The past two weeks as I’ve been on winter break, I’ve been busily developing a half-online introductory creative writing course for the college where I work. I’ve been spending a good eight hours a day working on the course for the majority of the break, and it has, unfortunately, eaten into my writing time, which I had been so excitedly waiting for as the fall quarter drew to a close. Still, developing the course has been an interesting and useful experience.
As I’ve been preparing lessons and activities to introduce students for the first time to the craft and process of creative writing, I’ve been revisiting the basics myself, which has actually been extremely helpful. I’ve been stressing the importance of revision and suggesting concrete revision methods (like retyping the entire draft or doing several small revisions, each focusing on one specific layer of the text). To help students understand the creative writing process, I’ve compiled quotes from various famous authors talking about how writing is a lot of work, how first drafts are usually terrible, and how writing is, as Ernest Hemingway put it, “a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
It isn’t exactly that I forgot these basic truths, but somewhere along the line I began holding myself to an impossibly high standard. I suppose it came from my image of my creative writing career as a ladder, which I’ve been slowly climbing up, one rung at a time. Now that I’ve signed my first book contract (my book, by the way, will be released on January 15th—the countdown begins!), I’ve been feeling this immense amount of pressure to somehow move another rung up—the next step, I guess I’ve always assumed, would be to land an agent—but not only does that next rung up the ladder still seem hopelessly out of reach, I’m afraid that I won’t even be able to remain on the current rung for long.
The result has been that I’ve been seized with a sort of debilitating fear. Or perhaps that’s too strong. I was writing for about an hour a day during the fall quarter, and the only reason I’ve hardly been writing at all during the break is because I’ve been so busy with other things (this winter break, oddly enough, has kept me busier than I usually am when school is in session). Still, I’ve felt as though my writing life has been at a standstill, and whatever work I have accomplished since I signed that book contract almost six months ago has felt, well, for lack of a better word, bad. I’ve been feeling like a very bad writer, and I’ve been worrying, I may as well say it out loud (or I should say, type it out . . . inky?), that I will never be able to produce anything as good as the stories in this one book, my first, which would also, then, inevitably be my last.
But what I realized while preparing the online lessons is that most of my final drafts are being published in my book. Which means that right now, every time I sit down to work on a short story, I’m working on a fairly early draft. It all seems like bad writing to me—and it is—but so were the early drafts of every single one of the stories in Peter Never Came. It took a lot of time, hard work, and feedback from others to get them to the point they’re at now, and just because I have a published book out there now doesn’t mean that my first drafts are suddenly going to be perfect, or that the writing process is going to get any easier or less messy.
Most of the quotes I’ve come across from successful writers indicate that writing never becomes easy. Writers never reach a point where their first drafts are solid gold; writers never become skilled enough that they no longer need feedback, or that they no longer need to spend countless hours agonizing over each new draft.
Or, to put it far more concisely and eloquently, I’ll leave you with the words of Thomas Mann, in my favorite of the quotes I came across when preparing my lessons: “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”