The Monday Muse: On Amateur Hour

Welcome again, readers, to the Nerd Cactus Experience. Apologies for the lack of Shakespeare on Saturday. I promise we have not decided to cancel our weekend posts and they will both be back this week.

Now, on to the thrust of my post today. I have a friend. She is a wonderful sounding board, and is one of the kindest people I have had the privilege to meet. It is, of course, symptomatic of the Internet World in which we live that she and I have never met in person; she is a member of my writing site, and we live on opposite coasts. This being the U.S., that means a few thousand miles. Still…I consider her a friend. I also turn to her for writing advice.

Well, today she found herself the victim of the Scourge of Writers, aka Self Doubt. You see, art is never finished, only abandoned. It is never perfect. And when so much of your art is predicated upon self-critique and an editing eye, it can be hard not to look back at something you’ve written and admit that it’s totally good. You always want to change it, and you’re always worried that it wasn’t good enough; you see what you could have done to make it tighter, and keeps the tension ramped up. Oh! I should have added some more foreshadowing here! I should have gotten rid of this line of dialogue! Did I even know this character?! 

And then you read a piece, usually self-published (but certainly not always), and you’re reminded that you are so much better. If these people can get their story published, you can almost certainly get yours. The problem with this kind of realization is that it lowers the threshold of “good”. The world of publishing can be quite permissive based on the market, and of course the standards for self-publishing are nonexistent. So even if you can get published…what if you become the next example of, “If *blank* can get published, so can I?” It’s published, sure, but it’s amateur hour. And not even highly-skilled amateur hour.

And what if you see bits of yourself in that poorly written novel? What if some of those amateur moves are your amateur moves? And it takes seeing them inside something that you think is poorly written to realize that they’re poorly written when you do them, too? And then the question that inevitably pops up: can I craft a good, salable novel? We all know that Twilight–one of the Kings of “hey, that got published!”–was published, but that was in a market desperate for something to fill the Harry Potter void, so it had special circumstances. What if your novel is just plain bad?

The answer I gave my friend, who was caught in the maelstrom of such woes, was…your story will never be that bad. Even if it is now, it won’t be by the time you try to publish it. Why? Because she’s aware of her problems. Unlike the author of that awful, poorly edited, self-published novel you read on your Kindle the other day, she sees its weaknesses for weaknesses and would never attempt to publish in that state. She realizes that she has a lot to learn, and is self aware enough to understand that her stuff isn’t ready. After her crisis of self doubt, she came to the realization that it was time to go back and change some things. Her work has not reached the state where its foibles are the product of art never being perfect. There are problems there that she needs to solve. And the fact that she was able to recognize that, is willing to admit her faults as a writer (which we all have), and has surrounded herself with a community of people ready and willing to critique her stuff,  is exactly the reason why she doesn’t need to worry.

Her novel will never be used as a, “Well, if so-and-so can get published, so can you.” Why? Because she’s got herself. And she would never let her novel be reduced to a platitude.

Well, that’s it for me today. We’ll see you again on Friday with our latest recommendations for libations!



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