Thursday, June 4, 2009


I am taking a break from my project today, which is cleaning my office/writing room. Rather, I'm giving myself permission to take a break, having realized that I won't finish this very major operation by dinner, by sunset, by bedtime, or even by daybreak tomorrow. I hate leaving a mess, but then my office was a mess to begin with, so really, what's the difference? Dust and clutter are my long-time companions. In fact, they never seem to want to go home. Oh, right. This is their home.

Eventually, my office will look better, but apparently not today.

Which makes me think about "better." The person and writer that I am is plagued with the notion that I must do "better." Clean better, work better, write better, tech better, blog better, be better. There is a deep panic over the feared truth that I am not better at any of these things and will never be--i.e., I am therefore, by default, a failure. Old bit of mental garbage, there. Still, it's a live electric wire in my mind.

Here at Fusty, though, I will just refer to the part about write better, as goodness knows no one else would be interested in the other ways in which I stumble around in a state of unbetter.

I know I am not alone in facing the "better" conundrum. Many writers (though not, of course, all) are plagued with uncertainty, with the belief that if only they were better writers, all would be well. Which could possibly be true. It doesn't hurt to have some spit and shine to your words.

But there is a wider aspect, a deeply-held belief that we (the other writers who share this concern) do not and will never add up. Will never be special, in a writing kind of way.

One issue is that some writers are simply better writers than we are. A painful but true fact. There is always someone out there whose words sparkle in a way yours don't. [Insert expletive here.] By way of encouragement, I feel this true for everyone, even the successful.

Another issue is the fact that the competition for getting published, for being recognized in any way, for winning awards, for being paid money for your work, for even being read at all, is so absolutely ferocious. Armies have nothing over writers, when it comes to clashes in the night.

By which I don't mean we aren't a friendly bunch, at least on the surface, as for the most part we are. But rather we (the uncertains) know deep in our hearts that you either make it or you don't, and your success has little to do with good writing. Though good writing doesn't hurt. Though you can also be a good writer and still get nowhere. Not to say that those who do get somewhere aren't good or excellent writers, as many of them are.

Is this confusing enough for you?

In a winner-takes-all publishing world, if you are not a winner, what are you? Something? Nothing? Anything at all?

This is not to get into a big boo-hoo over the hard life of being a wordsmith, but rather to wonder how to survive such a harsh landscape. I haven't quite figured it out myself, though I have been trying for several years now. I do, most of the time, walk on firmer emotional ground than I used to, which is good, as being a writer can include a lot of weeping-and-wailing time. At least for the uncertains.

Maybe the "better" I need to concentrate on is just being better at not being so freaked-out and discouraged all the time. That feels like a paltry goal, though, compared to fame and riches.

Maybe I need to just concentrate on being better at cleaning my office.



C.K. said...

Good for you for tackling the office cleaning! I'm also very friendly with dust and clutter. Both of them are closing in on me as I type this.

I hope I can get to that firmer emotional ground you mention. Since you've already forged a path to that place I know it exists - even if a person can't be there 100% of the time.

Michelle said...

Getting better at not being freaked-out and discouraged seems like a very worthy goal to me. I know very well how freaked-out-ness and discouraged-ness can make it very hard to forge ahead with new writing. I also know that it would help a lot to make myself stop reading reviews and ratings (of my own books and others) and just focus on writing without thinking about all the other stuff, the publishing and reader-reaction stuff. Sadly, the internet makes it all too easy to find out what everyone is thinking (or not) about my book and every other book in the world, and it is hard to resist the temptation to look.

Anyway. I hope the rest of your office-cleaning goes well (I am just trying to ignore my own mess for the next week or two until I have time to tackle it). I think the writing life really is hard (harder than non-writers really get, maybe) and that it's perfectly ok and reasonable (though sucky) to feel discouraged sometimes. But I hope you're feeling better soon!

C.K. said...

I think, with some of the things that have been happening to me lately, that I could write a post entitled "Worse."

I have my binoculars out and am looking for that firmer emotional ground but no luck yet. Maybe I should just starting cleaning my apartment :(

Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson said...

Careful, C.K., with that apartment! While cleaning does tend to focus one on the present, which can sometimes help stabilize an emotionally rocky landscape, it can also lead to doom and gloom, especially with dust-challenged people like ourselves.

I am sorry to hear about "worse." Do you have someone to talk to? I know from experience that that can be essential, whatever the cause of the rockiness. If you like, you can e-mail me at my website address: .

I hope you're feeling better soon.