Insecure Writers, Come Sit Next to Me

I started this blog a year and a half ago, right after getting a rejection from a potential agent. She’d liked my manuscript but said I didn’t have enough of a platform to support it. At the time, I barely knew what a “platform” was, much less how to build one. My first post was about those feelings of frustration. I’d been writing for 25 years and trying to publish for five. I had been voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school, and I could imagine my former classmates snorting derisively upon seeing my life now. I’d accomplished nothing. At least, it felt like nothing.

Building a platform has turned out to be harder and more time-consuming than I ever imagined. How can I be sure I’m on the right path? How can I be sure that the path I’m on will lead to anything?

“Think about the writers you like,” my husband said when I’d come to him in despair. “What do they all have in common?”

I think he was going for “They didn’t give up,” but what I answered him with was, “Umm…they’re Jewish?”

He shrugged. “You can convert.”

I rolled my eyes. Was he serious? It doesn’t work like that. I wanted to be an Aborigine once, to escape from the soulless materialism of modern life, until I realized that you can’t become an Aborigine. You have to have been born one. I don’t know any personally, but I’m pretty sure they don’t take kindly to pasty blonde converts. It’s the same with Jewish writers, who are successful—I think—because they’ve been steeped in a culture that values art and learning.

“Even if I started right now learning everything there is to know about Judaism,” I said, “it still wouldn’t help me take over the entertainment industry.”

I think this was the point where my husband looked at me in disbelief.

I looked out the window and sighed wistfully. “They’re such an intellectual people.”

Every time I start despairing about my lack of success as a writer, this is what comes up: It’s too late. I’m behind the curve. Shouldn’t I get some kind of handicap for my small-town childhood? Like in golf? Come on, people. Level the playing field. Or the golf course or whatever.

Whenever I come upon a writer who is better connected than I am—better known and more widely read—I get a suffocating feeling. I think, There is no room for me here. Even though I have been reminded time and time again by successful writers that there is room for everyone, I still feel like I’m trying to squeeze into an overcrowded elevator. Or like I’m sitting at Happy Hour fading into the background while everyone talks over me. Eventually I just stop trying to talk and start drinking a lot.

Right now I’m panicking and ruing my choice of “Abby” for a pen name, because there’s a better-established Abby in the blogosphere. I’ve known she exists for some time, and I’ve been circling her warily, thinking about poking her with a stick to see if she bites. Abby Has Issues, and even though I haven’t read about all of her issues, I know that her issues are more interesting and compelling than my issues. And she has more than ten times the number of fans I have, which makes me afraid I’m going to get relegated to being the “other” Abby, like Black Debbie on “Sealab 2021” or Fat Neil on “Community.”

Blogger 1: Did you see that post Abby wrote?

Blogger 2: You mean Cool Abby?

Blogger 1: Yeah. Is there any other one?

Blogger 2: There’s Lame Abby.

Blogger 1: I don’t even know who that is.

Glennon Melton over at Momastery wrote a wonderful post recently about the jealousy—or more accurately, the panic—we sometimes feel when a friend or colleague experiences success. As if there were only so much happiness to go around, and she’s sucking up our share. It’s complete lunacy that human beings think this way—totally irrational—but they do. I pride myself on being a rational person, but I’ll be honest: Once, when a divorced friend announced she was getting married again, I utterly lost my shit and yelled out a communistic marriage manifesto something to the effect of, “That’s not fair! Everybody should be able to get married once before ANYBODY gets seconds!”

In her post, Glennon writes, “Scarcity is a lie, and the truth is that there is ENOUGH to go around.”

abundance-500

We bloggers spend our days wishing for, as Glennon calls it, “a bigger piece of thecosmic pie.” More publications, more likes, more comments. The stats never look good enough. Someone has “unliked” us—who is it, and why did they leave? Why are we not good enough?

Listen: No matter what we achieve, it won’t be enough. We’ll always want more.

There comes a time when we need to say to ourselves that whatever we have—whatever we are—is enough. I don’t mean we shouldn’t set goals. I think it’s admirable to strive to be eminent in one’s field. But not to be The Best. In writing, as in teaching or any other art, it’s impossible to be The Best. You can be only one presence among many. You’ll appeal to some; you won’t appeal to others. But you should trust that you have something to offer.

Someone will read what you write and laugh.

Another person will read what you write and cry with recognition.

You will make someone happy.

You will make someone feel less alone.

And for right now, that is enough.

I think success as a writer is something like success in love. Some people get lucky and some people don’t. But worrying about it doesn’t help anything. All you can do is be who you are, give the best of yourself, and, as Cool Abby wrote in her last post, “trust the timing of your life.”*

 

*I really could have used that advice when I was looking for a suitable mate, although I’m sure if someone had actually said it to me I would have screamed back, “MY OVARIES ARE DRYING UP, ASSHOLE!”

31 thoughts on “Insecure Writers, Come Sit Next to Me

  1. I thought you were “Abby Has Issues!” Just kidding.
    I sooooooooooo get this. So so so get this.
    I remember reading Plath one day and saying aloud, “NO. No. Damnfuckingson-of-a-bitch No. I will never be this good, never write like, never be this smart!!”
    After a little pity party, I thought, That’s Okay. I have my own story.
    Anyhow,
    I LOVE love love you. xxx

    1. Wouldn’t life be easier if we all just agreed we were fabulous?? Thank you for reading, Kim. I love you too. I’m happy we’re both still blogging.

  2. You are Crazy Abby if you think I’m “Cool” Abby, but thank you so much for the kind words. Trust me when I say I am a peon in the blog world who writes about everything from letters to my yoga pants and the Commandments of Grocery Shopping to depression. In other words, nothing all that exciting, and I’m constantly amazed by the talent of others around me. Sometimes I get a bit bitter, but then I remember that there’s so much to learn from everyone around me. Plus, I just like to read really good stuff 😉 Writers write, right?

  3. Yes, yes, a MILLION TIMES, YES.

    I get completely intimidated, and even worry about being accused of copying someone, that my style of humour is too like someone else.

  4. I have never heard of the “other Abby” (though I’m sure she’s fab). You are forever Cool Abby in my book!
    But I know exactly how you feel. I can barely even think of what to blog about these days. (My life? Yawn.) And I have blogger friends who are so much more successful and BETTER than I am. And I cry and whine and fuss. And then I just keep writing.
    Oh writers, why are we such an insecure bunch? I suppose if we weren’t we’d be insufferable.
    I’m going to start referring to you as Super Cool Abby. (And I’ll read anything you write!) 🙂

  5. Never give up, you’re never to old, and you’re never too gentile. John Updike, James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, James Joyce. This stuff is great and you have a distinct voice, so please keep writing.

    1. Thanks! I think the same about you! Just visited your blog this morning. Two “like”s are from me, one from Abby and one from my real secret identity.

  6. I’ve experienced that first gut reaction when discovering an author who is already insanely successful at writing the kind of stuff I want to write one day. I think, “Crap! My space is already taken. What do I do now?”

    But you’re so right. There is room for everyone. It’s easy to believe that we writers make up the whole blogosphere, social mediashpere, and the cosmos itself; but there are regular people (meaning non-writers) out there. I’m serious. In fact, I suspect they outnumber us crazy writing folk by a long shot.

    Like the quote you mentioned on my last post, “You are incomparable.” Just be yourself, truly yourself, and the people who need your story will find you. This is my mantra!

  7. This is such a wonderful post. Thank you for leading me to it, and for validating my own feelings in some ways. Now to say to you what you said to me, “You are deserving.”

  8. I’ve heard of this ‘other’ Abby, but I’ve never been to visit either of you til now. And this post made me suddenly like you very much 🙂 Especially your starred postscript *sigh*

    I getcha. And you quoted Glennon. You’re a winner 🙂

  9. ohhh, Lizzi always steals my comments! How does she know what I’m gonna say? She’s magic, that one. Watch out for her. 🙂

    This was SPOT ON and I totally hear you! Your Glennon quote actually made me feel better, as did your post. And you’re funny and made me laugh, so extra points!!!! YAY!! 🙂

  10. Um. Let’s be friends. I love this, and I also love how there’s a reasonable understanding of that squirrelly, gasping feeling I get when I come across someone/thing and think ‘oh shit, now what’, like writing is a game of musical chairs. Hurry up before the good topic/angle is gone. Ah. Crazy. 🙂

    1. Yeah. I’ve been stressed lately racking my brain for something that will get people’s attention/go viral/be sought after. And I’m tired. 🙂 Thank you for reading!

      1. No wonder! I’d like to be Freshly Pressed (hell, have a book published) someday, but if I was aiming for viral? I would never find the wherewithal to hit publish. Congratulations for getting that far. 😉

        And thank you for the follow!

  11. I love this post and could relate to it in SO many ways! I found you via Scary Mommy…..a ‘platform’ I have yet to conquer but am eyeing it up as we speak 😉 Seriously, us bloggers are total nut cases aren’t we? Great post.

    1. Hi Suzanne…Scary Mommy is a great place to start. They are amazing to work with. I took me three tries to submit something that was the right fit, but they were really encouraging and helpful. Thank you for visiting my blog! Just followed you on Twitter.

  12. Great post! I found you through Suzanne 3 Children and It – my blogging twin. For what it’s worth, I think you’re an excellent writer and I wasn’t aware of either Abby until I read this! When I was at university, I was ‘Sarah with the clothes’ (said in a negative tone of voice) as there were three Sarahs and I was seen to be the weirdo, and therefore least popular, because my clothes were different.
    It’s very true that there is always someone ‘better’ than us and more cool than us. It’s particularly dispiriting if they’re more popular yet not actually as good, but who decides what is ‘good’ and ‘cool’?

    1. Thanks so much, Sarah. I deeply appreciate the compliment! It’s enough to know that someone, anyone, is enjoying what you write.

      I did know a lot of Sarahs. Popular name for our generation, but it’s a goodie. 🙂

  13. I did read this post and laugh! Oh, there’s always someone better, isn’t there? Funnier, more eloquent, more emotive, has more readers/followers. But you’re right, as long as you enjoy writing and someone’s out there enjoying, you’re doing OK.

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