about from being around writers and actually getting to talk a bit about my *own* writing. It was a wonderful thing, blabbing about story ideas and writing techniques and whether one was really a short story writer or a novel writer. (For the record, I don't know what I am.)

Let me backtrack a bit first.

I don't often talk about my own writing. This stems from a long period, when I was in college, and I went through some rough times. I was convinced that everything I wrote sucked. I had no confidence in it. I didn't write for a long period of two years because I just couldn't make myself. This wasn't a simple writer's block issue--it was spurred on by depression, which can temper how you look at the world.

And then I got accepted into Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp in 2002, on an application that I sent in on a whim. I went. There are people who don't agree with Scott Card's politics or religion; I'm definitely one of them. But despite that, he is a damn fine writing teacher. He yelled at me and taught me and had me realize things that I was doing wrong. In a week's time, he managed to convince me that what I wrote was actually good. I will be forever grateful to him for that.

So I went back to school and I got a degree, and I grew up. I became a literary agent, and read other people's books, getting to share vicariously in the thrill of watching them see publication. And I wrote sometimes, short stories for writing group contests, and poems to finish my creative writing degree. But I didn't take it seriously. I didn't care. I still thought everything I had written sucked, despite what the people who had read it told me. It's a very hard thing to overcome a belief that is so deeply ingrained in you.

And then, sometime last year, I started to take it seriously. I blame it on John Joseph Adams, who went out to lunch with me at Chili's and listened to me babble about a short story that I had been working on, on and off, for a year and a half. He listened to me tell the plot of this story, and then looked at me across the table and said, "You're writing a novel."

And I hated him for it, because I didn't want to write a novel. I hadn't written a novel since I was in high school and had confidence in what I did. The entire thought of doing so terrified me. It scared the shit out of me.

But John was right, and that short story has grown and is now 18,778 words--it's the secret novel I work on now. Whose plot I still can't tell, so don't ask. =) There is a word counter for it on the sidebar, if you ever care to look.

So I got serious, sort of. I write my novel. I've written more short stories. I've actually started to look at my writing, and like some of the more recent stuff. I *like* my novel. This is a unique feeling here.

And so the realization I had after Worldcon was that even though I had been getting sort of more serious, I was still slacking. So besides writing the novel, which still feels like picking words out of my brain with a spork... besides that...I took a giant leap, and looked at all the stuff I had written during college and beyond. It wasn't bad. It wasn't as sucky as I thought it had been.

I looked up markets. I sent out eight short stories that had languished on my hard drive for years. And I got a rejection for one of them today, and it's one of the most positive rejections for anything that I've ever gotten in my life. They had liked what I had written, even though they didn't pick it up for publication.

It didn't suck after all.


Natalie said...

Jenny that is so awesome! Good on ya for taking that leap and submitting your stories. It takes guts.

I've always struggled with my writing abilities, but I think I'm getting over that finally as well.

Ryan Field said...

It's interesting how we view our own writing. I try to be pragmatic. Just keep writing, selling and moving on to the next project. If you stop and think too much it can get frustrating. Kind of like life in general :)

But I do think it's important to not let your work (writing) define you...if that makes sense.

Taymalin said...

Go Jenny!

Now if the rest of us could come to the same conclusion about our own writing.

I just submitted a short myself, after four years of not sending anything at all. I'm impatiently waiting for the reply.

I go back and forth on the confidence suckage issue. Somedays I think everything I write is brilliant. Those are the days I'm productive. Other days I'm convinced I'm a hack and no one in their right minds would ever want to read what I wrote. Those days are definitely not productive.

I think it often stems from having expectations that are too high. Of course my rough drafts aren't going to be as good as something I pick up off the shelf, that's why they're called _rough_.


Anonymous said...

Good for you! May you go from strength to strength.

It's less than three years since I started actually letting people read my writing (the fiction, I mean). Realizing that other people, even while pointing out its flaws, didn't think it sucked was absolutely flabbergasting -- I'm not over it yet, even.

Sadly, the high-school-era writing I dug up at my parents' house over the summer did not bear intensive scrutiny ... I had not expended nearly enough effort on filing off the serial numbers. There may be some university-era bits that have potential, though, now that I am getting better at telling the difference between plot and full-on melodrama ;)