How I almost stopped writing. Forever!

I tweeted this:

I have invented many ways to torture myself. I am an expert at destroying my own self worth. In the span of one short afternoon, I can go from stellar mood to debilitating self-criticism. I am my own worst everything (enemy, critic, etc.).


I nearly began writing the list all of the things I am punishing myself for, but I deleted the first sentence and thought better of it, and wrote this paragraph instead. I was excited that I was able to work in a reference to Pushing Daisies, too — I started it with “The facts were these,” which is a line the narrator would deliver at the beginning of every murder mystery. This paragraph is better than the one I was going to write because it is not a list of everything I haven’t accomplished, which is what this paragraph was going to be when I started writing it. This one turned out better. That paragraph-that-never-was began with a Pushing Daisies reference, a show about solving murders, and would have contained all the ways in which I was going to murder my self esteem. It would have been a bloodbath!


…so what’s the point in picking out a few and hitting myself with them?

This is true for everyone who has accomplished anything, even those who have accomplished the things I want to have accomplished, also. The feeling that There Is More I Could Do haunts all creative people. I remember an interview with Chris Rock, the comedian. He is incredibly successful and influential, admired by his peers, loved by his fans. And yet he is not immune to this Ghost of Feeling Like a Failure — he looks up from his palatial estate and sees Eddie Murphy’s. He’s Chris Rock, but he’s no Eddie Murphy. The Ghost haunts even him.

My list of things I want to accomplish is very small.


More specifically, I want to publish a book of fiction. I’ve already written one, and I have sent it to agents for their consideration, which is what one does with a novel and one does not have representation. I also want to publish an essay, or even a book, about my experience with brain tumors. If I accomplish these two things (or even just one of them), I would be very happy. Note that I did not say “I would be rich” or “I would be famous” or “I would have no more problems” because none of those are true. All I would have accomplished is that I would have written a book that was published. There are also a million other little, tiny things I could accomplish that would make me feel like I had accomplished something. I am not hard to please.

I had an appointment today with my therapist, who told me to recall my most important writing teacher. That person was Miss Hofreuter, my junior high English teacher. Before her encouragement, I had never considered writing. It was something I had to do, and I never really enjoyed it. I’m not sure I enjoy it now! I feel like it’s something I should do, because I am good at it.


There is no objective measure of good writing. I can find out if I’m a good runner. I can find out if I’m a good golfer. I can find out if I’m a good cook. The proof is in the running, golfing, or pudding. There are benchmarks. What is the benchmark for good writing?

This might surprise you, but it’s not “getting published.” If bad writing never got published, I would never have considered writing anything longer than a to-do list. A great book gets me excited about good writing, but a bad book gets me excited about MY writing. I don’t know if I’m a good writer, but I know I’m better than a lot of the stuff I read from the science fiction and fantasy shelves. If you were to look at my Amazon book purchase history and compare it to my Goodreads (which lists the books I actually read), you would see that I only actually finish 1/4 of the books I start. I simply can’t finish a bad book. I don’t read very fast, so it’s a decision that reverberates down through my life for weeks. Why waste those precious weeks on bad writing?


When Twitter recently used a tweet of mine in its ad campaign at the Union Square subway station, in New York City, I didn’t get a lot of followers. A couple of people tweeted to tell me it was there, or that they agreed with the sentiment, but that was the extent of my exposure. I didn’t expect more than that. I’ve had tweets go somewhat viral before. I’ve had people more famous than me encourage other people to follow me. None of it has ever really translated into anything substantial. I say that with zero regret or surprise. I never used Twitter as anything but a place for me to write little things. I met a bunch of people I’m happy to call my friends (good ones!) but after 12 years on the service, I’m pretty comfortable in my place. My enjoyment of twitter is not diminished or enhanced by the number of followers I have or how many likes or retweets I get. All you must do is look at the popular twitterers to know that popularity is not the reward for quality.

But it was still pretty awesome to see one of my tweets printed out to super size and glued to a wall. Somebody at Twitter read what I wrote and liked it enough to make it part of their ad campaign. That’s a very long way from having a book published, but it’s a benchmark. I have to collect my benchmarks.


My partner, Shyloh, says that everybody needs a nemesis. A nemesis is not an enemy, per se, but somebody who is doing what you want to be doing. You can even be friends with your nemesis, and you probably have more than one. Who is your nemesis? Mine is a writer named Dana Schwartz.

First of all, she’s a great writer. I don’t know if my writing is any good (it depends on the day), but hers is great. She’s a journalist, a fiction writer, memoirist and podcaster. Her new podcast about royal scandals is already hugely popular. She’s written three books: a novel, a memoir, and a nonfiction. She’s also 27 years old.

I have not accomplished those things, but I would like to hit at least one of those milestones. Again, and I cannot say this often enough, the list of things I have not accomplished is infinite.


Some people would end this with a hopeful wink. Some people would list all of the people who accomplished great things in their middle age (like Susanna Clarke, who published one of my favorite books when she was 45). Some people would reassure themselves, by reassuring their audience, that life is about more than accomplishments or meeting career goals or reaching some arbitrary pinnacle. Maybe I’ll publish a book. Maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is the friends we make along the way. I want to live a life I’m proud of, and create good things, and make the lives around me better. That’s all that matters. That’s all I want.

That’s not true.

I want to publish a fucking book.

1,128 thoughts on “That Was a Close One!

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