If I’m not writing, I am thinking about my writing. I think of my characters, of my plots, of small details and literary references I could include in order to provide a better experience for my reader. I also spend a great deal of my time thinking about other writers, and how my work does not compare to theirs. This marks my insecurity as a writer.
There is a particular passage in Steinbeck’s East of Eden that I find incredible.
“He was born in fury and he lived in lightning. Tom came headlong into life. He was a giant in joy and enthusiasms. He didn’t discover the world and its people, he created them. When he read his father’s books, he was the first. He lived in a world shining and fresh and as uninspected as Eden on the sixth day. His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture, and when later the world put up fences, he plunged against the wire, and when the final stockade surrounded him, he plunged right through it and out. And as he was capable of giant joy, so did he harbor huge sorrow.”
I think what is so appealing about this section is that, syntactically, it makes a lot of sense. It is almost exactly like reading:
-came headlong into life
-was a giant in joy an enthusiasms
– didn’t discover the world and its people, but created them
and so on. Then I look at my own work and my writing does not compare to that. My structure does not seem to flow as naturally, even after a round of edits. I have known quite a few other authors who feel the same way. They find the work of these “canonical” authors to be discouraging. It can really kill motivation, to feel that your own craft is either making no progress, or not enough. Here’s a real world example.
During a group editing session, one of the contributors was a traditionally published author who had sold about 98,000 copies. He had done interviews, book tours, blog tours, etc. I had never read his work, and I had never met him before in my life, but I felt a little malice towards him.
Why? Because he had done what I had not. His prose was, admittedly, better than mine. I was ashamed that I was jealous of him, but I was. It was discouraging in the same way that reading Steinbeck is. And so, in an effort to grow as a writer, I tried to seek out a solution to my insecurity and I began writing in my journal about the subject.
I think that, because writing is such an intimate activity, it becomes “ours”. By that, I mean that we start to take possession not only of our stories and characters, but of the act of writing itself. How dare someone else write more effectively than I do. Writing is my thing, my passion, who are they to excel? Being insecure in your writing is one of the dangers of being a writer, because it leads to things like jealousy. In rare instances, jealousy can lead to you pushing yourself to become a better writer. Even then, you are feeding off of your jealousy to work. When you improve, you will fin another thing to be jealous of and let it fuel you, it will show in your work. More often than not, jealousy leads you to stop writing. Why try? Others are better.
We need to stop being jealous. Being jealous of another writer doesn’t help. The best thing we can do is be a supportive community and embrace the writing of our peers. The most important thing is the work, the art, the creation. Let that be our fuel. Do not be insecure in your writing. If it is poor, it will improve. If you have great prose, support those around you who are still practicing. And above all, encourage the act of writing.