WHAT’S PLAYING: Sam and Dave “Thank You”
I don’t have very much confidence in my skills as a writer. As a nuclear chemist? Absolutely. As a friend, sister, daughter, cousin, human being, etc.? More or less. But when it comes to writing, I can never tell just how good – or bad – I really am. Maybe it’s because art is so subjective. There’s no real measuring stick by which I can observe my skill level. (Chemistry is so much easier. If the lab blows up or I die of radiation poisoning, then I’ll know that I screwed something up.)
Case in point. Here is an abbreviated transcript of my latest breakup:
Him: “Jacqui, I’m leaving.”
Me (typing): “OK, have a nice time.
Him: “No, I mean I’m leaving for good. I’m breaking up with you.”
Me (still typing): “Uh-huh.”
Him: “I have a new girlfriend, who is five years younger and fifteen pounds thinner than you are.”
Me (absently): “Sounds like a keeper.”
Him: “Would you please look at me? You’re the worst girlfriend I’ve ever had!”
Me (still typing): “You’re probably right.”
Him: “By the way, your writing sucks!”
Me (turns away from computer and bursts into tears): “You bastard!”
(OK, maybe it didn’t go quite that badly, but you get the point.)
It’s strange really. I’m not particularly sensitive when it comes to other things. In fact, I usually respond to criticism with a snappy comeback or (failing that) an extended middle finger. But when it comes to writing, one negative comment, no matter how minor, is enough to send me into a tailspin. It’s as though someone finally pried my head open and let all the crazy out.
Sometimes I think my writing is good, better than good. I’ve studied with some of the best writers and editors in the business. I’ve tried to take in every lecture, homework assignment and piece of advice and apply it to my own writing. And on a good day, I can almost convince myself that I’ve succeeded.
Then, there are the bad days.
The days when I go back and read the same passage I’d read earlier, only to find that it’s bad. Really bad. Like “Oh my god, I wish I was illiterate just so I wouldn’t have to read this shitty writing” bad.
Writing is one of my chief joys in life, and more than anything, I want to be able to do it well. I don’t know if I’ll ever completely get over my crises of confidence, but I’ve learned a few tricks that help.
1. Stop. Sometimes the best thing to do is take a breath and push away from the computer.
3. Get inspired. This could be anything: a favorite book, an inspirational quote, even some positive feedback from your peers or mentor. Anything to reignite that spark of creativity.
4. Keep writing. And remember that, when it comes to writing, everything is fixable.
And, last but not least:
5. When all else fails, get drunk and try again tomorrow.
Of course, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll probably do this list in reverse order.