Thirty-four weeks after the second day of the new year
Dealing with uncertainty is not easy. For all of us, not just writers. We all need a sense of certainty, and we all want things to turn out well. And when it comes to our work, we want to succeed, and we wish we could know in advance that success will, in fact, arrive.
In this context, a writer’s work is quite unique. When you write a novel, you necessarily spend a long time working on it. And throughout that time, you have no idea whether it will be accepted, if readers will think that your book and your writing are good enough. When you finally publish your book, all you can do is await the readers’ verdict, which will likely take time. You can, and if you intend to continue writing you should, work on another book during that wait. And you need to accept that during that time the uncertainty won’t decrease. In fact, it will probably increase. After all, you will now have a book out there for all to see, and yet you will still have no way of knowing if your efforts will result in success. Waiting for the kind a feedback a writer needs—reviews, sales, perhaps a favorable mention—is tough. It is an uncertain wait filled with the self-doubt that tends to plague anyone who embarks on a new career and only grow as long as there is no outside validation.
A way to deal with the uncertainty and doubt gnawing at you is to speak to others, voice your doubts and concerns. Sharing your fears is not a bad thing, although if you do share them, you’d probably do well to do so with people who know you and care about you, or with other writers who are more likely to understand your concerns. But if all you want is for someone to tell you it will all be okay, that you are a good writer and are sure to succeed, what good would that do? They don’t know that you will in fact succeed, no one does. No one can tell you what will be, and you know that. Which is why these assurances won’t calm you for long, if at all. You know they’re nothing but an illusion that won’t hold, and before long you’ll be back asking for the same assurances, another dose of the illusion. And you know what, it makes sense that you would seek outside validation. But don’t you want it to be a real one, not just empty assurance?
Just like in every line of work, there are writers who are good at what they do and writers who are not. There are those who are more creative and those who find creativity more of a struggle, those who are able to express their thoughts in a way that touches their audience and those who can’t. It’s scary for writers to admit the possibility that they might not be as good as they want to be, or that perhaps they should be doing something different. Scary and terribly disappointing. But living an illusion isn’t an alternative, and bubbles burst in the most painful way. You don’t want the illusion of hearing that you’re good manifested through the words of those who have not yet had a chance to get to know your writing, your books, you. You want the reality of seeing your books being bought by readers who are looking forward to your next work. You’re afraid that you might not be good writer. But here’s the thing: you don’t know yet. And that’s the point. You don’t know yet if you’re a good writer or not. And you know what, you can’t avoid the time it will take for you to find out. And in the meantime, all you can do is hope for the good, deal with the fear of what for you is the bad, and continue doing your best to be the best writer you can. Work hard and put your work out there for readers to see, and hope that the day will come when you will find that you are one of the good ones.
Writers are unknown until the day comes when, if they are lucky enough to be good and to be recognized as such by the outside world, they’re not unknown anymore. Until that day comes, they live in their own world of self-doubt. The trick is to accept that you’ll just have to live with it, and do what it takes anyway, do your work, until real outside validation comes, not the illusion of someone giving you an empty promise that it will be all right. It’s not easy, but everyone goes through it and gets through it, and so can you.
Author and Sister’s tip for the writers among you this week, although the non-writers among you might well find a parallel in whatever it is you wish you had more certainty in: the fact is that if you want to be a published writer, then in the beginning—and that beginning just might be a prolonged one—you’re going to have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether you will succeed or not. If you’re not just doing this with the notion that you will write one book and be famous, if you’re a serious writer who wants to do this for a lifetime, then live with the uncertainty until you get a real answer to the question that is haunting you: am I good enough?