"Are you a bit crap?" Guest Blog by Nicola Morgan

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.


Maria said...

Great stuff!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Love this post, Nicola - although my heart always sinks when I hear 'you're only a writer if you can't give up'. I suppose, though, you are talking about giving up permanently? What about those of us who pursue more than one art form and move between them? I think the phrases 'jack of all trades' and 'dilettante' can also mean 'a bit crap' in some people's minds. Ultimately,I suppose, we've all got to just do what we do, with bucketfuls of resilience and a large dollop of hope. Well done you for those 21 years.

Caroline Green said...

I'm greatly cheered by this, because I don't seem to be able to give up. Lemming-like, I throw myself into the choppy waters of the, er, slush pile [think my metaphor might be in trouble here] and every time my heart gets broken, I think 'this has to be the last time.' But the urge to write something always creeps back and that's always followed by the urge to do something with it.
Thanks for a great post, Nicola.

Administrator said...

I think you need to define crap more closely - do you mean the actual prose? Or the ability to tell a good story?

I often try and rate myself compared to the X Factor. I mean, you can have a singer whose voice soars but has got nothing special about their personality and so there is no market for them.
YOu can gave an average singer who soars cos they are sexy and have charisma.
You can have poor singers like the current John and Edward who soar due to the pure entertainment and comedy factor.

I reckon it is all about finding an agent and publisher who 'get' your crap and see a market for it - some would call Booker nominees boring crap, some would call Jordan's books shallow crap.

Whoever you are, whatever you have publshed, there are certain people out there who will think it is crap.

Thank god there is a wide range of crap out there. I hope to one day find a home for mine:)

Helen Black said...

A lot of aspiring writers ask me when the point comes when they should give up and I think it's impossible to say.
I think it has less to do with their ability and more to do with their temperament.
If you're the sort of person who gets crushed by failure and rejection then writing is most definitely not for you.
Once published you are still open to barely warm enthusiasm by editors, bad reviews in the press, poor sales figures...it just goes on and on.
Only the tough survive and only the very tough thrive.

Nicola Morgan said...

I think the original question probably meant "unpublishable", which, as we all know is not the same as crap. Necessarily. I'd loved to have been able to define crap a bit more but I only had 500 words for the whole piece!

The questioner probably also meant "not good enough to be the writer I'd want to be." Which is interesting, and valid, I think.

What I usually mean by crap, though not necessarily for the purposes of this article, is different from "publishable". Actually, can we stop using the word crap??!! I know I started it...

I do think there's a necessary talent required for any sort of writing success. Being good enough really means being good enough to be published and read sufficiently widely and poistively within the genre you have chosen to aim for.

Some people are able to communicate perfectly in writing with their desired readership. Some people aren't. The difference defines the crapness (sorry, can't help it) or otherwise. Let's say crap can be defined as "inadequate".

Oh, and definitely I think that stopping temporarily does not count as giving up. I gave up temporarily several times, but in my heart I never stopped. I just sometimes stopped my fingers tapping on the keyboard, while I regatered by strength,

Geraldine Ryan said...

Great post. When the going gets tough the tough get ear muffs so they can block out their inner critic and the voices of agents telling them to go away.

Administrator said...

I think it is valid, the comment about being as good as you want to be.

I would have jumped at any offer for my first book, i thought i was so clever just to have written a novel - but since then have certainly refined my own crapometer and am very glad now that some of my work hasn't been published.

Great post, Nicola.

Essie Fox said...

Thank you, Nicola - inspiring as ever. I shall battle on...


Rosy Thornton said...

I agree - a really useful post! Some great realism about the frustrations of publishing - but also a wonderful inspiration to keep at it. After every m/s is rejected I swear Ilm going to give up, or at least take a lengthy break. It usually lasts about a week before my fingers get itchy to be back on the keyboard!

Anonymous said...

Good on you, Nicola. Giving up is such a personal thing, and I think you defined those parameters very simply and clearly. From where I sit, I hope writers never give up!

Nicola Morgan said...

Well done, everyone, for realising that "gatered" is a new [very new] Scottish word for "gathered". Either that or my fingers are very cold.

Anonymous said...


This is a great post and an interesting question. I suppose, like with anything, you have to watch the indicators i.e. do you often get feedback from your submissions? I hear that agents don't give feedback or encouragement if they don't think you're worth it, but there's no real way to prove that.
Sometimes, you need to revisit old works to find out if you have improved, and how, and probably why. We often say it, but it usually all boils down to confidence. Doubting your own abilities is only going to erode that confidence. Thinking you're crap will utterly destroy it. Being a writer who craves publication means being bloody-minded and persistent, but not to the point where we can't recognise our faults. It's a fine balancing act and I don't advise anyone going to a either extreme. Finally, I would always write, even if I couldn't get published, but maybe the dream to get published would fade with time. At least the need to put myself under such great pressure to achieve that goal. One of the greatest pieces of writing advice I've ever recieved was 'Enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, it'll show on the page.'
It follows that some writers ought to relax and focus on rediscovering the joy of the craft instead of putting the drive toward publication first, because that's when it appears to become - and quickly - an unpleasant pursuit. That's my two pennies worth.


Administrator said...

Hmm, sound advice, JB. It's the old question though, of whether one's self-confidence is actually delusion, and i the only way to find out is to get your work 'out there' - ie not give it to your family:) but present it to writing groups and agents for their response.

I seem to veer from thinking i'm utterly brilliant to utterly crap. It's black or white depending on my mood and my latest rejection.

Writing is definitely not for the faint-hearted. I just try to remind myself that i am lucky to have discovered this pursuit and that there could be a lot worse ways to spend my time.

What was i heard/read somewhere yesterday?:

Make it a profession, not a mission.

Administrator said...

This keyboard is driving me mad - letters keep not working...

Caroline Green said...

'I seem to veer from thinking i'm utterly brilliant to utterly crap. It's black or white depending on my mood and my latest rejection.'

Oh me too. I think that's really common.

Nicola Morgan said...

Sam - could it be that your keyboard is a bit crap??

By the way, veering between thinking you're brilliant to utter crap a) is a necessary state of flux for a serious writer and b) gets worse when you're published! I think the extremes are less, because on the one hand I know damn well I'm not brilliant but I also, I guess, know that I'm not entirely crap. But I certainly sit on the negative side of the middle most of the time, and it feels so public too. My problem is that after so long being unpublished I now keep wondering if maybe all the people who rejected me were right and I'm crap after all. (btw, this is NOT fishing - please do not tell me I'm brilliant, really. Really. I'm just talking about those dark hours and doubts that i think we all have to have if we're not to end up poisonously arrogant.)

Nicola Morgan said...

Caroline G was writing that at the same time as me! I'm not copying, honest. (That would be really crap)

Administrator said...

LOL, Nicola!

My daughter's been reading one of your books from her library pile this week. I keep parading it around the lounge announcing to anyone who'll listen (cat included) that we're best friends. Ahem.