When I have doubts about what I’m doing, which can happen, say after a bad submission rejection (there are good and bad ones) I stand alone on the shore of the wide world, like Keats once did, and think about chucking it in, in much the same way he didn’t. Maybe I could get an easier past time. Perhaps one that doesn’t have people saying no or meh to what I’m doing.
Social media is handy for these moments. There are plenty of writers who can empathise with the down times as well as celebrate the publication joy. There’s nary a creative person out there who has never experienced self-doubt or rejection.
I have been writing for more than 10 years and there has been progress. I can see what can be improved, or can be different in writing. But this is fraught. The big lesson is to never re/write things for others. Just don’t. But it’s an easy trap to fall into.
This happened in class once. We’d each of us had written short stories, properly fleshed out and complete in themselves. We offered our thoughts on them. Then came the last student. He handed us his short story. But it wasn’t a story, it was a scaffold to hang a story from, because what he wanted to say was in his head and not on the page. Sort of. We had a go at delivering feed back, while I found myself compelled to fill in the gaps he’d left. But this was cheating. If I’d continued he could’ve used what I’d written for his work. We all stopped when another student launched into a speech. Sadly, I don’t have it verbatim, but he explained that writing was not about what you plan. He said it more eloquently than I can relate now, years later, but those of us who had completed a story felt vindicated, those of us tempted to write for those who didn’t, stopped, and that one student got a lesson he didn’t expect. He meant well, he’d tried, but my colleague’s argument made it clear what he was doing was akin to taking something from us he didn’t deserve, because we had done the work and he hadn’t. We were writers and this sad class mate wasn’t.
This is what I want to say to people in writing groups (online or IRL) who want ideas, or someone else to come up with names or to otherwise fill in the blanks: this is your work. If you’re writing your story it’s your job not to leave gaps. That is what writing is about. Sure, if you’re stuck maybe get some advice, but other people can’t write your story. Once they do, it isn’t your story.
Asking others for help with names is odd. Names are personal, and if you’re inventing a character, then surely you should be responsible for one of the most personal things about them? The same goes for a people or a world or a place. There’s magic in names, and symbolism, it should come from the author, somehow.
For those who say they ‘aspire’ to write is you can aspire to anything and never do squat about it. Plenty of people aspire. It means nothing. If you want to write, show up. Make time. Plus, you can only get feedback on work if you do some.
I didn’t say it’d be easy. It can be dull and even painful, especially when exciting things are happening elsewhere in nice weather.
But that’s why I think of Keats too, rejected by critics and readers, poor, and unable to marry, dying painfully and eventually far from home, yet still dedicating everything in himself to poetry. He had every excuse and more to give up and go back to being an apothecary. He probably would have died early anyway, but then the world would have been so much poorer:
If he didn’t give up why should I?
So if you are a writer…like Keats, like me, like so many out there…
…Get the tools you need.