Every novelist hits the point, sooner or later, where they think they just might not actually have any talent. What do you do in that case? Should you just throw in the towel? Or muddle forward? How do you know if you’re any good?
Camille posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’ve decided a novelist must produce amazing writing AND an interesting story to continue pursuing novel publication with any real, honest hope of succeeding. Even amazing writing must be interesting or it’s not all that amazing.
If a wannabe novelist can be very honest with herself and accepts that she may be a good writer but a mediocre story-teller, and can perfectly picture the finished product she desires but realizes her execution of that goal falls painfully short, and she is beginning to tire in her efforts to improve, what do you suggest she do at this point in her life? I can make it easy on you and give you some multiple choice answers.
- Take a vacation to somewhere other than Boring, Oregon.
- Take more workshops and read more craft books. While setting your toenails on fire.
- Take another vacation but don’t start making a habit of it.
- Grit your teeth and keep working on the wretched novel.
- Put noveling aside and write something that makes you smile and gets lots of positive feedback from people because beneath the fiction fatigue, you know you were created to communicate something of value and encouragement to others and you miss that.
- Get some cheap c-4 and blow your computer to Jupiter. Pop some corn and invite the neighbors to watch, but make room for the S.W.A.T. trucks.
Randy sez: Well, Camille, you’re about due for some angst. You’ve been writing now for three years or so (or is it four?) And you still haven’t sold your novel, and you’re thinking it’s maybe all just some sort of pipe dream that you’ve been smoking for the last few years and maybe you’re a no-talent wannabe that ain’t never going to make it to the gonnabe stage.
This is a valid question. I’ve been writing fiction for 23 years now, and I’ve seen plenty of writers who just didn’t get published. Loads of them. I’ve also seen plenty of writers who did. Some of them went on to win awards, hit best-seller lists, and all that good stuff.
If you’re a discouraged writer, how can you tell whether you’re mediocre or destined for glory?
The bottom line is that you probably can’t. You’re too close to your own career, and you can’t see what’s obvious to other people.
I had this problem for a long time, and I solved it, ultimately, by just slogging through and getting published. But it meant that I spent about eight years in misery.
There’s really an easier way. Ask an experienced published author (one who knows your work) if you’ve got the talent to make the grade. After you’ve been writing for a few years, you either have it or you don’t, and anyone with some experience in the publishing world can tell if you do or don’t.
I happen to know Camille and her work pretty well, since she’s in my local critique group. So I’ll make this Xtremely easy.
Camille is going to get published. I don’t know when. Not sure if it’ll be that first novel she finished awhile back that’s been making the rounds. Not sure if it’ll be the one she’s working on now. I think either of them could sell. Or maybe her third book will be the winner. But I know for sure that Camille’s got the goods. So I just plain don’t see how she can fail.
Oh yeah, sure, there’s one way. She could quit. But Camille’s not a quitter, so she’s not going to.
I’ll bet a number of my Loyal Blog Readers are in the same seat Camille’s in right now. You’ve been writing for a few years. You’ve had some near misses and plenty of kudos but no contract yet. You’re frustrated and tired and angry.
I’ve been there. It wasn’t any fun. I spent 10 years writing fiction and the only thing I sold in that time was one short story to a local computer magazine for $150. That’s $15 per year. I worked it out once–it was three cents an hour. And I didn’t get paid a dime until Year Ten. That really sucks.
Then in the eleventh year, I sold a nonfiction book. And a novel. Yes, both in the same year. Funny how that worked out.
My story is pretty common. A lot of writers took years and years to break in. I know plenty of novelists who took longer than I did. And of course I know a few writers who sold the first thing they wrote with what looked like hardly any effort. I don’t feel superior to the ones who took longer and I don’t hate the ones who got there quicker. The publishing life is one dice throw after another.
If you want a safe, easy career, then you’re going to have to go into something that safer and easier. Try lion taming. That looks safer to me than fiction writing. Or try brain surgery. That takes about the same amount of training as writing a novel, but I have this weird hunch that it’s easier.
Nothing I can do will change the fact that fiction writing is hard and unsafe. I wouldn’t change that if I could.
Because maybe that’s part of what makes it fun.
Camille, you’re going to get published. If I turn out to be wrong by some unlucky chance, and you don’t get published in the next ten years or so, then you can come and slap me silly. But I have a good track record of spotting winners, and I know you’re a winner, so I’m just not worried.
What’s a writer to do when she’s in this boat? Carry on. There are three basic things that every novelist has to do to keep improving:
- Keep writing.
- Keep getting critiqued.
- Keep learning by reading those pesky how-to-write-fiction books.
I don’t know ANY writers who are improving who don’t do all of these things.
Carry on, Camille. When you sell your first book, we’ll do an interview here on this blog. Remind me when that happens.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.