Writing Theory #1 – Be realistic, you’re not Hemingway

This is the first of what I plan to be a series of blog posts all about my own personal theory on writing.

There’s no reason to listen to a single word I say. I’m a far cry from a world renowned author. I’ve never won any major literary awards. I’ve never won any minor literary awards. I’ve never been on a best seller list. There’s probably less than 50 people in the world that actually know I’m a writer. Even less have actually read one of my stories.

But here’s what I have done:

  • I first started writing seriously in 2004 when I began working on my first novel.
  • I’ve written 5 novel length works. One was published, another I’m in the process of self-publishing, another is in the process of being rejected by literary agents, and the other two will never see the light of day.
  • In between all of those novels, I have written several short stories and poems.
  • In my day job I’ve written countless upon countless emails and reports, many sent out to very wide audiences of important head honcho types – and while you may think that doesn’t count for squat, believe me, it does.

In that time, I have grown leaps and bounds as a writer. I’ve made mistakes and have had successes, and I know I still have a long way to go. I don’t think you really ever stop learning as a writer, as in any other discipline you wish to master. The writing theory I’m going to present in this post and posts to come is based purely on my own experiences, and in all likelihood will differ greatly from your own ideas of how best to go about getting the arduous but rewarding business of writing done. It occurs to me that much of this advice might just need to be learned in your own time, that no amount of preaching can make it sink in until there’s the hard-earned experience to show for it. But part of me does hope that some of what I have to say might save someone out there a little time, and perhaps a few stumbles along the way. Or at the very least, spark some interesting debate.

Writing Theory #1 – Be realistic, you’re not Hemingway

This is probably the most difficult hurdle I’ve had to get over. It’s the one I struggled with most, and still do to this day. As a writer, there’s the constant pressure to compare yourself to any world famous author – more than likely those authors who inspired you to get into writing in the first place. No matter what it is you’re doing in life, there’s the notion that you need to measure yourself against those who have already succeeded in the field in order to see how you stack up – to see if you’re truly “successful”.

measuring success

Are you where you should be? How old was Hemingway when he published his first novel? Does this sentence sound like something Dickens would have written?

Like I said, these kinds of thoughts still run through my mind today when I sit down to work on a story. It takes everything within me to tell them to go the hell away. Of course, it’s a dream of mine to write something that will stand the test of time. But honestly, if you go into a project with that line of thinking you’re probably going to spend a whole lot time staring at a blank page and a blinking cursor accomplishing nothing.

It’s too much pressure. Who gives a shit if what you’re writing isn’t on the level of “the greats”? Here’s the hard truth: you’re not the next Hemingway or Dickens. I’m not saying you’re not a good writer. With enough practice and determination, anyone can be. What I’m saying is: there’s far more Dan Browns in the world than John Steinbecks. Don’t take that as a knock against Dan Brown either. He’s one of the bestselling authors in the world today, and I’m not ashamed to admit I own and have read most of his novels.

The point of all this is that if you are going to be on the level of the greats someday, then only time is going to tell, and fretting over it is only going to kill your productivity and likely drive you insane (which I admit, insanity could be a prerequisite for genius). Just write for the sheer joy of writing. Some of it will be good, and some of it will be utter crap. Who cares? If you’re doing it because you love it, then what does it matter how anyone else judges it?

Someday authors might be measuring themselves against you, but let that be their problem, not yours.

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