The writer’s trajectory and why it’s OK to suck

With GLAZE launch a couple of weeks away, I’m starting to hear back from review readers. Their comments have all been lovely and I’ve been getting rather emotional over the whole thing. But what’s really struck me is how tentative people are when the say that GLAZE is the best thing I’ve written yet. As if they’re worried that that is somehow an insult to my previous books. When all I can think is: I should bloody well hope so!

I should bloody well hope that each book I write is better than the last. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I didn’t do a creative writing degree. I haven’t done any writing courses. And so, I’m learning on the job. And, I hope, learning fast. I push myself with each new thing I write, whether that’s a book or a short story. And I’m slowly, slowly growing in confidence. Which is exactly how I think it should be.

I’m a person who is driven by new challenges. I love the thrill of the new and I’m (maybe strangely) never happier than when doing something I suck at. Because I know, with time and effort, I’m only going to get better. It’s why I’ve had so many hobbies: karate, kick boxing, fencing, yoga, bouldering. It’s why I have Grade 1 in almost every instrument going: piano, guitar, violin, trumpet. Often, it’s when I’ve made it past this first phase – from totally sucking to not sucking so hard – that I lose interest and bounce off to something new. Which this month is dress making.

You’ll probably have heard me going on about the dress I made a couple of weeks ago (because I haven’t shut up about it). It was the first dress I’ve ever made. And I love it. I love the material. I love the length. I absolutely loved the process. People have been really lovely about that dress. But, if you look closely, you’ll see the flaws. The hemlines are wonky as all hell, the seams are fraying and I suspect the whole thing might fall apart if I sit down too quickly. But I’m going to make another dress soon. And it will be better. And the one after that better yet. I’ll challenge myself to do more complicated things, and maybe they’ll suck, but I’ll learn from the process (unless I get bored with the whole fad which, knowing me, is highly likely). But I won’t stop loving that dress.

And it’s exactly the same with my writing.

I LOVE SHIFT. So much I can hardly explain. I love the idea. I love the characters. I loved the process of writing it. But sure, if you look closely enough, you’ll see the flaws. But that’s OK. Because I’m learning on the job.

With my writing, the trajectory from sucking to not totally sucking will take me YEARS. And so, I know it’s something I’ll never get bored of.  And yet, why is it that there’s this sense that writers are somehow expected to appear fully formed?

Let’s take actors. I watched Mazes and Monsters the other day. It was Tom Hank’s first major role. And let’s be honest – it sucked. And he kinda sucked. But, there was a glimpse of something there. Some sign that he might go on to do great things. No one expects an actor’s first performance to be amazing. It’s why so many Oscar winners started out doing crappy soaps. They were learning their craft.

In every endeavour I can think of, people are given the space and opportunities to grow and learn. Apart, it seems sometimes, from writing.

And why is this? Why are people so often judged on the debuts? Why is it that debuts get so much of the attention in the press? If the first book you write is the best book you’ll ever write then, seriously, I can’t see why would you ever write another one?

I believe that GLAZE is better than SHIFT and CONTROL. But please, I stress, I love those books so hard it hurts sometimes. And I’m not saying they’re bad or that you shouldn’t buy them. Because you totally should and I think you’ll really enjoy them. All I’m saying is that stick with me, because I’m getting better. I truly hope that DELETE is better than GLAZE. And that the book I write next is better than that. And so on and so on. Because as soon as I stop growing as a writer, I’m going to give it all up and take on a new challenge. Something with an even harder learning curve. Although what that could be I can’t imagine. Mongolian Eagle Hunter? Samurai Sword Maker?

But whatever it is, I can tell you one thing, when I start out, I’m gonna suck at it. And I can’t wait.