We can all play guitar…

Have you ever purchased a certain make/model vehicle and then realized that every third car on the street is just like yours? And then wondered how you never noticed this before? Ever seen a strange word for the first time, like pulchritudinous, and then had it pop up every other day for the next week?

These familiar cases of pattern-recognition pale in comparison to what happens when you begin to think of yourself as a writer. It turns out every third person you meet on the streets has the same dream. Many of them have a finished work that came this close to publication. Most are starting and stopping projects and fighting to reach the final chapter of any of them. More than a few are self-published and trying to make it big-time.

The crafty ones have given up on the allure of a writer’s life and make money with workshops and vanity presses that cash in on the hopes and dreams of others.

It’s a nasty biz. Mostly because writing adequately is damned easy. Almost all of us can do it. But very few can do it really well. It’s the difference between being able to strum on a guitar and actually making a living in a band. You’d think the universe wouldn’t have the facilities required to crush this many dreams, but it’s remarkably efficient at it.

My story is a bit different. I’m quite certain that I suck as a writer. That my tripe isn’t fit for my own mother’s eyes. I ask for criticism and I get compliments, so I doubt those compliments, doubt myself, look ahead to gauge where my dream will pop, and then become baffled when I make it past one more obstacle. I’m the anti-author. My fear never was that I wouldn’t get published, I KNEW I was never gonna get published. My fear was that someone would take a chance on me, and everyone would see how awful I am.

You’d think this might inoculate me to disappointment–that I’d be happy with whatever happened. But now I’m worried that the potential to “stumble” went right past “fall” and “plummet” and is now in the “atmospheric reentry” phase of the climb. I keep getting ushered through the publishing pipeline, past the gates and turnstiles that form logjams of hacks far more talented than I am. “You first!” I’m screaming at every turn, but some idiot keeps waving me through as if they know me.

Now I’m three months or so from playing Carnegie, and I can’t read sheet music. Which raises the question: who’s happier? The self-confident egoist who gets to thumb her nose at the idiots who can’t recognize her genius? Or the pessimistic doubter that thrills the masses but can’t figure out how he’s doing it?

4 responses to “We can all play guitar…”

  1. That’s every aspiring writer’s fear, I guess.
    Did you happen to read Stephen King’s “about writing” book ? Most useful I ever read on the subject. Not that it’ll give you easy tips n trick. Mostly all the contrary. But reading it helps measure how much you really want to do this. & Not only for a living.

    As for critics… I tend to follow his advice. I have my “favourite reader”, in the person of my wife. We share 100% the same tastes, she reads all that I read and vice versa. So when she laughs or seems interested as she reads something of mine, I know I’ve got something thant can please the likes of her. Usually works fine. Thousand times more useful than “yeah, that sounds good ” comments. And her being my wife doesn’t prevent harsh criticism. When she tries and reassure me, I know I’ve written crap. Best barometer ever.
    My 2 cents, anyway.

    See you soon Hugh.

  2. Your comment was better than my blog entry.

    Damn! There I go again…

  3. The fact that your publisher will only accept sci-fi if exceptional should give you a good idea of how talented you are.
    The fact that I am not a sci-fi fan, yet I enjoyed your book, will buy it, and will come to any events you have within the NY tri-state area, should speak even more to your talent as a writer (and the power you wield by being able to pull people like myself into Molly’s story).
    It is only natural to doubt yourself at times as long as it is only in passing. Keep in mind, as beautiful as the Molly model is, she won’t sell your book, your writing ability will.

  4. Thanks for the kind words Mare, Lazlo. You guys are gonna get sick of me when I’m number 2 and on the NYT bestsellers list and I’m wondering what I did wrong…

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