Writing is hard.
And sometimes it's really hard to *like* your own writing because there's this idea that you're not allowed. That we always need to self-deprecate and announce loudly to our friends and the world at large that our ideas are trash, our words make no sense, and we should probably never put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard again.
L I K E E V E R.
And as someone who's fully leaned into this aspect of the culture of writing for several years, it's super hard to let go of. But also super important. Putting aside all of my childhood baggage about never being someone that people *wanted* on their team, or the fact that by the whack standards of society I'm a failure (40 years old and no family! no desire for children! no shining moments to look back on and say, 'yeah, I did that!'), along with some toxic past friendships and you have me--someone who has been reminded a lot that they are not worth valuing and that I will never be enough. And when I joined writing twitter my first impression was YOU'RE ONLY A WRITER IF YOU HATE YOURSELF AND REMIND EVERYONE ABOUT IT REGULARLY.
I was wrong. This is, indeed, not true.
But I still fell into this rabbit hole of the writer world and it like meshed with all those other things I had going on in my brain and it practically sank me. I've managed to surface and now when the self-doubt sharks start circling, I can, for the most part punch them in the face. And I don't think this need to hate ourselves and feed our self doubts is talked about enough. We encourage each other to stay positive, but we don't extend the same care to ourselves. Instead we all ignore the elephant in the room and claim to love ourselves even as we constantly give ourselves back-handed compliments.
So I'm talking about it. HELLO ELEPHANT!!
(Isn't he darling? And so angsty! I want to adopt him. WAIT. NO. HOLD UP. This conversation is about kicking the elephant out. Sorry adorable elephant, I understand why you're angry now, but you gotta go.)
First off--Disclaimer and Clarification:
ONE: writing is low-stakes for me. I have a full time job that I love and for the most part, I'm financially stable. Nor do I have an agent or editor or any deadlines (those are all #goals, I invite that stress into my life!)
TWO: despite my emotional baggage and hardships, I have had other privileges and found success (I have a home, a job, I'm safe, etc.)
Those factors give me A LOT of wiggle room. So while in regards to job and financial stability, writing is low stakes, on the mental and emotional side, it is over the moon out of this galaxy high-stakes for me because, as writers are wont to do, I put so much of my heart and soul into writing.
Now, lets get back on topic.
We have those throw-away lines: WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE! IGNORE THE MARKET! IT ONLY TAKES ONE! YOU JUST HAVEN'T FOUND YOUR READERS YET! and while those
are great one liners to shout encouragingly, each and every one of them needs to be unpacked and discussed and parsed out. None of them can be taken at face value. And they're good--but when I'm down and lying about like Lilo listening to Elvis and someone shoots one of these at me, I just get pissed and double down on my self-loathing.
You too? Excellent, I'm glad I'm not the only one.
I give that broad generalization of my life because I know that others have similar stories and backgrounds. I know I'm not the only one cycling through the hell of self doubt and self hatred. And it's taken me a LONG time to make progress on separating out my writing self from my self-self. As in, the critique and feedback I receive on my writing does not equal my worth as a human. And, to take it a step further, the critique and feedback is meant to propel me forward and not simply list all the ways I've failed to accomplish my goal.
Feedback is important--it's where you learn if you got your message across or if you did your job as a writer and were able to engage your audience. I want to stay focused, so I'm not going to get into any tangents, and please don't take this as a 'you don't need feedback' or any of that malarkey. Feedback handling it is whole other thing. BUT! Hear me out here, maybe it should go lower on your hierarchy of mental and emotional needs as a writer.
More importantly, it's super important to realize that yes, you're asking for feedback, but no matter what that CP/Beta says, you need to love your words and your ideas. The whole reason I have CPs/Betas is because I trust them to help tease out a BETTER version of my story. But first I have to be in love with what I write. I have to have confidence in what I'm doing and that means NOT listening to a lot of things.
That means not comparing my journey and my writing to my friends. If I said I wasn't jealous, that would be a lie. I am--they have what I want. But I'm also able to look at their success and be 100% happy for them, to support and cheer them on (this is also my personality, I'm like the god-damned Giving Tree, but unlike the Giving Tree, my friends are nothing like that asshat boy who takes&takes&takes&takes and never gives).
We compare ourselves. It's what we do as humans and as members of society. But it's important to remember that the touchstones of success were not created equally and just because you don't fit neatly into them doesn't mean you're doing a bad job (Remember, by society standards my lack of family and children brands me a FAILURE despite the fact I have no desire for those plot points to happen in the story of my life). And writing is certainly not the only area of my life that I apply these completely bogus and arbitrary standards.
YES. BOGUS AND ARBITRARY.
Don't get me wrong, I desperately want people to read my words and then slide into my DMs and tell me IN ALL CAPS HOW MUCH THEY LOVE MY CHARACTERS AND WORDS AND THE WAY *THAT SCENE* YOU KNOW, THAT. SCENE. MADE THEM GASP AND MELT INTO A PUDDLE OF FEELZ.
I'm a dolphin who needs many head pats and reassurances that my writing is good.
Who doesn't want that? It's validation that we've done something...write (look, I give you full permission to stop reading now, but you have to admit, the set up for that pun was pretty slick). And validation is something we look for everywhere in life, not just in our writing. But again, my argument is that outside validation on your writing should be low on your hierarchy of needs.
I mean, I keep writing this blog despite the fact no one* reads it unless I'm giving something away**. (*shout out to my two subscribers, you're the reason I'm here 💜💜 **also, no shade, I'm totally luring people with the promise of FREE!) and if that isn't this whole mess personified, then I don't know what is. I'm here, writing what I think are fun, quippy posts, THAT NO ONE* READS. And I'm okay with that. I have fun doing it. I think I'm witty. This gives me a place to write and have fun and say things. (On a side note, I have been agonizing over whether or not to post this blog in particular for over a month--but then I was like, fuck it. I like it. And here we are)
Writing has always been there for me, from making up stories as a wee-tot, to furiously writing as a teen to cope with standard teen angst, to currently self analyzing my own emotional wounds and misbeliefs through my characters...it's been a journey. And when I first shared my writing and started getting feedback, just FOUR years ago, it was a trial by fire and it burned like a bitch.
Necessary burning, necessary growth. But I sank really hard into the "my writing is trash and I need to announce this regularly camp." Querying did not help this because while my CPs assured me that I what I had was good and ready, I racked up form rejection after form rejection while they got requests, offers, and were, in general, validated by the outside world.
This isn't meant to be a pity party for me. This is meant as a semi-objective look at how my writing journey has been shaped thus far and I know there are other people out there with similar stories. Your CPs and betas are telling you that your writing is good, giving you praise (and, if they're worth their salt, also calling you out on everything that needs fixed and tweaked), but querying isn't going well or you don't get the same ALL CAPS SCREAMS about your words that every other writer in the history of writing seems to be getting.
I HAVE A POINT!
And that point is, that whether or not the world at large likes my stories, my writing, my characters, my plot, it doesn't matter. I like my stories and I adore my characters (which may be debatable based on the trauma and hardship I continue to inflict on them as I cackle over my keyboard). Which, as soon as I type that, my brain is like 'YOU EGOTISTICAL BASTARD, HOW DARE YOU THINK THAT YOU, Y O U!, COULD CREATE ANYTHING OF WORTH! HOW DARE YOU BE HAPPY!'
To which I answer:
And if I had said that last fall, my brain would have cackled and just screamed louder about how inadequate I was. (Last fall was rough y'all--for many reasons). And it's taken me all this time to build up a different mindset and when I want to tear myself down publicly I have to really talk myself down from it ("NO BAD KATJA!" *sprays own-self with a water bottle*). Thankfully, I have MAGNIFICENT friends who also help me with this--and they can attest that I still have a ways to go because when I fall into one of those moods, I fall hard and THEY COME AFTER ME FOR IT. (I 💜💜💜 them!)
AnYwAy...I was making a point, ah, oh yeah!
I'm going to tell you what I love about my writing and how I process this and manage to keep a white-knuckle grip on my positivity because I'm not letting that motherfucker go and it WILL ALL BE OKAY DAMMIT.
In the past few months, I finished a zero draft of a new project and I love it! I love my characters and the world and the plot line and the comps (I FINALLY FIGURED OUT COMPS Y'ALL: Burn Notice X Ace of Shades) and it's amazing. It's a zero draft and we all know that means that is just the baby version, it needs to grow up into a big story, but it has moments that make me smile and cackle and have feelz and I want desperately to scream to about it to everyone!
I'm currently working on a revision of my #FoxWip, which I LOVE so I can start querying it in September. I love the way I set up the plot, I love how the characters just want to be together and I keep pushing them apart. I love the world I created, the lore, the side characters--I am going to write novellas about them one day.
As I think about both of these manuscripts (and another shelved project I have), I find myself getting caught up in the stories, lingering in the parts that tugged at my feelz and being excited about it. And that's the point I'm trying to make.
You need to be your own #1 fan. Love your writing and don't let anyone else make you feel like you aren't enough or you aren't good enough.
It's not easy. It's going to sting when you get rejections, when you get CPs who didn't connect with the story or a character. Define your own measures of success. Define what YOU want, not what the world tells you that you should want. It's okay to struggle--writing is tough! And it's okay to talk to whoever (your friend, a spider living in the corner, a bowl of ice cream) and vent your frustrations. It's healthy! But every time you feel the need to say: I AM TRASH, MY WORDS ARE TRASH, I AM NO GOOD.
M'kay? Just don't. And don't worry about what anyone else might think. Never be afraid to celebrate yourself Because you are amazing and YOU ARE ENOUGH.