A couple of friends of mine have recently sold their first novels to publishers. They're both wonderful writers and I'm happy for their success ... and yet I can't silence the little voice that keeps whispering That's great for them, but what about you?
Yes. What about me?
My job title doesn't have "writer" in it anymore, but when it did, people were forever asking me when I was going to write a book, or worse, assuming that I already had written one, and when told what sort of writing I actually did, saying "Oh," with an unspoken I thought you were a REAL writer trailing behind it. And it wasn't that I didn't want to write a book, to write fiction. I did. I do. But somehow it's never worked out for me. Either I sit around wanting to write and wondering why I can't think of anything to write about, or I do think of something to write about, but then realize that the idea has no legs, or that it sounds like a great idea because I've already read it someplace else. From there, it's only a short journey to thinking that perhaps I'm a boring person with nothing to say, and then just a hop, skip and a jump to the deep, dark pit of failure and self-loathing.
Neil Gaiman once said "The ideas aren't the hard bit," but for me they're the stumbling block that stops me ever moving on. Sure, I can fool around and write little character studies and bits of dialogue, but without a story -- without an idea -- they're no different than the exercises you do in creative writing classes. They don't lead anywhere. I have a file on my computer with more than 60,000 words of writing in it, but none of it adds up to anything like the book I wish I could write, the book I'm supposed to write. And who knows if it ever will?
The thing is, though, it has to. Writing is all I have to offer; it's the only thing I know how to do. I loved theater but I gave it up because I knew I didn't have enough talent for it. I thought of teaching, but subsequent experiences with groups of kids have shown me that it's just as well I didn't pursue that either. I can't draw or paint or sing or dance; I'm not good at building things; numbers put me to sleep; I'm not an outgoing salesperson type; and even if I magically acquired the independent wealth it would take for me to quit working and be a homemaker, I'd be awful at it. Words are the only area where I have any facility at all, and if I can't use them to contribute something to the world ... well, then, I'll probably live and die without making a contribution. (Yes, I know that raising a decent human being is a contribution, but the older G gets, the more I realize how much of her is just who she is, and has little if anything to do with my mad parenting skillz.) It scares me.