As 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.
And 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.