Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
Note: The often-discussed topic in this Aids4Writers article is one that plagues many authors, so I thought it might be helpful to have it addressed here, in the Writers’ Zone.
The Question: I am working on a Medieval. I have a real passion for this book, but I am scared. Scared that I am not to the point in my development as a writer to tackle the complexity of this book. It has many layers. How do I know I am good enough to do the story justice?
This is one of those books I feel inspired by a higher power to write. I started it in 1999 and have put it aside twice because I felt I didn’t have the skills to tell this story.
First of all, let’s dispel a myth. It is rare for any writer to ever feel that they’ve mastered the craft well enough to do a story they feel inspired to write justice. It’s the nature of the beast.
Somewhere along the way, writers get this idea in their head that there’s going to come a time when they can majestically translate the vision in their heads to a majestic vision on paper. That it will be just as flawless and perfectly executed and vivid as the writer sees it in his/her mind. It doesn’t happen.
The lucky writer feels s/he’s done a good job, that s/he has succeeded in sharing the vision, but I’ve yet to speak to a single writer—even one—who feels that the book produced equaled or surpassed the vision of the book.
Inspired works are magical things. They give us the ambition and drive and discipline to write and write and write and then to hone and hone and hone. They give us a sense of purpose that adds a deeper dimension to our works, encourages us to strive to make the book worthy of the inspiration. Inspired works are demanding, and for the same reasons, fulfilling. But they are not perfect.
They will never be perfect.
So don’t expect perfection. Expect the best that you can give the book. Be willing to invest all you have in it. If, when you’re done, you’re not satisfied with the results, set the book aside as you have done, let it rest while you continue to learn your craft and hone your skills. Then, revisit the book. Read it, and if you see where you can make it better, then revise it.
The important distinction to make in this case is that you’re actually not aspiring to an unattainable goal (perfection) and you’re not being hypercritical of the work out of an unconscious fear of failure or success.
Writing is an art and a craft. It can’t be mastered. Accept that and appreciate it. There will always be something new and exciting about writing. Always something new to try and experience. That’s a blessing!
Writers are their own worst critics. It’s because so much of who we are and what we believe goes into our books. Those carrying an inspiration also carry the added weight of living up to that duty to write this book. Having the gift brings the desire. We must bring the ability. And we fear falling short, not measuring up–in short, failure.
That makes it vital to adjust our mindset on both inspiration and on failure. We must trust the gift. That if we are inspired to write the book, and we believe in that inspiration, then we must also believe that we have the ability to do it or inspiration wouldn’t haven’t chosen us for the job. We must also recognize that we’re going to experience fear and doubt while writing this book because it is inspired, and therefore important to us. Face the fear and write the book. If you do that, then you’ve faced the fear of failure.
Facing the fear of failure is vital to all writers. It’s important to double-check your thinking about failure. Most of us, frankly, are twisted when it comes to it. We think if a book doesn’t sell, we failed. If a book doesn’t sell well, we’ve failed. If a book doesn’t sell well enough to make the NYT list, we’ve failed. If we’ve made the Times list but we haven’t gotten great reviews, we’ve failed. If we’ve made the NYT list and gotten great reviews but we haven’t received 1,000 fan letters, we’ve failed. If we’ve made the NYT list, gotten great reviews, received 1,000 fan letters, but haven’t doubled our advance on the next book, we’ve failed. We’re so geared into measuring sticks of failure that we’ve failed to appreciate our successes! One fan letter from one person who needed the message in that book and got it is success.
My point is, don’t let others define success for you. You choose what criteria you set. I have a goal for each book I write. Every one of them. If I reach that goal, I consider it a major triumph.
Example. When I wrote Acts of Honor, my goal was to let military members know what they were doing mattered, that it was appreciated, and they were not forgotten.
On Christmas morning 2000, I opened the newspaper and saw an AP photo of a soldier in Kandahar reading a copy of Acts of Honor. I knew in that moment this soldier knew what he was doing mattered and his sacrifices were appreciated. I knew because I told him in that book and there he sat reading it.
Sales have been good on that book. It’s won awards and those have been a blessing. But nothing made me feel that book had been a success more than seeing that AP photo of that soldier reading the book. And on Christmas morning, no less!
Is that book perfect? No. Is it a success? By my criteria, it certainly is.
In Lady Liberty, my goal was to raise the bar on politicians in voters’ eyes. We have lowered our standards so much so that we consider it acceptable for them to be corrupt. I don’t consider it acceptable. So I’m trying to raise the bar. When I wrote it, I wondered, “Will it be a success?” I didn’t know. But if one person read it and then expects–and demands–honesty and integrity in their elected officials, then it certainly was a success. Now that the book is out, and reviewers and readers alike have commented on the need for the type of politicians in the book—men and women of great character—I feel the book has been successful. It isn’t the sales, which have been good, or the awards, which have been a blessing; it’s the readers’ responses. Remember, reviewers are readers, too.
See what I mean? Success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Set your own criteria, and have faith that the inspiration for the book will also inspire the person intended to discover it and s/he will discover it. It will serve its purpose.
If you fear success–and many writers do and don’t realize it–then you have to understand the dynamic isn’t much different from the fear of failure. You have to look inside and determine whether this is the reason you are not satisfied with the book. It could have nothing to do with the work, but with your fear of the changes the work could create in your life.
If this is the case, know that inspiration is going to nag to death until you face that fear, so you might as well go ahead and do it.
When you have unearthed the reason for your skepticism on your ability to write the book, odds are you’ll also discover what you need to write it well enough. Not perfect, but well enough to meet its destiny.
That’s what the writer must aspire to do: not create a perfect work, but a worthy work. Worthy doesn’t demand the unattainable, only the heart to do what needs doing well.
In short, my advice is this: dig around inside yourself until you determine what is at the root of your fear in finishing this book. Then face it head on–knowing you aren’t expected to be perfect–and finish the book. Give it all you have to give. And then be content with it. No one ever gives you the desire or inspiration to do something without also making sure you have or can attain the ability to manifest it. That’s universal law.