One of my blog-readers recently emailed me a sorry story of struggle to become published http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2009/10/true-story-of-struggling-writer.html) and it included this question: "Do you think sometimes a writer just has to admit they are a bit crap, and give up?"
Now, as someone who struggled for 21 years to hook a publisher - and “struggled” does not properly describe the grim tale of my shattered soul and shrinking self-esteem - I could be the person to answer this.
I could be glib and answer in either of two simple ways:
1. Yes. (But not you, of course, because you’re marvellous.)
2. No. (Crap gets published: you just need to find a way to get your crap published.)
But there are two main things at the heart of the question:
1. Can a not-good-enough writer become good enough to be published?
2. Can we know - and if so, how? - whether we’re good enough and therefore can we reach the point of saying, “Yes, I’m a bit crap; I’m not going to get better; so I’ll give up.”
My answer to the first would be: yes, within reason. Depends what’s wrong. You can become better (isn’t that what we should all be doing anyway?) but if you don’t have the initial base of some kind of talent or at least very-workpersonlike skills and an intuition about what word should follow the previous word, you can’t be a writer. Someone said to me once, “Anyone can learn to be a singer - we all have vocal chords.” No, actually: anyone with vocal chords can perhaps learn to sing, but not become a singer. I can sing a tune but no one’s ever going to pay to listen. Trust me.
The second question is the important one, though, isn’t it? How can we know whether we are good enough? While struggling to get published, how can we know when to give up? I eventually succeeded after 21 years of failure, so, with hindsight, I must have been right not to give up. But, apart from hindsight, why was I right to keep going?
I remember often thinking, “What if I never get published? Will I wish I’d given up and saved the heartache?” The answer was always, “No. I write because I have to. It’s what I do. One day, I will get published. Nothing else is thinkable.”
I was right, but I could have been wrong. I could still be simmering with rage and poisoned by murderous jealousy every time I heard of another debut author getting the break I thought I deserved.
Thing is, out there are countless aspiring writers who aren’t good enough, who really won’t make it, and who for their own peace and health should give up. Who are, in the words of my blog-reader, “a bit crap”.
My answer to all aspiring writers is simple: if you can give up, give up. If you can’t, you have the heart of a writer. So write. You shouldn’t have a choice. Let your readers judge whether you’re a bit crap.
© 2009 Nicola Morgan
Nicola is the author of c 90 books and is said crabbit old bat of the wonderfully addictive Help! I Need A Publisher! blog. She is about to launch her own literary consultancy, Pen2Publication.