Last night, I attended my monthly critique group. We were set to discuss segment five of my over 300-page novel, currently a work-in-progress. The girls didn’t like segment five. They said my writing was sub-par, and some of the character behaviors didn’t make sense. This is a good critique group, who often says interesting, illuminating things, but last night, I could barely take it. Why? Because it got me wondering: if I’m already messing things up within the first hundred pages, who’s to say the next two hundred pages don’t completely suck? Who’s to say I don’t completely suck?
So is the interior dialogue of a writer.
As a writer, I am the following:
You get the idea.
My writer persona, although pretty on the page, is not pretty in life. Then again, writers aren’t pretty—not emotionally, at least. Emotionally, we’re whiny, bitchy, fragile souls, who have become unavoidably cynical from years of rejection. We’ve all received the form letter telling us, in so many words, “No, your work is awful, but I don’t have the balls to tell you, so I’ll tell you this isn’t what we’re looking for right now.” We’ve all found authors who make us want to give up because we’ll never be as good as, say, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, or the newly discovered Erin Kelly. We’ve all considered getting a day job, because what’s the use in spending a year writing a book when it’ll just get thrown in the garbage anyway? Finally, we’ve all had a little too much scotch and bemoaned our station while smacking our heads against a desk and saying, “I suck, I suck, I suck.”
There are plenty of inspirational books that tell writers to keep at it, it’ll be okay, just keep trying. One of these is Stephen King’s On Writing. His is more a philosophy book than a book about writing, but in his way, he gets the job done. For Christmas, I received David Morrell’s The Successful Novelist. I started reading it yesterday, and the first chapter is called “Why Do You Want to Be a Writer?” When Mr. Morrell has asked this question in the past, there are a variety of responses. Money, for one, although from what I can tell only about twenty-five authors actually make money. Fame, but Oprah scares me, so why would you want to be famous? I thought about it myself, and I came up with my answer.
So, Mr. Morrell, in response to your question, “Why Do You Want to Be a Writer?” I offer the following response: Nobody in their right mind wants to be a writer. Being a writer is an awful, solitary, thankless profession that you may work hard at and never succeed in. Writing makes you crazy. Writing makes you miserable. The passion to write is a passion I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. So why? Why does Sara Dobie want to be a writer?
Because I have to be. Because there is something deep within my DNA that made me this … thing. If I don’t write for a couple days, I get horrible nightmares. If I don’t cleanse my imagination often, it gets freaky up there. I’ve tried to escape my fate. For years, I was a bartender, followed by wine sales. Then, I was a publicist. I was good at all these things, but there was always an itch—like a tiny, gnawing centipede in my brain—telling me, “Nice try, Dobes, but you aren’t getting out of this. You will be a writer, and it’s futile to resist.”
I’ve screamed at God every time I get another rejection letter, lose another contest, hit another roadblock … “God, why the hell did you give me this ability? What the hell do you want me to do with it? Because after years of failure, it feels like you don’t want me to do anything with this ability … except be miserable.” I can see God up there; He’s shaking His head, telling me to suck it up and be patient. To which I reply, “But that’s the problem, Lord; sometimes, I think I really do suck.”
I don’t mean to be a downer. It’s just that in college, I was top of my class. I’ve always been successful and driven, and yet, I’ve spent the past ten years watching my friends get promotions and buy houses. I linger on, poor and career-less. They call me “an artist,” when what they mean is, “Sara sure didn’t cash in on that honors diploma.” What do I do? Do I give in and check out Monster.com? Do I lay in fetal position on my couch and drink a bottle of Macallan 12?
No. I know how that story ends. If I get a real job, I’ll just be miserable. If I drink a bottle of scotch, I’ll be miserable. If I spend the day going over my book, I might be semi-miserable, too, but it’ll be a misery with purpose. God, in His infinite wisdom, made me a writer. I am a writer. It sucks, it’s thankless, and it may never pay off … but this is the path laid out for me. There’s method behind life’s madness, if we’re patient enough to put up with the bulls@#& and see it through to the end of the rainbow. Maybe, I’ll find a pot of gold. Maybe, I’ll find a drunken leprechaun. Either way, when I got home last night, Jake was here to hug me, kiss me, and tell me, “At least you look really hot.” If that isn’t positive reinforcement, I don’t know what is.