Somebody recently told me I am a terrible writer and I will never be good at it. So then I had a mini existential crisis. I couldn’t write anything. I thought maybe I should just stop. Why do I do it?
I never considered myself a literary genius and would never deem to compare myself to great writers. But what makes a great writer? In English class we learn that prose full of beautiful words and images is great writing. I spent years studying English and Spanish literature analyzing books and poems. What was the author saying? What did it all really mean? What did the images represent? The writing was beautiful and sometimes the stories were interesting. But I have to admit I did and still do skip over a lot of the wordy prose to get to the content.
When I was in the fourth grade I started reading biographies of famous musicians. I read about Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Hayden. I was intrigued by their lives, where they came from, how they became who they were. My fourth grade English teacher didn’t like it. She though I should be reading Little Women. She told me I could not check out any more books until I had finished reading Little Women. Of course I read it but it was boring. Who cared about a bunch of women looking for a husband? I was nine years old.
As I got older I grew to appreciate the classics and at one point I was a voracious reader of anything and everything. When I lived in Africa if there was a book lying around, I would read it. Didn’t matter what it was. But my first love was history. Books about real people and real places.
After I had my child I stopped reading. I tried to read for a while but I kept picking up books that did not hold my interest. I read picture books, books about fantastical explorers, Harry Potter but not much else.
The truth is a lot of writing is not very good. A lot of books aren’t worth reading. They are boring or don’t make sense. I used to think I had to finish a book I started. I don’t anymore. If it doesn’t hold my interest I don’t bother.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been wowed by great prose and beautiful images. One of the reasons I like Gertrude Stein so much is the way she plays around with words. I can’t sit down and read a whole book by her but it is fun to pick one up from time to time and read a paragraph or a chapter.
Writing, like any art, is subjective. People like different genres and styles. I used to be a painter and some people liked my art and some hated it. I never cared because I always did art for myself. I never aspired to fame or fortune in that area. I went from painting to drawing to needlework. I make art because I love the creative process.
The same has been for my writing. I started out writing poetry in the seventh grade. I wrote dark poems about death and the meaning of life and the futility of it all. The tumultuous teens. It was a release that helped me muddle through. Journaling also helped me maintain my sanity and keep things in perspective. I did it for myself.
Writing my book was a difficult emotional process for me. It brought out joy, fear, disappointment, grief, and love. It was never about great writing. I hoped to convey a message and tell a story and inform.
And that is why I do it. And I will continue to do it.
Hmmm… I don’t know the context in which that comment was made, but the first thought that popped into my head was “envy”. Lots of people are “frustrated writers”, who harbour the fantasy of writing, but can’t seem to get anything down onto that page, never mind having the incredible stamina it takes to produce a book.
And then, as they say, “horses for courses”. I don’t enjoy every book I happen to pick up either. Doesn’t mean that the writer is terrible. Like you, I no longer feel guilty for giving up on a book if I’m really not enjoying it.
Anyway, keep it up 🙂
That thought crossed my mind, too.
I can’t imagine why anyone would say such a thing. We write because we are writers. This is not an objective art—its beauty is in the eyes of the beholder (or in the ears of the listener). What a dreadful experience. What a wonderful way you have chosen to rebound from it.
Damn I wasn’t finished and that went through… Keep writing. You were born to write. No one has the right to judge that or discourage you.
I had a literary agent once ask me “Who do you think you are?” because I submitted a piece printout on a dot matrix printer (yeah back in the day). He didn’t even comment on my piece. It takes all kinds. I wish you all the best. I am so angry that this happened to you. I need to let it go. Blessings to you!
I feel pretty much the same way. Although I do finish pretty much every book that I pick up. But I think that’s because I’ve become better at picking the right ones:-)
I get what you say about the existential crisis. One negative comment or review, and we’re ready to throw it all away. Why are we so focused on the negative? It takes like 10 awesome reviews and pats on the back and a book signing event at Parnassus and selling 20 books in one stroke to negate one piece of criticism I get. We totally don’t weigh the positives and negatives the same way. And besides, like you so aptly say, negative reviews often just reflect the opinions and quirks of the reviewer. It’s all subjective.
Still, I have to say I live for reviews and feedback. Making others laugh or cry is still the highest reward in writing for me.