Writing and Confidence: On Being Satisfied With Your Work

I’ve now written three novels. Three novels since November of 2013.

These three non-magic, epic fantasy novels (Adversaries Together, Winterfinding, and The Punishment Hand) are part of a series I’m calling Ascendant Realms. I envision seven books in the series to correspond to the seven main protagonists. This means that I am nearly halfway through writing the series. What I come up with this month for National Novel Writing Month will push me over the midway point.

So I want to just take a minute and think about the process.

Writing in genre has been difficult. As someone who studied contemporary poetry and does a better job of reading and occasionally writing criticism, I think I’ve done a serviceable job. I’ve typos & formatting glitches & errors from rushing the work, but I think overall my narrative is good and my characters interesting. Creating something whole cloth for a genre that is often just as contemptuous as it is celebratory is no small thing. I’ve come to a better understanding of how and why the genre’s fans feel such an intense attraction, devotion, aspersion, and delight in the works. Worldbuilding is cool, hypnotic and engrossing, but it is also something that attracts a very particular personality.

Deciding to go the indie author/self-publishing route has been an interesting experience. The independent streak in me, the ‘fuck it, I’ll just do it myself’ aspect of my personality, loves self-publishing. The hypercritical voice in my head has nothing but snobbish contempt for it, constantly dismissing my efforts as vanity and waste of time. I’m an idealist at my core and can’t help but advocate for my own work as well as that of others. It’s all a recipe for painfully annoying self-deprecation.

I love writing my books. I know they’re not great works of art or literature. They’re fun for me and, I hope, fun for others. Yet I feel embarrassed sharing them, talking about them, or asking people what they thought. Like I’m some sort of clingy, annoying shit.

I’m not a salesman; I never will be. I’m more than a little bit like Red Forman, only not as savvy.

Recently, I was listening to David Brancaccio discuss with Nick Flynn the essays that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that would make up The Crack-Up. My forgettable books aren’t worth the same consideration, my point in mentioning it is to point out that even a genuinely great writer like Fitzgerald felt a certain contempt and disappointment in their work while at the same time admiring what they’ve done.

I’m going to keep writing my little tale in my make-believe world, and if you’re interested, then you can check it out. No matter whether its read or not, I’m going to write it. The story exists despite there being no reader. Just like a child plays whether or not there are other children to play with.

I guess I would rather live in a world with more stories than less. But at the same time, I can’t help but hear Tom Waits’ gravelly whiskey breath mumbling over my shoulder:

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Then I remember, having more to choose from means I can’t be a passive reader. I can’t be a passive thinker or writer. I have to be someone who is actively searching. A person constantly evaluating what it is they want and why while simultaneously taking in the great expanse of work that’s out there. Quantity isn’t better or worse than quality, just as there’s nothing to say that quality can’t be high in quantity. Our greatest sin as humans is laziness. Not reading, not writing, not thinking or feeling. Letting small numbers do it all for us. Insisting only purified, perfect, or pristine work exist before we exert ourselves.

Creating something always invites, if not demands, criticism. It’s good to do so. The more we create and criticize the better we are at everything we do. 

And, quite frankly, there’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying oneself as best one can or trying to contribute to others doing so too. So, one of my current projects is writing non-magical fantasy adventure novels.

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5 thoughts on “Writing and Confidence: On Being Satisfied With Your Work

  1. I think you have a very valid perspective here, and I thank you for sharing it. We as writers can’t hope to produce something beautiful without first exposing it to criticism, but if we can find self-satisfaction with what we’re doing, no criticism can sway us from doing what we love in creating these worlds.

    So thank you again!

  2. Great point. I too am a writer (not published, but I’ll get there) and I think I fall into the trap of feeling that something is not worth writing if no one writes it, but if a story needs to be written, then it needs to be written. Thanks for the thought.
    Ryan S. O’Malley

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