Here’s a stunning admission: I have no qualifications to be a writer.

That thought alone is enough to paralyze me; is reason enough to make me want to throw in the towel. I mean, why would anyone want to read what I have written? I’ve never taken a creative writing class, or a class on writing commentary, nor blogging. In fact, aside from a one-day course to brush up on business writing and grammar, it’s been almost 20 years since I took a class that was centered on writing. That was “Freshman Writing” in college; hardly advanced training.

I’m not saying that I necessarily require more training. After all, how much training does a writer need? How much did Vonnegut have before he sold his first short story? What about Eco, or Steinbeck, or Twain? More importantly, how much training would it take for me to feel better about what I write? I have a feeling that if I re-entered academia to obtain more letters behind my name I may get caught up in that world again and possibly never leave. I could lose years (I’ve lost enough already) making myself feel better about how qualified I am to write and still be no closer to finishing a major work.

I’ve read a lot of advice to writers from other writers, tips on how to stay fresh, keep in the game, not give up and so on. It’s all very inspiring, of course. But inspiration isn’t the shortfall. I have lots of inspiration, but in its shadow is the realization that I might not be qualified to write anything.

To add to that (and to some extent because of that) I’ll let you in on something else: I don’t have a lot of confidence in my writing.

Perhaps that stems from the lack of training; maybe it’s just my nature. But lingering behind every great idea I have there’s a tinge of, “these ideas are too great for your amateur skills” or, “even if you wrote it, why would anybody want to read it?” As I’ve said in an earlier post, some of my ideas are so gargantuan, so complex, so overwhelming that I’m intimidated by them, often to the point of inaction, frustration, even fear.

This is where reading the work of other writers is no help at all. After reading a book, especially one with a convoluted plot, an original and extensive setting, deep and fascinating characters, or that required volumes of research, I often put it down somberly, solidly convinced that such an accomplishment is beyond my skills, confidence, and lifestyle. It’s not a good place to be, mentally, and I try not to stay there too long. Sometimes I am more successful than others.

Don’t think that I can’t write with confidence. I can fake myself out pretty well. When the thoughts are flowing, and the images are crisp in my head; when my argument is clear and I know where to find the evidence I need to support it; when my characters are acting and speaking almost on their own and the only obstacles to finishing the sentence, scene, or story are my clumsy fingers and a keyboard that won’t do what I want it to quickly enough, those are the times that I’ve got it going on. Like He-Man grasping his sword of power, at those moments I am supreme ruler and Master of my Universe. It’s when I reread those scenes later on when the infestation of doubt starts to take hold. Maybe not on first read, or second, but at some point, while editing my stuff I start to hear myself questioning whether what I’ve written is interesting, believable, worth reading. Of course, the more time that goes by, the louder, harsher, and less forgiving that voice gets.

I recently reread my first attempt at an unfinished novel. It’s over 15 years old now and I’ll be starting over. It’s still a great idea, and the characters still interest me, but it’s crap. Poorly written, poorly executed, my skills obviously were not worthy of the idea and characters. Back to square one.

But that’s ok. I’m a better writer now. How much better remains to be seen, but I know I’m better than is was 15 years ago. What a shock, a creator who doesn’t like his work of old long since. Color me not surprised.

Luckily, I came across this fantastic bit of advice from a remarkable creator and journalist, Ira Glass.

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

A friend sent this to me out of the blue, said he had thought of me when he read it, and it could not have come at a better time. A video of the full interview that this was pulled from can be found here (thanks to “the writer underground” blog). This is great advice, and though the evil perfectionist in me expects every word I write to be mind-blowing art, the reality is that a lot of what I write is going to be crap. It’s supposed to be crap. That is what will drive me to become better. And since that’s a life goal of mine, to constantly strive to improve myself, these seem to mesh nicely. But having Ira tell me that its okay to not be fantastic right out of the gate is somewhat reassuring.

So while I am being exceptionally, if not detrimentally honest, I’ll throw out another bit of introspective truth: I seek validation.

I consider this a character flaw but, despite my best attempts to correct it for the last 20 years, it persists. I’d like it to not play as important a role in who I am, and I actually have gotten better at caring less about the opinions of others over the years. But I’d be fooling myself if I said I didn’t care what people thought. In the end, that is why I write. To share with others my thoughts and ideas, to have others receive them, think about them, and possibly even be influenced by them.

Many will argue that the act of creating is what is important, whether an audience ever beholds it is irrelevant. Sorry, but bull. I’ve tried to embrace this philosophy, I really have. It just doesn’t work. I simply don’t believe that art is art even if no one ever sees it. What’s the point of having a great idea, or creating a terrific work if it is never going to be appreciated, contemplated, or even criticized by anyone?

Back when I was still trying to market my short stories, I found that rejections (or more commonly, no responses at all) simply didn’t give me enough feedback. I wanted to know what, if anything, was wrong with my stories. No, I didn’t expect to get this feedback from the prospective journal, but still I found myself craving it. Ok fine, this story wasn’t good enough. But what the hell am I supposed to do next time that will make it good enough?

It was this search for feedback, validation, and yes even criticism that eventually led me to start writing a blog. I have no way of getting feedback on my short stories, on my attempts at novels, on my policy ideas, or my ability to write persuasively, or engagingly, or even just comprehensively. The opportunity of blogging was twofold: I had an outlet for all of my thoughts and ideas and petty ramblings, and I had an opportunity to perhaps get a little feedback into the bargain.

So, how am I doing? Is there anything here worth reading? Or should I start gathering more letters to put behind my name?

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