Hey, Author–YOU DO NOT SUCK.
I would like to take this moment to put out a public service message, a
gentle reminder to all authors, be they participating in NaNoWriMo or not, be they in the opening stages of their novels, slogging through the middle or juggling the chaos of the third act. Yes, even you poor slobs who are afraid you have not just no acts (or don’t know what they are and are worried now that there’s something ELSE to fail at, thanks a lot) but no plot, no antagonist, not even any real character, just a hot mess and a sore shoulder and enough angst to even turn off David Boreanaz playing Angel. Yes–that bad. The message is this: I’m sorry, even given all this, you still don’t suck. Or, perhaps more accurately, you don’t suck any worse than anybody else writing a novel. You don’t even suck worse than a best-selling uber-author writing her eighteenth-zillion novel. Because this doubt, this fear, this everything is normal. It’s part of the gig. Because it’s not your novel that is sucking. It isn’t even you. It’s the process of creating, and it always happens. Always. To everybody.
Look, here’s the thing: you started with An Idea. Maybe it was A Fucking Great Idea. Maybe it was just a quiet little one, humble or worse, simple. You were going to write a story, anyway. You either knew what it was or knew the shape of it. You had an idea about it, anyway. And so you started, and it went well at first, or you faked it and at least had a good time. And then it went a little off the rails. That’s okay, you said. It’s fine. These things happen. You rolled with it. "It’s just a draft," you said to yourself. Then you said it again. Then you taped it do your monitor. Then you started posting blog posts about it, or giving impassioned speeches to the checkout clerk at the grocery store, explaining to them that drafts are messy and this is the way it goes. Maybe they even forgot to scan your milk and you got it for free because they were so
freaked out amazed by your unstable appearance brilliance. Or you just told the dog, who always understands and empathizes. Whatever, you got through. Or you just put the thing away and watched Glee again because it makes you feel good. The bottom line is, you got by.
But now here you are. Now you are sitting down with this un-story, this mess, and you are seriously afraid. You’re afraid that you don’t have what it takes. You’re afraid that your idea, be it great or humble, just isn’t going to fly, or that it is actually a good idea but you don’t have the chops. You can see this, and worse, you can see that it is there, glaring at you, and you know it has always been there. And you are absolutely terrified that you are the last one to have been able to see this, that there are meetings probably in every country of the globe where they whisper and cringe at what a spectacle you are making of yourself, because how awful is it that it’s so painfully obvious to the entire human population and even three other star systems that clearly YOU are never going to be able to do this, but just don’t know. And no one can bear to tell you, so you just go on, tragic and pathetic. You think, now that you see it, that you should just quietly shut down your computer and close your notebook and pretend this never happened.
Well, that’s an option. But personally, I advise against it.
Do you want to know the dirty truth about story? Do you want to know the real gritty truth that no one will tell you? The shocker so awful it will curl your hair and turn it white? Sure, you’re still reading, so I’ll tell you. The truth is that the people who finish novels are the people who face that gate I just described above and then keep going. The people who finish novels are not the smartest people or the most creative or even the most aware. In fact, this might be a case were a little ignorance helps a lot. The people who finish novels are the people who go all the way to the end. They aren’t the people who have the best plots or the most amazing characters. They are not the people whose very existence is so compelling that muses descend from clouds and teach them how to overcome their obstacles. They are the people who simply go on. They see that pit above, the pit that exists in every single story of every length and every shape and every level of "worth" and "skill" and "value," and after they see it, they find a way over it or around it and they go on until the end.
A finished novel is a finished novel. It is not the novel that mirrors the vision you had for it. It isn’t the one that your mother or your mentor or your partner approves of. It’s almost never the one that you approve of. It’s flawed. It’s got a shitload of errors. It is lopsided and probably has more holes than swiss cheese. It’s a big fucking mess. But it has a beginning, an end, and stuff in between. That’s it. That’s all it has.
You want a great novel? Edit. Rewrite. You want an even better novel? Write another one. You want to be a master? Keep writing. Every damn day, whenever you can, however it works. You want to find the way over that shitty trap I described above, the gaping pit of awareness that tries to steal your soul and eat your novel? Then walk up to that pit and stare it down. Find out what you’re made of and what your novel is, and swallow the horrible, gut-wrenching truth that no novel is perfect, no, not even yours, not even your favorites that you love so much, the ones you know you can never be as good as. Every one of them has that pit in it, the place where you are tempted to turn away and have to decide if you have the determination to go on. Some people get good at jumping over it. Some people never find the courage to face it. Some people spend their writing career or a good portion of it trying to stare that demon down.
But whatever you do, no more of this shit where you say your novel is bad, or you aren’t smart enough or whatever. That isn’t what this is about. This is about writing your story. This is about getting through. This is about practice, about strength, and above all, about will. You’d be amazed at how little plot and character have to do with it when you’re talking about getting it done. Because you never know–they might be there. You might be surprised. And you might not. You might find that this one was practice. But that doesn’t mean you can’t finish it.
You finish a novel by getting to the end. The people who finish novels are not the people who do not suck or even the people writing the stories that do not suck. They are simply the people who don’t quit. So don’t quit. And you’ll be fine.
Seriously. Quit staring into the pit, and I swear to God, it will truly be that easy.
See you on the other side.