I think a lot of us writers feel like Monsieur Flaubert (in his quote on the left). We’ve all read good books, we know what good writing ought to look like, and we know our writing does not match up.
I kept letting this frustrate me, till the day I realized the writing in a book comes from a writer who is not just talented, but who has written for years before getting to the level I see. Besides, the manuscript most probably went through quite a bit of editing and polishing before it hit print.
I realized what I come up with is my best at that moment, and that there is a possibility, however slim, that it would get better, with deliberate practice. Ira Glass puts it so much better than me:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Do you think your own good taste has frustrated you as a writer at some point?
Oh my goodness. What a great post and a great quote. This is so true! 🙂
What wise words you share, Damyanti. Yes, good taste is our undoing as artists. We set our standards too high, we want to achieve what we love to read–and we forget the thousands of hours that went into making it look so effortless before we laid eyes on it. Has this frustrated me? "At some point"? EVERY DAY 😀
it would be interesting to know, how many classics were from the early writings—a very good question today!
Most definitely. I've been reading a series lately that has been keeping me up until 2 AM and beyond every night because the characters and the world are utterly irresistible to me. Every now and then I find an author who does this, and I spend so much time wishing I could learn their "secrets" when in fact, I know it's different for everyone… Whether they plot or pants, whether they let it grow organically or have every detail in their head and on paper before actually sitting down to write… It's deliciously maddening to come across such authors, but I choose to focus on letting it inspire rather than frustrate 😉
Sorry, misspelled link!
Oh yeah. The worst is when I look back at the very first novel I submitted and thought it was better than most things I read.
Now I'm a much more experienced writer, and critiquer, and I often have to stop to take my own advice.
It does take years of hard work, but I believe writing can be learned with patience and listening to people who want to truly help.
You know this to be true.. when, as a writer, there is that internal struggle, when what you have on paper can never match your mentor's/hero's stuff. Then one day, you understand that you cannot be like others, only yourself. That is your breakthrough.
I hope my own good taste is why my first drafts read awful to me. Fortunately, I have more fun revising then drafting.
I remember when I told someone else it took years of hard work to improve and they told me I was depressing and they should give up!
My doctor said he suspected I was a perfectionist. . .
Yes, I've been frustrated, but attending a writing conference helped me to view the my work differently.
What was hard for me when I first started writing was seeing that my work wasn't brilliant. I'm a bright guy with a big ego and when I wrote my first novel I thought, "This is as good as any novel ever written." I was heartbroken when people pointed out to me that I was really really wrong. I've actually gone through the same thing with every novel (I'm finishing up #6 right now), thinking that it's the best book ever written in the history of written books. In a month or so I'll figure out how my new one fails to measure up, and what things I need to work on. But each book gets better.
Of course, that's only how I feel when I've finished a book. While I'm writing (especially first drafts) I swing between "Lordy, this is crap" and "Lordy, this is great" but mostly, you know, I'm shaking my fist at my literary heroes for being so much better than I am. Darn them anyway, for leaving us so many great books.
I love Flaubert.
I agree that we need to be patient with ourselves and put in the work.
Alex, never say never 🙂
Miranda, when you feel better about your writing skills, would you consider revisiting the old ideas, or have you shelved them permanently?
Oh yes! I've shelved a few novels because they weren't up to par, my own standards. The concepts and stories are wonderful, but my writing wasn't where I wanted it to be.
Sure! I saw the changes big time from the original version of my book, written many years ago, to the final version that was published. I saw the growth in the second one and again now that I'm writing the third one. I'll never be great, but as long as I keep improving, that's good enough for me.