Memo from the Desk of Learning Things The Hard Way
Do you ever feel like you write and study and query and revise but aren’t getting any nearer to publication? That the skill level, body of work or following you aim to achieve is a distant speck on your horizon?
A few years ago, I was at my writing desk and cracked open the book Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. The book was a beautiful blend of captivating writing, spectacular voice, charming wit, depth and heart. After about an hour, I stopped reading. Part of me couldn’t put it down; part of me couldn’t read any more. It was a beautifully crafted, engrossing reminder that my own writing sucked. I nearly broke the mouse punching the exit button on my always-open novel document. Then I took a deep breath and heard a little voice saying NO ONE expects my first novel to be as good as Sara Gruen’s NYT bestseller.
No one except Camille.
Brilliant, captivating writing sets the bar high, and I like that. In fact, I like a bar set so high my nose bleeds just squinting to see it. I love an impossible challenge when it comes to writing well. Do you? But somewhere in all that bleeding and straining to reach higher, dissatisfaction with my skills became a debilitating road block, a discouraging heckler from the sidelines.
You’re never going to be good enough to break in.
You’re mediocre and always will be.
Quite frankly, you suck.
Every author was once a newbie, every graduate an underclassman, every craftsman an apprentice. Guess what? You’re allowed to stare off into the distance at your desired destination—as long as looking ahead doesn’t trip you up where you’re at today. When the writer/editor/artist you want to be eludes you, maybe you’re looking too far ahead. Maybe watching the horizon is slowly crippling you from ever reaching that place. Ask yourself this: Are you better at your craft than you were last month? Last year? A decade ago? I bet you are.
Content But Not Complacent
Eventually, I found out I wasn’t Sara Gruen. Imagine my surprise. In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to be Sara Gruen. I also discovered that after all that straining and reaching higher, I had grown as a writer. For me, staggering genius is still a speck on the horizon, a glint on the high bar. And I still aim for it, nose bleeds and all. I, like my current novel, am a work in progress. You may be aiming for your own speck on the horizon, your own dream of success or accomplishment, and while you should never stop aiming, you need to give yourself permission to be here, today, right now. To be content in the midst of reaching, content but not complacent, right where you are.
Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them. -Joseph Joubert
No one is born a best-selling author. The only writers certain to fail at publication are those who quit. The truth is it takes a lot of patience to wait for the day when your natural talent pans out and proves to be sheer genius, especially if that day is still a distant gleam on the horizon. The trick is to wait patiently but actively. Pursuing excellence by writing, studying, reading, querying, listening, collecting rejections, receiving instruction and advice, honing, querying again, and working every day toward that high bar. You may never be Sara Gruen. (What?!?!) But you will become a far better writer in the process as you stretch out and reach beyond you.
Regardless how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go, I keep reminding myself that it’s okay to be where I am right now (while pinching my nostrils and pressing an ice pack to my forehead). So please don’t quit! Aim for excellence but also graciously give yourself permission to be right where you are today.
Peace to you, wherever you are! ~Camille
Q: Are you easily discouraged by the better art, better work, better performance of another? Or do you allow dissatisfaction to motivate you to keep working on your craft? Are you content with where you are, but not complacent? It’s a tough balance. Have you found it?