I wrote this out of a struggle I had, and still have. Just because I’m writing an article doesn’t mean I have it figured out. I still have to remind myself of the things I know in my head time and time again…
See, I want everything I create to be perfect; I always have. I love reading well-written books. I sometimes ‘hate’ them at the same time, because I wonder how I can ever write as well and make as big an impact with my own writing. It’s not pride issue of wanting to be better than others. Rather, it’s the desire to create stories and characters and themes that touch lives and to do it in the best way possible. If someone has done it better than me, then that means I can get better. And if I can get better, that means I wasn’t good enough.
But eventually, I realized I didn’t have to be the best.
And that it was fine.
Someone is always better
It’s a hard truth, but it’s still there. In writing, in art, in pretty much anything, there is always going to be someone better. It’s simple logic. Only one person can be ‘the best’ at something. It’s highly unlikely it is you. Even if in your old age you are hailed as one of the best at something, it’s likely you’ll only have a better picture of all you don’t know.
Art, like life, is a journey. There’s always more to learn; more to do. You can always progress and that is part of what makes life exciting—being able to look back at past works and see how much you’ve improved. Of course it can be frustrating too, there’s no denying that; like wondering how you’ll ever finish anything when you keep learning new things.
And that leads to my next point.
Just because you improve, doesn’t mean past work is horrible
Everything isn’t horrible, worse, bad and then suddenly perfect. Just because you improved doesn’t mean your past work is awful. Now, to be quite frank, some of it probably was. I mean, that’s part of writing. Many of our first stories generally end up being terrible (at least mine were). When you look back at them in later years, you either cringe or think they are hysterical, depending on your sense of humor.
But after the first rough bit of learning and steady work, you’ll have something presentable. And you’ll have readers who may enjoy it and don’t want to wait ten or twenty years until you view your style as ‘perfect’. Not to mention that perfect means different things to different people so what may not care for, someone else might love.
Just because you know you need to and will improve, doesn’t mean what you are writing right now is horrible.
Now I’m not saying you ought to just write something up, say you’ll improve, and publish a lousy work. There ought to be some sort of standard for a presentable work. That could probably take up a post of its own and I’ll not go into detail here. But you’ll want to make sure you have sound prose, good showing, and a solid story that has made it through a round or two of beta readers.
Once you are finished with a project, you’ll have to do the hardest thing of all. Let it go. You’ve done your best. You’ve poured yourself into it. You’ve edited and reedited and rewrote and edited again. Now it is time to leave it be and move on. Depending on where you are in your learning stages of writing, you may learn new things and wish you’d done something different with your story. Don’t worry about it. You’re learning and progressing. Yes, there might be a way to improve something you wrote in the past. Take those lessons and apply them to future writing. If you let your past work consume you then you’ll never progress as far as you could because you’ll be too occupied with your past to look ahead.
Don’t be so consumed in getting better that you miss what is in front of you
We all have room for improvement. We have heroes in writing, but they all have their own heroes that they put up as a standard. And their heroes have mentors and heroes of their own. It’s important to be open and continue learning, even if it means realizing something you wrote a few years back would be better if you wrote it now. At the same time, don’t get so swamped with what you could be that you miss what you are.
If you look at every project in despair, wondering why it can’t meet the standard in your head or which parts are will be horrible in a few years, you’re going to suck all the joy out of your work. You’re never going to gain excitement as you progress. Instead, you’ll fall further and further as you realize how much there is to learn. Focus on learning, but also focus on doing the absolute best you can with what you know and what you are able to do. Enjoy the progress. Create good works now even if you may improve later.
And remember, just because you started something later or it takes you longer to learn something doesn’t mean you’ve failed at it. This is something I’ve struggled with. I started serious writing later than a number of my friends, so they are as good at the age of 18 as I’m trying to be at the age of 23. There’s not a chart that says everyone needs to know particular things at a particular age or after a certain amount of time. We all have various paces, have started at various times, and have access to various resources.
Keep moving forward and keep working with what you have. You’ll get better, but that doesn’t mean you have an excuse to waste what you have now. It’s fine if you aren’t the best. It’s even fine if you aren’t perfect. Do the very best you can, keep learning, and enjoy the journey on the way.