I went down to Hyde Park…

I went down to Hyde Park on Monday to have tea with Dipika Mukherjee, a writer I'd known from various online correspondences, but whom I'd never met in person. It was a lovely time (despite my taking the wrong highway going down, argh, and arriving half an hour late), and I was very glad I went. But one thing she said surprised me.

Dipika has a book of poems herself, and is hoping to publish a novel soon. She referred casually to my having done so well, in literary terms. She clearly saw me as an established writer, and expected that publishing was relatively easy for me these days.

And I was just bewildered. Because you know, ever since The Arrangement was cancelled, I've actually felt like a failed writer.

I'm more than half-convinced my editor was right about that novel, and it just wasn't good. I'm deeply dubious about my ability to write anything good again. I got three full drafts through a nonfiction book, and have it sitting on a back burner, because it's clearly not good enough to publish. I think. I started a mainstream novel, and after a chapter stopped, because it seemed too big and ambitious and intimidating.

I'm working steadily on the YA fantasy novel now, and am more than three-quarter through a solid first draft, but I'm constantly fretting that a) it's not actually any good, b) it's entertaining but not serious (whatever that means), and/or c) it's fine and will be published, and will then destroy my academic career because its existence will confirm people's suspicions that I'm not really a serious writer. I'm convinced Bodies in Motion was a fluke, and not really that good anyway. All I do is write vaguely entertaining genre fluff.

And of course, I passionately love genre fiction, especially SF/F, so at the same time I worry what people will think of my writing it, I am so excited to be writing it, finally. I'm having so much fun when I'm actually writing. But I look at some of the classic genre writing I love -- Delany and Le Guin and the like, and I despair, because my writing seems so plain and pedestrian beside their stylistic loveliness. Oh, and my writing is clichd too. Full of high fantasy prose, which I can't seem to get away from. Even newer writers, like Ben Rosenbaum and David Moles and Kelly Link -- I am passionately jealous of their prose, their ideas, their wit and sparkle.

Argh. Argh and argh and argh again.

Anyway. None of this is going to stop me writing the book or trying to publish it, I think. But Dipika's comments reminded me that most of this internal wrangling, these almost-daily fits of writerly despair, are invisible to others. Well, except for Kevin, who hears far too much of it. So I wanted to note it, for the record.

I'm impossibly ambitious -- I want to write something brilliant. And most of the time, I think most of what I write is just competent. Sigh.

2 thoughts on “I went down to Hyde Park…”

  1. “I don’t teach writing. I teach patience. Toughness. Stubbornness. The willingness to fail. I teach the life. The odd thing is most of the things that stop an inexperienced writer are so far from the truth as to be nearly beside the point. When you feel global doubt about your talent, that *is* your talent. People who have no talent don’t have any doubt.” Richard Bausch

  2. Mary Anne,

    Ah, the angst of a creative individual. As an Architect (retired) I also have faced the smoke monster of self doubt in finding design concepts during my career. We are given the gift of imagination and creativity, but in aspiring to do better every time, we sometime set goals that seem unachievable.
    In Architecture we had to remind ourselves to analyze our work to determine whether we were designing for other Architects admiration or to meet the client’s needs. Not every design can be a Frank Gehry or Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece.
    Also, as it happens, the simplest or the first inspiration is often the best. Continually reworking a concept can cause loss of interest and motivation and lead to a result that is nothing more than a body of compromises.
    Yeah, yeah, I may be talking to the choir, but work effort in most creative arts do face many similar challenges..

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