Self-Doubt

elmoreleonardAs a writer, it makes sense for me to suffer from a particular form of tunnel vision, the kind that assures me I am a good writer and everyone wants to read what I produce. If I thought I sucked, I probably wouldn’t write at all. I’d take up croquet or idle away my spare time collecting stickers or starting a matchbook collection.

The truth is I’m a solid technical writer. I know how to construct a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, a chapter. I have a good idea about story arc. I think I handle foreshadowing pretty well. I don’t have to think about how to put the words down; they flow fairly well and generally in the correct order.

But this doesn’t mean I’m a good writer. This doesn’t mean I create compelling characters or a story you can’t put down.

The Haunted Maze did very well in November and continues to sell nicely this month, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I’ve written other books I thought were as good if not better than this one. Was it a fluke? Was it the sustained tension of Sage going through each room in the maze not knowing what he’d find next? Was it a singular alignment of the planets and stars?

I’m just going to say it: I thought this novella would bomb. I thought it would sell a handful of copies and then lay there on the sand like a fish washed onshore, gasping for breath as it died.

This is pretty much what I feel every time I release something. I expect it to fail. I expect to make no money. I expect bad reviews and snarky comments on Goodreads. I expect to be ignored by the reading public at large.

enhanced-buzz-13487-1377189851-60And that’s when I wonder if I can write at all, or if I’m only indulging in the ultimate self-serving pretentious bullshit of calling myself an author. There are millions of books available at Amazon. Why would anyone want to read mine?

Writing that touches you, that makes you feel, that nudges someone to read a book more than once… is it an accident, or is it something you can learn to write?

I classify myself as an entertaining writer. People can dependably enjoy my characters and stories, but that’s about it. There’s nothing great about them, and I want to be great. I want to write something that survives initial release and goes on to become a story that lives on in readers’ hearts. I don’t know how to do that, so how good a writer am I, anyway?

But maybe… maybe… creating a book like that is an accident and not something you can learn. Did Harper Lee know she was writing a classic when she penned To Kill a Mockingbird? That was the only book she wrote, did you know that? One book, and her name will live on forever. Did Truman Capote know he was writing a novel that would haunt people for decades when he released In Cold Blood? People still read Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. These books regularly show up on “best of” lists year after year.

If they were released today, would they have the same impact, or were they books that had to be sent forth at a certain time to become great? To strike a universal chord everyone could hear?

Do we expect too much today and possibly not appreciate enough?

So many questions, too few answers. In the meantime, I keep writing. I keep hoping I’ll discover the magic elixir that will create the perfect storm of character and story that will catapult it to the status of great. It’s what all authors dream of and few will achieve.

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About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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22 Responses to Self-Doubt

  1. Happy New Year Fen….and I loved the Haunted Maze. 😀

  2. A.M.B. says:

    I’m so glad to hear that The Haunted Maze is doing well!

    I don’t think anyone knows how to write an immortal book. It just happens, and timing is an important element. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, but who knows whether I ever would’ve read it had it been released in 2000 instead of 1960, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. It had an immediate impact then that it wouldn’t have had at a later time.

    • I was thinking the same thing, though race relations being as stressed as they are again now, something similar might have equal impact released now. Meh. Writing is a crap shoot at best. I do the best I can and keep going.

  3. Patricia says:

    I read tons. You are now elevated to one of my Must Buy writers. So, you must be writing something well!

  4. Helena Stone says:

    Please let me know as soon as you figure out what works 🙂 I haven’t even convinced myself my writing doesn’t suck yet, so I’m some distance behind you it would seem. Seriously though, I’m convinced success is at least as much due to right place, right time and right alignment of stars as it is to writing skills. In fact, based on some recent successful novels I’d say writing skills may well be the least important factor in that line-up.

    As for books that matter. For me you wrote one with Transgression. That book will forever stay with me. I will remember the story, the characters and everything that book taught me, opened my eyes to, and clarified for me long after other books I read around the same time are not even vague memories anymore.

    I think I may have said this before, and I’m well aware it doesn’t bring you any closer to widespread appreciation, but I am a fan for life. I can’t imagine you writing a story I won’t devour or characters I won’t, in one way or another, fall in love with. Please don’t stop.

    • *hug* Just what I needed to hear this morning. Thanks. 🙂

      I am immersed in Weatherboy right now, and I am contemplating the first book of a new series, but I also want to write another book about gender. Ideas keep popping into my head for setting and motivation, but I pretty much already have the MC firmly in mind.

      Time! I need more time.

  5. Jaycee Edward says:

    I adore your writing. Your characters come to life and I feel for them within the first few pages. I can’t really say that about any other author off the top of my head. I have no idea why Haunted Maze is doing so well either. While I loved the story, I agree – I’d choose Precog in Peril, Blue River or A Silence Kept over Maze. And I doubt that old classics, like To Kill A Mockingbird, would do well now. I think e-readers and self-publishing have changed the entire game and no one has really figured out how it’s played yet. One thing’s for sure – you’re not alone. Every other writer feels what you do and probably every movie producer too. Haha.

    • You’re right about publishing being different now. Until ebooks came along, I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being published, but look at me now! It’s great writers can now present their work to the public without having to go through a publisher. I’m so glad I lived long enough to see this.

  6. Kate Aaron says:

    In the spirit of scattering useless information across the world wide webz, did you know Harper Lee and Truman Capote were childhood friends? Dill in TKAM is based on Capote. My favourite book of his is Other Voices, Other Rooms, btw. Glorious Southern Gothic.

    • I didn’t know that. 🙂 I’m not surprised you did, though.

      I wonder why she never published another book. Notice I didn’t say “never wrote another book,” because I suspect she did do some writing but it never saw the light of day.

  7. ludwigcarol5 says:

    I’m not a writer nor do I want to be. It’s seems at time’s a thankless job to me. All the work that goes into writing a book seems to be lost on some. I do not know what makes one book stick out and another fade away. What I do know is that I love your work.The Haunted maze is not my favorite of your works but it is very good. And lets not forget your first YA book. Not once did you forget that you were writing for the young adult, and you nailed it. No two books are ever the same with you. You always find a way to change it up. It’s what we all love about your style of writing. I would hate to think that there would be no more new Theo Fenraven books to read. Have a good week Theo, and a most awesome 2015.

  8. Yvonne says:

    I’m glad The Haunted Maze is doing well. Transgression and A Silence kept are two of your stories that have stayed with me but I’ve really enjoyed all you’ve written so far. And I really think Precog in Peril should sell much better than it obviously does. So I’m glad to read you still have lots of ideas for future books, I look forward to each and every one of them.

  9. Van says:

    I’ve read just about every story you have written with the exception of the Haunted Maze. Thinking about my favorites – that one you wrote about them two young fellows down in Florida at the motel, that’s one I have on my list. Sorry I can’t think of the titles of your story, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them just that my O. L. D. Syndrome is kicking me pretty bad tonight. Next one is that series about the folks on the boat. My all time favorite story that you wrote was about those two young fellows Fen and AJ. The qualitiy that I think was shared by those three different tales had to do with the richness of relationships. For me those stories stand out because I truly came to care about the people that were involved, care about the relationships, care about their experiences and wanted things to go well for them. They became part of my own relationship network in that odd alchemy that happens between readers and characters created by a truly fine writer. So, my take on this is that you have that quality of a truly great writer, the capacity to to create memorable tales of people’s relationships.

    • That’s a really nice thing to hear, especially the part about AJ and Fen. Heh. I like to think I write adult characters, people you might meet at the local bar or gym, who might live on your street. Thanks for commenting.

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