Douglas Adams had a name for it. In fact, it was the title of one of his books: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Sounds dreamy, right? Adams used the phrase in the service of his second detective novel featuring Dirk Gently. In the book, Adams deals with man-made gods who, no longer worshipped, have become destitute, as well as with Gently’s crippling guilt.
For me, though, the phrase aptly sums up that miserable time between two and four in the morning when your eyes fly open suddenly from a troubled sleep, you sit straight up and ask yourself, “Am I good enough?”
If you’re a writer, you know exactly what I’m talking about. All that nonsense about opening a vein and finding your muse—it’s rubbish. What really matters to a writer is Do they like me? Consider this quote from Adams’ book:
There are some people you like immediately, some whom you think you might learn to like in the fullness of time, and some that you simply want to push away from you with a sharp stick.
We all want to be that first guy, but will grudgingly settle for the second. And, God help us, we live in horror of third when it comes to our books.
It’s All Amazon’s Fault
In the world of traditional publishing, publishers actually saved you a ton of time with something called a rejection letter. It was short, painful and private. No one else in the world needed to know that you just had your kiester handed to you because you were not deemed good enough to have your words committed to paper. Over the years, you collected these things like parking tickets and continued writing till you actually produced something that a publisher would accept. You were, according to these great and powerful Wizards of Oz, good enough.
Now it’s actually worse, and it’s all Amazon’s fault. Indie publishing has made it possible to put whatever you want out there in no time at all. Never mind that the cover is cheesy and the text is filled with mistakes and sloppy prose. Never mind that you rushed to finish the last third of the book. Just hit the Publish button and you’re golden! Now the entire world can—well, not reject you, of course. No, it can do something much worse. It can ignore you. Ouch.
The Thrill of Failing
It’s precisely because I am planning to publish my new zombie novel this summer that I am plagued by thoughts of inadequacy. During the daylight hours, I go happily about my business, revising my manuscript, finalizing the book cover and experimenting with eBook formatting. But it’s at night when The Doubt hits me. And it hits hard, son, let me tell you. Sure, I’ve published a number of short stories that have gotten some lovely reviews. But this is a novel we’re talking about. It’s the majors, and I don’t know if I’m good enough.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Remember that one? I keep telling myself that I need to try this. The book, regardless of how well or poorly it’s received, will give me the courage to try another, and another. And that’s a writer’s life. You keep at it because you have no choice.
Nevertheless, failing still sucks but it’s instructive. No one ever does a post mortem on their successes—only the failures. And with failure, you pretty much have a nice blueprint of what not to do next time.
Stay the Course
So what do you do? You keep going. One thing that’s important to remember is to keep your doubts and fears from sabotaging your current efforts. Writing is something you have to work at every day. And every day, if you’re doing it correctly, you get a little better. This is what I tell myself.
Here’s a final thought. There’s nothing more thrilling than thinking you’re going to fail and succeeding wildly against all odds. That’s an experience worth having. Just make sure that whatever it is you’re slaving away ends up with a better title than Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. Come to think of it, the right title may be the key to the whole thing.