Back in the days when I was first trying to attract an agent and eventually get published, it used to bug the tar out of me to hear people in my same situation say, “I started writing because I knew I could write better than everything else I was seeing on the market.” People didn’t just say it to their peers, but I’ve witnessed writers making the claim to potential agents and editors, as if that would somehow not insult the very folks who put all that sub-standard work on bookstore shelves. I mean, really, that’s such an arrogant thing to say, and certainly not true. It implies that every book the would-be-published writer ever picked up was terrible, and so far, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like anything they ever read. Some of us are pickier than others, but eventually we all find an author whose work we can admire. Announcing to all and sundry that your work is somehow better than every single writer in existence is contemptuous.
So I guess it was only a matter of time before it finally happened to me. I didn’t actually say those specific words, mind you (although when talking to a couple of friends about it, I wasn’t far off.) What happened was that while reading a book, I had a revelation. And as a result of that revelation, my writing has been cranking along faster than it has in quite some time.
You see, a week or so ago, I was reading a book. With the turn of every page, I was running into more problems – speech anachronisms, too much character backstory for characters who didn’t need it, and a lack of a clear plot. I felt exhausted at the thought of trying to finish, and no writer wants that. But when I was explaining to someone why I was about to stop reading the story, I suddenly knew…I’d been working far too hard on my own New Shiny. It’s set in an alternate United States, and I’d been so carefully researching every little thing about the time period that writing the story itself had fallen by the wayside. If the writer of that book could sell his, with all its problems, then I can write and sell mine, too.
I’m still not going to announce that I can do better than anyone else, mostly because I know exactly how hard we all work, published or not. Having trudged through half of this book, I can at least do as well as that. If mine turns out better, wonderful. The details are important, and at some point I’m going to make sure they’re all correct. But they’re not the most crucial part of what I’m trying to do. I don’t have to punish myself figuring out exactly what color the sky is at sunset in Iowa in late winter, or digging through reference books trying to learn how territorial Americans named their city streets. I can, instead, stick with writing the best story I know how, and deal with the details later on. Ever since I had this thought, I’ve been completing multiple pages every night.
It’s all about the story. Such a simple thing. I wonder why I didn’t notice it before.
*And no, I’m not going to tell you the name of the book or the author. If we happen to be together in person, sure, I’ll whisper it in your ear. I’m not willing to diss another author on the internet, which ranks up there with meanness.
**Okay, except for the writer of Thomas Covenant, because I’m still not over how much I didn’t like that character. But nobody else!