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December 29, 2012

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall... Why Do I Think My Work Always Sucks?

Once upon a time, there was an anthology project that sucked the life out of me like some parasitic monster. It was a project that should have taken only weeks to edit and polish, but ended up taking months because it fought and writhed and simply refused to cooperate. Eventually the beast was slain, but then, like the Mummy's Curse, my bad luck continued throughout the publishing process. Files were corrupted, printers went out of business, and distributors hiked their prices for mediocre (at best) service. It appeared that the book would never see  print.

Then a magical thing happened: I decided, come Hell or high water, I would not do anything else until the book was published. Editing other projects came to a halt. Media contacts went to voicemail while I stayed on hold with a list of more than forty printers waiting for estimates. My house turned into a pig pen while I dedicated all of my attention to solving the problem that was this book.

I turned into Gollum and the anthology became My Precious.

After weeks of intense focus and determination, I reached the finish line. The book was printed, the proof was grand, and the initial print run hit the warehouse and all of the retail catalogs I had hoped it would.

Last night, I held a local launch for this book that was bittersweet. On one hand, I was happy to see the work in the hands of readers and proud for the contributors whose stories were already receiving glowing compliments. On the other hand, I hated this book with a passion so intense that the launch was almost a purgative event. The monkey was finally off of my back.

A reader and longtime supporter of my work turned out at the event and made the comment that I was "so prolific" and that he was always looking forward to what I would do next.

Prolific? Was he sure he was talking about me? I was so caught off guard by this statement that I really had no way to respond other than thanking him profusely while I tried to digest his words.

As the evening progressed, I was praised by several readers for the introduction that I had written for the book. Surely they were just being polite, right? That intro felt to me that it was shakier than a game of Jenga in its last round.

Why do artists and writers do this? I know I'm not alone when it comes to self-flagellation over my work. Some of my common lashings include:
  • This sucks. I'm ashamed to even let anyone see it.
  • If I were better at this, I'm sure I could produce more work.
  • Why do I even bother? No one is going to read this anyway.
  • I sound ridiculous. I'm not sure I even deserve publication.

And then, lo and behold, people (fans, followers, readers - call them what you will) actually enjoy what we produce. They are even moved enough to come out, meet us in person, and offer us compliments and praise for these labors.

Last night's event was strangely eye-opening. I think that being out of public view for so long had only reinforced the negative criticism that had been running through my head this past year.

What can I take away from the experience? A renewed drive to provide entertaining or educational work to an audience, an understanding that public feedback is absolutely necessary for any type of creator, and, most importantly, the knowledge that editing made me bitter, but writing makes me happy.

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