I wanted to share this picture from one of my Facebook Groups, because here you have two successful writers having a conversation, writers who have been around for a long time. Writers who are seasoned professionals.
This is funny, but it’s also very true. Oftentimes, I find myself wanting to be like Stephen King. Yes, I think he’s brilliant, if not slightly crazed. But the reason I like him so much is because he doesn’t worry himself to death while he’s writing. I’ve listened to a lot of interviews and talks by him, and this is recurring advice he’s given over the years.
A few days ago, I finally finished Four Past Midnight – a collection of four short novels/novellas/whatever by Stephen King. What struck me wasn’t the easy dialogue or the great description or the fascinating plot or even how amazing King is at characterization. What struck me was how effortless it felt. Call me extra crazy, but I could feel that he didn’t spend weeks and months worrying over whether his stories are any good or not. Every single story in that book waxes uber-bizarre at some point, and no one who worries excessively about their work would ever write something like that.
While I was working on NO REST FOR THE WICKED, I had to give myself a pep talk every damn day. It worked, but it was every day. With WINTER’S SIREN, there were far less pep talks, maybe three? I was having too fun to worry. With WHISPER, I know I gave myself a pep talk at some point – I always stress about something. But I was so focused on getting the story out of my head, that I didn’t even think about how stupid it might be. It could be awful. But the fact of the matter is, that story had been burning a hole in my head for over four years. It wanted out. I wanted to let it out. It’s out now. I’m happy. There are scenes in WHISPER that I had an actual visceral reaction to. It’s a good story.
It may not be the best thing I’ve written, but all I want to do is write stories I love that I can stand behind. So that if someone tells me they hate this story or anything I write, it’s honestly okay. Because I can stand behind them. Not because they’re the greatest, but because they’re good, and I know they’re not for everyone. Everyone doesn’t like Stephen King. And I can guarantee he doesn’t care. Also, it doesn’t make him less great. He’s just not for everyone, and he’s not trying to be.
What separates the confident writer from the insecure one seems to be one simple thing: confident writers don’t worry if their stories are any good or not – they just write them.
It’s a work in process, being any kind of confident. And I’m not expecting myself to stop worrying or stressing one day. That may never happen. But what can happen is exactly what’s already happening. Yeah, I stress and worry and flail around, but you know what, I sit down and write anyway. Because I effing want to.
I’m 100% not the writer I want to be. I want to write stories so haunting and beautiful and awesome, people dream about them. And sometimes I think I’m on my way.
Then there’s the inevitable doubt that I could be farther away, but only barely. Sometimes I look at my stories and think about how shallow and basic they are, and I feel so bad about myself and wish I wouldn’t try.
I relate a lot to George R.R. Martin. I, too, waste many weeks and months moving at a snail’s pace because I feel like I’ve lost my damn mind and should be a janitor. I’m good at cleaning. It’s nice, mediative work if you remove the occasional mopping up of vomit part of the job. But Martin is still a much better writer than I’ll probably ever be. I can’t create worlds that rich and detailed. But I am going to keep trying. Probably because I’m crazy.
Of course, with the above examples, you see that you can be a successful writer if you’re slow and insecure. 😀 But wouldn’t you rather be confident? Wouldn’t you rather have fun? Wouldn’t you rather worry less and write more? I would. 🙂