Doing something is usually more important than doing something well. You have to be ready to fail, and you have to be willing to do so a lot before you’re ever really going to be good at anything. It’s kind of an obvious truth, but it’s one worth repeating now and then. Failure is important and, to quote Jake from Adventure Time:
“Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sort of good at something.”
But even when you’re good at something, you’re going to stink at it occasionally. I’ve written ten novels at this point, a dozen or so short stories, a heck of a lot of blog essays, and just a ton of words. And not all those words have been great. Most of them, sure, but not all of them.
The problem I’ve most often come across is that a lot of egotistical people think they’re great at stuff they aren’t all that good at, and they have no shortage of confidence because they’ll never understand how bad they are at something. This is why the vast majority of self-published books are pretty sub-par. It’s not because being self-published makes one a bad writer. It’s that a lot of bad writers turn to self-publishing to feed their egos.
Seriously, I have nothing against self-publishing, and it’s a perfectly viable option for a lot of people. But if you’re self-publishing your book because it’s “too brilliant” for the literary establishment, I am here to break the bad news that it isn’t. The publishing industries has nothing against brilliance. It doesn’t necessarily care if a book is literary gold, but if they happen upon a brilliant book they think they can sell, they’ll publish it. Convincing them that the book will sell is the hard part. Not the brilliance.
Meanwhile, a lot of interesting people with something cool to say and neat stories to write are so busy second guessing themselves that they’ll never even finish their story, much less ever get it published.
I struggle with this myself still, and I’m a professional writer. I get paid to write and have been getting paid to write for almost a decade at this point. You can walk into most bookstores and find my books on the shelves. (And if you don’t find them, do me a favor and request one, won’t you? That’d be keen.) I’ve had my ups and downs, and it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but I have managed to make a living doing this, which is more than many people manage.
Still, it’s difficult sometimes to not get stuck in your own head and to talk yourself out of even trying. While it’s different for every book I write, there are some books where I was halfway through and thought, “What the hell am I doing? No one is going to want to read this.” It’s funny because I don’t doubt that I can write a decent story, but whether or not it’s a decent story people are going to get excited about, that’s always up in the air as far as I’m concerned.
But I write anyway. I’m fortunate that I’ve achieved some small level of success, and it’s easier to talk myself into going at those low points. It can be a struggle now and then, and there are days, weeks, when I’d much rather sit around playing video games than write another damned word. And I like writing stories. I think I’m even good at it.
So if you’ve been thinking about writing and keep talking yourself out of it, I say go for it. Jump right in. Don’t worry too much about plot or theme or narrative arcs. Just write. Write knowing it will stink but that if you stick with something and are genuinely trying to be good at it, you will get better. You might never be great, but greatness is overrated. (Trust me on this. I’m pretty great.)
This advice applies to more than writing though. It applies to a lot of things. Draw awkward stickmen fighting dinosaurs. Sculpt lopsided clay pots. Go to the gym and lift little baby weights. Cook something badly. Play board games you don’t understand and lose them over and over again. Get stuck in awkward conversations with people you barely know. And just otherwise do something you aren’t very good at, knowing you’re going to fail at it and probably aren’t even going to care enough to get better at in the end. Because if you try enough things, something is bound to click. You might not be great, but you can be good.
And being good is highly underrated.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,