Yesterday I had the most delightful task – I told the Little Bird short story contest winner that she’d won first prize. And then I contacted all of the runners-up to tell them that that Zsuzsi Gartner had picked their stories to be published in Little Bird Stories Volume 2. Yay!
They were surprised. I mean, some of these writers were really surprised.
I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again, because watching this happen to six people yesterday reminded me that we all need to hear this, and hear it often:
You will never really know if anything you’ve written is any good or not. You just won’t feel that consistent certainty about your own work.
So let go of needing to know. You have to write anyway. Even if you win a contest, you won’t know that your writing is good. Even if you get published, you won’t know that your writing is good. Even if you make the NY Times bestseller list, you won’t know that your writing is good. Even if you win an international book award, you won’t know that your writing is good.
You write because you are a writer, and of course you want to write well, so you keep working at it. You aim high, and submit your work to contests and journals and agents. You naturally look at your stories and see their flaws. The better you get, the more flaws you will see.
Fact: Not-good writers don’t look critically at their own work because they don’t have the skills to do that yet. If you are lucky enough to think that your own writing is particularly bad, you’re on the right track.
But then there’s the other side of not knowing: faith.
Deep down, there is a part of you that knows full well that you’re a good writer. If you are reading this letter, you’re reading it for good reason. You’re already here. You know you’re a good writer: just admit it.
Did that make you squirm? Try it again.
Just relax and have faith that you’re a good writer.
When you have faith, you send your imperfect stories out there, even though you know you can do better. It’s true that most of the time, your story will not win the contest. Most of the time, your story will receive a rejection letter.
Then one day your story finds a reader who loves it, claims it, and tells other people about how great it is. When that happens, you celebrate. We all do!
And then you go back to your desk and continue writing. Because that’s what you do.
p.s. Big congratulations to Frances Phillips and all of the runners-up! Little Bird Stories Volume 2 is in production now and will be available to purchase online soon. If you’re on my mailing list, I’ll send you an email to let you know when it’s ready. If you’re not: why aren’t you on my mailing list? Scroll up to the top of this page, and sign up already!
Pay attention to your writing.Show up. Write more often. Make it good.
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