Last week, I rediscovered an old story.
It was a piece of fanfiction I wrote over 12 years ago and had been immensely proud of, featuring a protagonist who mysteriously looked and spoke exactly like me. She even owned my favourite t-shirt!
I settled down for an excited re-read. Then I spent twenty minutes wondering what drugs convinced my younger self that this was good writing.
Eventually the realisation hit me: this story wasn’t merely good, it was brilliant.
I’ll tell you why in a minute.
As I’ve mentioned before, my own expectations have blocked my writing. I’d decided that my current project would be traditionally published. I even had an agent who wanted to look over the finished manuscript. So the pressure mounted. I missed deadline after deadline. And now it’s too late.
Ultimately I’ve lost what could have been an amazing opportunity, and I have no one to blame but myself.
Which brings me back to my terrible fanfiction, and why that cringe-worthy story is, in fact, BRILLIANT.
You see, writing is like climbing a mountain. At the very summit are your Neil Gaimans and Frank Herberts, sipping mojitos in the brilliant sunshine. I’m somewhere along the twisting, turning crags, toiling in the shadows.
My endless expectations mean I spend most of my time looking upwards. All I want is to wrap my fingers around a mojito, but the summit is distant. Unreachable. Disheartening.
That horrible fanfiction made me stop and realise how much I’ve already accomplished.
The pressure of my own expectations can also be a force for good. It pushes me to improve. I might not be sipping mojitos any time soon, but I’m a damn sight closer than I was 12 years ago.
This experience has taught me that I might never be as good as I want to be — and I have to be okay with that.
So I’m faced with a choice:
Keep writing stuff I’m not 100% happy with, and in another 12 years have even more stories to shudder over.
Write nothing at all, and let the mountain defeat me.
It’s a non-choice, really.
Maybe I’ll never be the next Neil Gaiman. But if I keep writing, there’s a 0.01% chance that I’ll find myself sipping mojitos on that mountaintop.
And who doesn’t like a good mojito?