Sometimes, I go through phases that make me feel like everything I write sucks. As you might imagine, this isn’t great for productivity. To top it all off, artistic self-loathing also makes it really difficult for me to accurately assess my own work. Consequently, it’s a real challenge to determine whether or not the writing in question is, in fact, abysmal. Many craft books suggest that putting your writing “in a drawer” for a few days/weeks/etc. can help you gain perspective on these things. I tend to vary the theme a bit by just putting my writing in my purse, but I’ve found that the same principles apply. In the past, here’s what tends to happen when I revisit my work after [ insert requisite amount of time here.]
1.) I discover that the piece of writing in question is so horrendous that reading it makes me feel like I’m having a stroke. This description might be a bit hyperbolic, but you get the point. There have been things that I’ve written that are utterly unusable. Sometimes, I pull my notebook out of my purse (read: satchel the size of a body bag), reread my work, and decide to not even bother revising the damn thing(s). To be fair, there have been times when I’ve come across some piece of drivel from years prior, and have actually been able to revise it into something that I feel excited about. However, these exceptions are few and far between. Over time, I’ve decided that it’s okay to write things that I can’t salvage. It’s also okay to right things that I could, feasibly, salvage, but don’t want to. Furthermore, I don’t believe that these poems/stories/letters to various superheroes are purposeless. At the very least, it clears the pipes for future, and hopefully better, ideas.
2.) I discover that the piece of writing in question isn’t as bad as I thought it was.
Let’s say my original assessment of the writing put it at the same level of badness as 1980s era Aquaman. It’s possible that taking some time away from the writing might help me realize that it’s actually only at the same level of badness as New 52 era Aquaman, which is actually pretty decent. In this case, I’m usually able to revise said piece of writing into something that I might actually send out to a journal or include in a manuscript. (Something at least on the same level of goodness as Batman:No Man’s Land era Commissioner Gordon) *Alternate Scenario: Sometimes, the writing really is as bad as I thought it was (read: Aquaman’s prosthetic hand made of enchanted lake water), but I somehow get a really great revision idea, and am able to do something with the piece, anyway. The process is basically the same, it just takes a lot more work. 🙂
3.) I discover that the piece of writing in question is actually something that I’m totally satisfied with, and I can’t figure out what my initial gripe even was
Okay, so this one is pretty rare, but it’s happened. At least twice. I think. Sometimes, my artistic-self-loathing brain is just a terrible arbiter of quality. I like this scenario because it’s a good reminder of how beautifully subjective artistic interpretation can be. My interpretation of my own work is not the only interpretation. This also serves as a reminder that another person’s interpretation of my work is not the only one that’s valid. This can be particularly helpful when dealing with rejection letters. Just because magazine X hates my poems doesn’t mean that Magazine Y won’t want to publish them.
Regardless of which of these outcomes I end up with, I never feel like my efforts are truly wasted. This is not to say that I don’t feel hacky and frustrated when my writing seems bad to me. It’s just that, creatively, bad writing is probably still better than no writing at all. I started this post yesterday, right in the middle of a stretch of artistic self-loathing, and expected to be in a similar frame of mind when I finished it today. However, I just finished writing a poem that I’m pretty fired up about. The level of goodness I’m feeling about writing this poem is comparable to the level of goodness of The Long Halloween era Batman. Nothing bad lasts forever, it would seem.
I wrote this post to share some of the less fun parts of my writing process. I know that every artist has to grapple with challenges, and going through phases when I hate everything I write is, unfortunately, one of mine. I don’t really have any eloquent, closing words, so I’ll leave you with some written by a smarter, more prolific author than I: “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” – William Faulkner