PhotobucketI received a message from a friend the other day that said he was finally writing again. He commented, “We’ll see if I end up hating it, as I have every single thing I’ve ever written before. I do hope to get over this at some point.”

Every successful writer has had to overcome that feeling. It’s an important feeling. It’s a valid feeling. And if a writer doesn’t have that feeling (at some point), I get worried.


It’s the Ira Glass principle: You have to produce a lot of crap—stuff that you know is crap—before you can produce anything good. If you haven’t watched Glass’s series on storytelling on YouTube, be sure to set aside 15 minutes to do so. It’ll be the best 15 minutes you ever spent on learning about the craft.

Glass says something critical in Part 3 that I wish every writer knew and understood:

The first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambitions, but it’s not that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer. Your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. You can tell that it’s still sort of crappy. A lot of people never get past that phase.

Most of the writers I meet are in this phase, and for much longer than a couple years. Some of us take more time to develop our skills since we may not have consistent, focused, or quality time to practice. (By the way, this is one of the reasons that creative writing programs can be useful—you have dedicated time to produce crap!)

Unfortunately, writers in the depths of this “crap phase” will often wonder if it’s worth their time to continue.

That struggle—that feeling that you’re wasting your time—is a sign that you’re probably on the right path. But most people quit, not realizing that nearly every writer who does excellent work went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, but they produced total crap.

What’s most important is that you can perceive that gap—that gap between what you know is quality and the lesser quality you achieve—and that you understand that gap is temporary. You do get better.

That’s not to say you become less critical of your work. Great writers will always be critical of their own work because they have good taste. It doesn’t get any easier, as just about every successful author will tell you.

But that’s not a reason to quit.

Photo courtesy Flickr’s *_Abhi_*


About Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.