For every good writing day, I have 20 bad ones. A good writing day is one in which I feel inspired to make progress on a piece. But that doesn’t ensure that I will be able to finish it or feel satisfied if I do. It doesn’t mean that I will think I did a good piece of work or that I will be able to trust that judgment over time. All I know after a good day is that I felt good. All I know on those other days is that I felt frustrated, uninspired, and aggrieved whether or not I produced pages, whether or not I think (or will think) that those pages are worthwhile.
Optimal conditions rarely exist for creative work. There is always something getting in the way, some defect of body, mind, or circumstances that conspires to obstruct progress and generate despair and self-doubt. The only answer is to keep writing, to admit that I can and will generate unsatisfying work, to avoid wondering about my talent, and to just get on with things. As my trombonist friend, Mike Hickey, once said about being a musician: just keep playing.
Just keep writing.
No one feels they have talent all the time. In fact, most people feel the way I do: it’s hit and miss, always a struggle, always an emotional upheaval. If literary geniuses really do exist outside the marketing generated by a hypocritical and terrified publishing industry, they would, by definition, be critical of themselves. History confirms that creative work is hard, even for the most famous and memorable writers. And it can’t be genius to believe it’s always easy or that your talent will confer all the pleasures and none of the agonies.
Just keep writing.
I tell myself to forget the people who have advised me not to give up my day job; they don’t know and can’t judge. Forget the family members and acquaintances who wanted me to reflect their own lack of talent and resented me for trying to develop my own; they can only see disappointing reflections of themselves. Forget the graduate school competitors, the half-starved adjunct professors, the depressed self-diagnosed creative failures, the cynical postmodernists declaring everything already over; they’re all too emotional. They’re like sick dogs. And sick dogs don’t typically write fiction. Don’t be a romantic. Be methodical. Cultivate a classical mind. Stay dedicated to the work and just keep writing because all these feelings and emotional people will disappear.
The only thing left will be the words I’ve written down. Whether there are many words or just a few is irrelevant. The point will be that I wrote them and kept writing them. In the end, that’s all I will have because the books will get put away on a shelf or recycled or lost. The computer files will get forgotten or deleted. What I wrote will be no better than a half-remembered dream. Just as what I intend to write is nothing more than a flimsy possibility. A trombonist is nothing without his trombone in his hand. If he keeps playing, he’s a trombonist.
Nothing exists except for this moment and what I do in it. So if I call myself a writer, I have one job.