I write an elder writer the following e-mail with the subject line I am an arrogant asshole, but I am really bad at it:
When I write I pretty much labor under a giant neon sign that reads YOU SUCK. I spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy fretting about how awful my work is. Then I have a bunch of people read it and basically say, “it’s fine,” and I wonder, how can that be? When I was a young spark, I thought that if I ever got good at this writing thing, the YOU SUCK sign would go away, yet here it remains unchanged. Today I realized why that is: I am not holding up what I write against the work of my peers in workshops. I am not even holding it up against most of the stuff that’s out on the market today. I am holding it up against Gustave fucking Flaubert. No wonder I always feel like crap! Immediately I also realized what a hilariously arrogant thing that is to do, and then I thought–wait, don’t arrogant people think that they are awesome? Yet I somehow figured out how to be arrogant while also feeling like shit all the time. You have to admit that is a display of ineptitude bordering on the magnificent.
“If there is an alarming object in this world it is a writer delighted with something he has just written. There is no worse sign.”
I am puzzled:
But, does such a writer exist? Trying to understand such a person is like trying to visualize Peace on Earth. My brain just shuts down.
She tells it like it is:
Oh, I encounter plenty of them. Except, of course, they’re not real writers. I’ve seldom met a real writer delighted with anything to do with his work. In other words, don’t stop comparing yourself to Flaubert. That’s the goal; not acing it in a workshop. And it’ll keep you nice and insecure.
I love her:
You are my new mommy.
For the record, I’d like to state that Rogert Ebert is an awesome human being, and a great writer. I still miss him on TV with Siskel (it wasn’t the same with Roeper!). They had such a fabulous bickering rapport. Here’s an outtake video of them riffing off each other:
I love the way they seamlessly slide into the announcement at the end.
Today I am going to comment on the subtitle of my blog, which is Sophomore Novel Angst. This is a new feeling that has manifested with increasing urgency over the past few months. I have, as a dutiful writer, always been angsty about my work (it’s in the Tortured Artist Handbook, or How to Get Laid if You’re Not Good-Looking*), mostly fretting about it being not good enough. In past years I have always talked myself down from the ledge by telling myself, “so what if it sucks? Who gives a shit! It’s not like it’s going to get published.” It was a nice double whammy, simultaneously reducing my anxiety level and turning my inability to get published into a comfort.
Now, I am obviously in a different position–a lucky and privileged one, but also one with higher stakes. As I am struggling to find a strong narrative voice for my next novel, my brain hums with a new brand of crippling terror: “oh shit, what if I can’t do this again? What if this book completely sucks and my editor turns it down? Or worse, my agent won’t even consider it good enough to go out on the market? FUCK!”
There is no seeming end to this sort of self-defeating freakout. It makes me yearn for a security blanket, a stick to bite down on, a heavy narcotic. I call this unfortunate condition sophomore novel angst, and it courses through my entire blood stream like an ever-duplicating virus. I have yet to find an effective coping mechanism; hopefully I will happen upon one before my brain implodes from its self-inflicted pressure. Hopefully, it will not involve Heminwayesque amounts of alcohol.
* I read some study once that claimed creative people have more sexual partners than the average person. This may mean that being creative is attractive. This may also mean that creative people are such a pain in the ass to live with that partners don’t generally stick around for long, and thus angsty artists have to find more bed pets.