I don’t think artists and writers are, in general, known for being completely calm, level-headed, secure people. Stereotype it may be, but I sure live up to the idea of a writer whose confidence varies wildly, rising to euphoric heights before crashing down so low I just want to curl up in a ball and moan “Whyyyy did I think I could do this??”
And I’m in the latter phase right now.
Editing for novel 7 has been slow. And not just slow but excruciating. Completing even a single scene, which may involve as few as 100 new words and some minor information dropped or a twirl of description added, seems like a gargantuan effort of will. I look at my list of revision notes and wonder why I so blithely dashed off notes to myself about entire new worlds and scenes to populate. And most of all, I look at the manuscript that I once loved and I think—I can’t do this. I don’t have what it takes.
It’s not just this revision or this manuscript or this moment in time, either. It’s the long slog of an unpublished writer. I read constantly about the hundreds of rejections that published authors had to overcome. I know about the endless rounds of querying and the “it just takes one yes!” mantra. So I, like many others, chin up and soldier forward, in search of that elusive agent, that elusive contract, the elusive dream of my book on a shelf for readers to enjoy.
But how do you know if you’re on the “hundreds of rejections before I found my agent” path or the “hundreds of rejections followed by hundreds more” path? Basically, how do you know if you’re actually good enough?
For a lot of people—myself included—this is a large part of the draw of trad publishing. I don’t think I could deal with the soul-crushing defeat of self-publishing and then no one reading it. It would be the end of my writerly aspirations, the humiliating squeak with which my unborn career dies. So I churn out query letters, I read books on craft, I write as much as I can, I read books on editing, I revise my writing, I get betas, I seek feedback, more query letters, endless lists of agents and the frissons of hope at every agent email that lands in my inbox. My turn could be coming.
Or maybe it’s not. There are a million wannabe writers out there, and while it’s nice to believe that none of them have mastered craft and storytelling and grammar like I have, while it’s nice to think none of them know how to follow submission guidelines, that we’re all just grinding out against the faceless wall of “no response means no” until we catch a break that is akin to winning the lottery. But the fact is that there are writers getting signed and published every day—and I’m not one of them. I’m in the slush pile with hundreds and thousands of other writers who are every bit as talented as I am and more.
So how do I know? How do I know if it’s delusion on my part? How do I know if the problem is my query letter or my first page or my first chapter or the whole manuscript or every manuscript I write?
I don’t know. I guess I just have to keep going until I find myself curled up in a ball, moaning, and don’t know how to get up anymore.