I’m at a five-way intersection. It’s midnight. My headlights are not working. There are no street lights. A few street signs point to destinations but the signs are old or have been mangled by minor accidents of the past, they are twisted and no longer point to their designated endpoint. I know where I’m going, or should I say I know where I want to be, where I want to end up, but the road there is unclear. So, here I sit, inside my vehicle with no map, no wifi, no cell service, mildly paralyzed.
This is exactly how I feel about where I am with my writing. I have two unpublished manuscripts that have been read by several reviewers, being read by several more, edited several times, tweaked and re-tweaked, and are making the rounds of publishers who accept unsolicited works. I feel good about them. I have a third in its infancy. More like the embryo stage. It’s memoir, unconventional, and at this point in the process is little more than journals full of notes and computer files of documents. So, the work awaits.
And in the meantime, I hate my writing.
I’ve recently conducted readings from my published books and I despise what I’m hearing. Those in attendance appear to be pleased enough, but I hate my words. I want to rework everything, change the sentences, rewrite the paragraphs, redo it all.
Why is this?
A few other writers say they have experienced some form of this self-hate, this self-loathing. Is it the final self-realization that you truly are a crappy writer? I’ve been told it’s just a matter of growth. You have grown as a writer and your earlier books don’t stand up to what you expect from yourself now. That sounds like a pretty good excuse, doesn’t it? Oh, I’m just better now. That’s why those books suck! This appears far too convenient of an explanation.
I sulk. I pout. I wallow in frustration. Do I keep writing? Do I keep querying with new work? Do I give it all up completely and toss those earlier books in the trash? My publishers liked them enough, right? Do they still like them? One publisher told me this aversion to your own words is not so unusual. Every writer, at some moment in time, rejects their own writing. Not uncommon for all kinds of artists, he said. His cure? Go read a successful book that is poorly written. There are plenty of them, he insisted.
Kurt Vonnegut was said to have graded his published works, giving Happy Birthday Wanda June and Slapstick Ds. The critics didn’t like these much either. And Franz Kafka famously asked a good friend to destroy all of his works after his death. Of course, the friend did not. So, knowing even the greats hated their words is supposed to bring comfort?
Sometimes I feel like I’m practicing and not really writing. So I remain at that dark intersection. My car stalled; my headlights still not working. Not sure where to turn next or how long I’ll sit here. Not sure where my writing story is going. I wait for a sign, a flicker of light, the dawn, something to show me and this old jalopy the way to go.
Maybe I should just take the bus.