I’m constantly worried I’m not working hard enough on my writing. That I’m not writing enough. That I haven’t had enough life experience to write anything worthwhile. I’m already pretty sure I haven’t read widely enough even though it seems I’m always reading when I’m not writing. And I suspect I’m not revising enough, even though I’m not sure how I should approach that process differently.
Bottom line, I fear my attempts to better my craft just aren’t good enough.
It’s a debilitating spiral of negativity to be caught up in. But consider:
It is no longer enough to have a webpage. Writers must blog, tweet, share on Facebook. And the list of Thou Shalts keeps getting longer when it comes to social media. (On a side note, Paulo Campos over at yingle yangle has a great post on how social media affects people’s perception of writing success.)
It is no longer enough to land an agent. While agents are still a writer’s number one advocate in the publishing world, the writer still has the ultimate responsibility for selling, positioning, and managing their work. Now, this is nothing new. With so many aspiring writers out there, armed with record levels of literary, the market will favor those writers who can seemingly do it all.
Am I one of them? I don’t know yet as I’m still struggling with this notion: It is no longer enough to write a book.
I’ve written a book (and completed a number of solid drafts for other projects). One that I’m proud of. But is that enough in today’s marketplace? NO. I need to ensure both my idea and story execution are marketable. Competitive. The best I can make it and then some.
This means it is not enough to write for yourself. You must look past your own narrow view of the world. You must know your audience (Found in Translation by Michael Cunningham provides a fascinating take on how to envision the audience for your work). Ultimately you must have a built-in market if your book will win the struggle to stay relevant in our evolving digital culture.
When making the leap from writing for myself to writing for publication, aspects of my work that didn’t bother me before were thrown into sharp relief. I had to ask myself if my work was still good enough for a wider audience. And I didn’t like the answer.
It’s hard enough to write a book from start to finish. I don’t mean you have to write in a linear fashion, but that you actually complete the project (tinkering aside). When you hit that point, it can be a tremendous relief. After all, how many other people have great book ideas but get stymied by the execution? But then the real hard work looms ahead of you. Revision. After too many passes to count, you have a polished book, sure, but is it one people want to read? One you can market to publishing houses? One that people will plunk down money for?
Is it that good?
This is where I stumble every time. I just don’t know. I think my work is good. My few readers think so too. But is it good enough? Have I done enough? And if I haven’t, how do I take my work to the next level?
Am I overstating things here a bit? Probably. Am I so discouraged that I will stop linking words, creating dizzying chains of sentences that when fused together make for some awesome storytelling? Hell no. I started writing because I loved it. I won’t stop now. But I still think I haven’t done enough to get things right. I haven’t learned enough. But as always, I’m willing to try.
If this post is a little too grim for you, take a gander at the Agency Gatekeeper’s take on debut novelists and what they need to beat the odds:
What do you need? The ability to write really, really, really well. And a great query, a great first page, and The Jeff Herman Guide. Or another method of finding agents who are likely to be a good fit.
Until next week.