I’m Not Good Enough

Despairing businessman with his head down resting on his arms on his desk as he contemplates the hopelessness of his position

How many times in your life have you said these words?  I hear it all the time with writers, “I’m not good enough to write a novel/short story/poem/book/screenplay/etc.” Many writers have this fear. Everyone has had this fear. If you read bios of Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck, some of their greatest classics would have never made to the publisher if they fell to this distortion of themselves.  There is the classic story of Steven King, after going through so many drafts of Carrie, throwing the manuscript into the trash, only to be rescued by his wife. Not good enough. I’m not saying writing is easy, it’s not, even for the most masterful. There will be times when you will want to throw things, goof off, check your Facebook status, but one thing you can’t do is quit.

I’m reminded of a time when I really wanted to learn how to play piano out of high school. I struggled for years. I didn’t have money for lessons, but I got myself a keyboard.  I knew chords from playing my grandfather’s electric organ, I thought how hard could it be. Playing chords is easy. Keeping the baseline with my left hand was like learning brain surgery. I practiced and started making up songs when I could play. A chance evening of boredom had me watching an infomercial on playing piano changed my life. I sat back down the next day, and things changed. I picked up playing rhythm guitar after.  I played for many years, afraid to go anywhere and afraid to play with anyone. I wrote songs. I wrote a musical. I tried my hand at just about everything except playing in front of people or with others. Cut to age 36. I started a band. Was I good enough? I was about to find out. The first person I interviewed was a lead guitarist, Ron.  Ron was much older than me and he had been playing in bars since he was thirteen and lied about his age. I picked up a lot of what he did, just by watching, hearing. We played together for some years as others in the band dropped out or moved on. I had a ball. Was I good enough? I got the greatest compliment from him when he said I wasn’t, “that bad.”  I tried. I learned. I was good enough.

The moral of the story is if you don’t try, you will never know. What if you had said that as a child learning to walk? We’ve all witnessed children learning to walk and know their first steps are tenuous at best. With repetition, we learn to walk. Learning to talk is the same way. It’s when we interact with others we begin our fears. That’s when we create our doubts that we are, “not good enough.” What is your definition of good enough?  New York Times best seller good enough?  Article in the New Yorker good enough? How about you’re worthy of your own praise good enough? Isn’t that what we are all looking for?

If you write, you are already good enough. You just have to have some faith in yourself, learn all you can, and don’t stop. Someday you will realize that you’ve always been good enough.

Goodreads’ Questions

wpid-img_20140724_122751_425.jpgBeing a Goodreads author, they’ve invited me to answer questions of my fans and dissidents. To start the ball rolling they’ve provided me with the following to shake the cobwebs:

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I try to avoid it as much as I can. I keep to my scheduled time of writing and if I’m not working on my book, I blog, I work on short stories, or plot out something I’m already working on. I have lots of ideas. Just because I’m not putting them down on paper doesn’t mean I’m working. Playing out scenarios in my head helps later when I sit down at the keyboard. Steven King says something like just suck it up and do it. You want to be professional? You have to act professional. “Sorry, boss, I don’t feel like doing that today,” will get you where? I go to a number of writing circles, and they offer that you pick a number of words you could write in a day, say 200 words. You ask yourself with the worst day you could image (dog dying, cat eats the fish, kid breaks leg, flat tire, etc.) could you write 200 words? 200?   Sure? Set that as a goal and stick to it. It exercise for the mind, and like other exercises for it to have an effect, you need to keep at it.  Write? RIGHT!

Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

I was dating a nanny I met on Match.com in 2009.  One day, we were lying in bed, and the idea came to me; what if she was working as a nanny for my estranged ex-wife, didn’t know it, and the child went missing?  I played out a number of scenarios in my head and in 2010 (she abruptly dumped me in March, and was doing the single thing at the time) I wrote in the NaMo thing and wrote a version of the book.  It’s changed many times since then (5+ drafts), but it still follows the themes about personal security on the internet, giving second chances, and everyone has baggage.

How do you get inspired to write?

I find my relationships are what inspire me to write.   Not that I write directly about them, but they sometimes provide genesis for ideas.  I try to keep a schedule to write at work over my lunch time.  I put on Mozart and let the music take me.  I can usually bang out ~1000 words in an hour, but I plan out and think about what I’m going to write before I do.

What are you currently working on?

The book is called Mariline.  I like to call it a paranormal thriller.  It’s a tri-angle between two brothers and a nanny.   The one brother, Kevin, is an ex-cop, ex-heroin addict.  The other brother, Aiden, is trying to rehabilitate Kevin.  Carol, the nanny, is dating Aiden, not knowing she’s working for Kevin’s estranged ex-wife.   Mariline is the ghost of the drowned daughter of Kevin that appears when Kevin gets out of rehab, and sets things into motion.

 What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Read and write often.  Believe in your work.   Every day is full of learning and living experiences, use them wisely.  If the work is personal to you, it will be to the reader.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

All the frequent flyer miles you rack up in your brain.  I’m out of my body so much, being other people and seeing other places, all in my mind, sometimes it feels like a vacation.   It’s fun to go away, with old friends (my characters) and make their lives miserable.  My problems don’t seem so bad after that.

Index cards

index cardsI wrote my first novel, Malaise in 2007. It was a flying by the seat of my pants book as I never charted out the chapters or even the scenes. I finished the first draft in 45 days, writing sequentially chapter after chapter. I had ideas for a second novel, Mainline, but they never materialized until 2010. I had the idea for the plot, but it was difficult to put things together. I don’t know if I read it or heard it somewhere, but the solution was index cards. I started with the plot points (things that change the direction of the story, about every one-third in the pages of the novel) and every time I had an idea for a scene, a character, a thought about the book, I would write it down on an index card. By the time I was ready to write I had over 50 cards, some like:
• Nanny is an opera singer
• Scene with baby and brother doing heroin
• Baby’s death by falling down the stairs
In 2010-2011, I took the character cards and put them in a pile and then took the scene card and started to piece together a novel. I transferred this down on an Excel spreadsheet in logical order. Foolishly I wrote chapters out of order so when I got to the second draft I had issues with continuity; some chapters never got written in the first draft. I wound up dropping chapters and moving others around. The point being I could focus on one chapter, write 1000 words for it on my lunch break, and then move on to another chapter.
Maybe they can help you organize my thoughts, as they did me.
EJ