Tuesday, January 3, 2017

When You Get Good Enough And Yet...

Learning to write is a long process, one that is challenging and frustrating and rewarding in many ways. There's always something to improve, always more to do, and that's both the fun and torture of it all.

I remember when I was just starting out. I had a vague sense I wasn't good enough to be published. And I was right, though I didn't necessarily know how to improve. For the most part, a new writer will start out not being good enough to be published. It's okay! You're at the beginning.

I didn't realize at the time how nice the concept of "sucking at writing" was. That sounds weird, but let me explain. Back when I was struggling to get to a level of publishable writing, I could always go back to that very conclusion: My writing isn't good enough yet. Better keep learning and practicing and growing.

That's actually a really cool place to be. Where there is room still to grow. Where you can go back to the drawing board and tell yourself that if you just try harder and learn more and get better at writing, THEN you will get published. As you hear at just about every conference out there, "If you just keep going, eventually it'll happen." Right? Right.

But then something weird happens.

You actually REACH the writing level that is considered publishable.

Not that you still don't have room for improvement. Not that you have mastered all the writing and can rest on your laurels. That's not what I'm saying here—I'm only saying that, yes, there is a "level" where your writing becomes good enough. The actual words and sentences and plot and characters all make sense and work together. You've become a decent self-editor who can see the flaws in your work. You can resolve those mistake in revision and make a damn good book. You have crossed the threshold, so to speak.

At this point, some people get published. Some. People.

Conferences and inspirational posts and those who constantly say "Never! Give! Up!" will perhaps imply that ALL people who reach publishable writing level will get published. They may even imply that those same threshold-reaching authors will STAY published. I wish I could tell you that was true, but I think we all know deep down that it isn't. There just aren't enough spots.

So what do you do when you're the author who is "good enough" and yet you can't seem to get published or stay published?

Honestly, I don't actually know.

But it's hella frustrating, isn't it? I mean, it is for me. It's the number one thing that crushes my love of writing and stories and publishing and all of it. Because I'm sitting here nine books in (4 traditionally published [2 U.K. only] and 5 indie), and I still can't seem to convince anyone in the U.S. that I'm worth buying a story from. It's been five years since my only deal in America for my original work. It looks like it'll go on indefinitely at this point. It's not as if I haven't been trying. I have been on submission to editors all this time. I have been "writing the next book." And the next and the next and the next. I'm pushing closer to 30 novels written now, and still nothing. It took me 8 years to get published that first time, maybe I got three more to make it another eight. Who knows?

It would be so much easier if I could just say to myself "I'm not good enough yet. I'll just keep learning and improving." But...well, I don't want to sound cocky but I AM GOOD ENOUGH. Not that I'm perfect by any means, but I have been published and I have worked to improve with every novel. I do truly believe what I'm writing now is my best stuff...

...And yet...and yet...it feels like none of that matters. For whatever reason, my stories aren't on market or not the editor's taste or "good but not quite alluring enough to offer." And that makes me want to pull my hair out and give up so much of the time. The stubborn teen in me is all "Well if you hate me then I HATE YOU TOO." And I want to stop writing forever and flip the bird to publishing and move on with my life.

But I can't. Cuz the stories don't go away no matter how much I want them to.

And I know I'm good enough, which surprisingly hurts more than when I knew I sucked. Because it reveals the truth of the matter—that sometimes being good enough doesn't mean a thing. There are so many authors who are good enough and in the same shitty place that I'm in.

At this point it feels like I'm beating my head against a wall that refuses to pay attention to all the damn effort I've put into this. No one ever tells you that, yes, while all your hard work may be worth it and you may get and stay published, the opposite is also true: Your hard work could be ignored indefinitely. No one wants to deal with that reality. I'm still trying to decide if it means something when it gets you "nowhere." People here will probably tell me it does, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like it most of the time.

I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, except to say that if you are in this boat I FEEL YOU SO MUCH. You aren't the only one. Whether you are published or not, there are so many authors around you who are in this boat of being "close but not close enough." And it's just the worst. I wish there were more spots, for me and for you.

I don't have much advice, but the only thing that has helped me stay remotely sane is just doing whatever the hell I want to at this point. If I want to write, I do. If I don't, I don't. Not like I have deadlines to meet. If I want to spend weeks doing house projects or getting fit or bingeing on video games, I just do it. And I don't feel guilty about it anymore. Because at this point, I know it's not me who has the problem. And you don't have a problem either. This is just the shit side of the business people don't like to talk about, and we get to be on it. May as well find happiness in other stuff while we're here.


  1. You can always publish the books yourself. When my publisher didn't want the next in my series, that's what I did. Yeah, it's a lot more work, but I had already written the book and I couldn't NOT put it out there. If you've got 30... wow! What's stopping you?

  2. Thanks for saying that reality: "Write the next book" is not a magic formula. There are no guarantees.

    I recently taught a writing class in which I urged people not to worry about publishing too soon, to enjoy the phase of building the craft and not having expectations. I've also slowed my own writing pace and am enjoying it more now than I had in a while.


  3. I just decided not to worry about traditional publishing. I really like self-publishing and not worrying about sales too much. Your blog helped me get to a good place where I was able to enjoy writing without worrying about publishing. It's a hobby for me, but a really awesome hobby.

    And I've read so many good unpublished novels. I don't know if they will ever be published, but I'm glad I got the opportunity to read them. I'm glad people are still writing them. I don't think success has to come through traditional publishing.

    So I hope you find a good place for yourself. And I have read and enjoyed many of your books and I'm so glad you wrote them.

  4. So true and so frustrating. Publishing is not a meritocracy. Not everything that deserves to be published will get published. And writing book after book isn't a proven solution, but you might as well get the stories out anyway. So long as you're still enjoying the process, do it. Sometimes, even when you're not enjoying it, do it anyway. But if you ever get to the place where you CAN quit... Quit. Don't ever force it.

  5. I think your attitude of doing what makes you happy (within your control) is the right one. At least, it's what I've been trying to do!

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