Want To Be A Successful Writer? Give Up Now

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A very strange thing happened to me when I started taking myself seriously as a writer: I couldn’t write anymore (this was many years ago). I felt so much pressure to write as well as I possibly could that I froze up and didn’t dare write anything that felt wrong. Because I had too little experience making stories, this meant that most everything unfamiliar felt strange and new, and therefore wrong.

So Much Pressure To Be Perfect Right From The Beginning

So I didn’t write much. I had some very lovely chapter beginnings, and one story that had an excellent collection of scenes almost completed, but I could not write an actual book. I would sit down regularly, as I supposed all earnest someday-authors must, and I would attempt to squeeze words out of myself.

Squeezing Words Out Doesn’t Work If All The Words Have To Be Perfect

It never worked. I was still convinced that I would, at some point, and by sheer force of will, become an author, but I could never break past the unendurable pressure to be really, perfectly good, right now, no matter what.

No Mistakes, Victor Poole!

I took up poetry, which I was good enough at to somewhat make up for my failings as a novelist. Eventually, and because I was an actor, I took up playwriting, which I turned out to be quite good at. The problems of conflict and continuity still plagued me, but I was good enough at dialogue to gloss over my inability to plot.

Failed Novelist, Average Poet And Playwright

Still, I planned on being a writer of books. I was dead-set on it. The years passed, and I never sat down and attempted to force myself to write books anymore. I was busy doing other things, and writing different kinds of projects. The idea of books nagged at me, though. I wanted more than anything else to write novels. They were, to me, the legitimate form of writerly creation.

Just ‘Cause I Like Books

Something really interesting happens when you give up on a long-held ambition. You relax, and many things that have been pushed under the surface by the pressure of expectation and fear begin to rise up, and become part of your awareness. I’ve seen this with actors; only when they become thoroughly discouraged, and say, “Well, I can’t do it. Nothing is working,” do they allow themselves to risk. Only when they embrace failure, and the humiliation of expected crash-and-burn work do they begin to be able to use their real selves in the act of creation.

And So, I Gave Up

I gave up on writing great novels. I stopped telling myself that I was going to be really good at books. I stopped believing that I had what it took to succeed. So much time had passed, and I had failed so unilaterally to write any kind of a book, that I started coming to terms with the fact that what I was doing was not working at all. I started telling myself that I was wrong, and that my future self would not spontaneously erupt into a competent novelist.

Goodbye, Unrealistic Expectations; Hello, Failure

At first, this made me very sad. I didn’t want to feel like a failure. I wanted to be good at things. I wanted to be proud of myself. Giving up on such a long-held ambition made me feel really stupid, and like I had failed an ultimate test of character by not finding some way to follow through on doing what I wanted.

Woe Is Me, Or Woe Was Me, At The Time

But, with reality staring me in the face, and cognizant of the fact that I had not even tried to write a single chapter of a novel for literally years, I gave up. After I felt all the accompanying emotions of miserable failure, I started to look about with some interest. I could not be a successful author, I thought, and there was no longer any pressure to write well. In this newfound freedom from expectation, I found that I kinda sorta wanted to sit down and write a book.

Once I Didn’t Have To, I Kinda Sorta Wanted To

You know, just for fun. Just for me. Because I didn’t have to write a good book, or a non-embarrassing book, or a coherent book any longer.

I Could Write Garbage! It Was Freeing!

So I wrote a book. I enjoyed myself so much that I started studying plot, and scene-building strategies. I spent several frantic months imitating great storytellers, as an exercise in storytelling.

I Wrote Many Novellas At This Point

A new ambition began to burn in me. I would no longer become a successful author; now, I wanted to be a person who actually finished projects. That, I thought, was a pretty achievable dream. After all, I had proven to myself that I could actually, in real life, write a whole book.

So I Finished Projects; I’m Nearly Caught Up Now

I spent more years writing books. Now I have come up against another expectation: I want to finish a great many books in an integrated world. As I approach this emotion, I am already beginning to give up. I’ve learned that giving up, and embracing utter, miserable failure is the quickest route to getting exactly what I want.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books, which I never thought I would write, are here. I’m working on a companion series about Philas right now.

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