Notice I said "feel" and not "am." I don't want this post to turn into a complain-fest, but I've been thinking a lot about this disconnect between where our writing actually is and how we feel about it. Because, for the most part, it seems like it doesn't matter how great a writer is—they go through these phases where their self-esteem is in the gutter, and it feels like every word is rubbish.
I mean, I remember once reading about Sarah Dessen's struggles to write a book, and it was both mind-blowing and comforting that she at times felt like she sucked, too. SARAH DESSEN. She's freaking amazing. She has ten novels out. She is a bestseller. She is smart and beautiful, and when I met her earlier this year she was the most gracious and graceful person. (If it's not clear yet, I kind of idolize her.) How could she think her writing was anything but incredible?
I'm not sure I have the answer to that question. Personally, I have less confidence in my writing now than I did when I first started. Shouldn't it be the opposite? Why does it work that way? When I truly did suck, I thought I was awesome. But even though I know I've improved over the years, I feel like my words are...stupid. My ideas are stupid. Everything is stupid. It's completely and utterly frustrating, because I know I shouldn't feel like that but I often do.
Maybe it's all the rejections? After almost 200 query rejections and a couple dozen editor rejections, I have garnered a certain brand of humility. You figure out that how you feel about your writing doesn't necessarily reflect its merit, and that is a tough lesson. It leaves you floating, relying on others to tell you if your work is good enough. I mean, I thought every novel I wrote was good enough—and I was wrong...11 times. How can I trust my own judgment after all that?
But, well, relying on others' judgments isn't the funnest thing either. It feels GREAT when someone tells you your book is good...for about five minutes. And then the doubts creep in again, and you have to search out a new reader, a new hit. Praise becomes nothing but a shallow, counterfeit form of self-esteem. Which, of course, means that criticism becomes something far worse than it is. Instead of being helpful to improvement, it's this monster of darkness that confirms every terrible thing you think about yourself. Not. Good.
Or maybe it's my own improvement that's to blame. It's kind of a double-edged sword—becoming skilled in something—because the more you learn, the more you see how far you have to go. It's like in Hikaru no Go (Freaking AWESOME show). Hikaru has no idea just how good his friend Sai is at Go (a Japanese strategy game) because he's a complete novice, and as Hikaru grows in skill he realizes just how unskilled he is in comparison to master Sai.
I feel like that all the time these days. I have so far to go. While I must admit that I have improved a ton since I first started writing, it sometimes feels like I'm still that noob because I am only just seeing how much more road lies ahead, how much learning and growing and...failing I will be facing. Stupid failing, why does it have to be so integral to the learning process?
This insecurity rut has to be broken. I have yet to find a fool proof way of breaking it (If you have one, please let me know.), but I will take it as a good thing that now I can at least recognize it when I'm in it. I am aware that the way I'm feeling doesn't necessarily mean I'm a sucky writer. This awareness does help me press on, even if I'm not having the most fun ever.
It goes in waves. I do know that, having been through it practically every year for the last five. At least I know it will end. I just wish it would hurry up.