Welcome to TWT 247, where we play the best hits of Toxic Writing Thoughts 24/7! The exact way you shouldn’t!
Coming up next, we have a few perennial favourites, so throw away your keyboard, embrace self-doubt or overweening arrogance or both (your choice), and, above all, don’t write for the next thirty minutes, AD FREE.
Everything I write is stupid and bad.
This charming number captures that feeling of despair when it seems like you’ll never be any good at the thing you love. Maybe that’s because you read some other writer’s genius work and know you could never put to paper anything like it. Maybe it’s because you’re stuck somewhere in your own MS. Maybe you’re in despair at the systematic injustices of the world today and wonder how someone like you — wherever you find yourself in that system — could possibly write something worth reading.
This piece persists from season to season because it’s built on truth: you will never be better at being (J. K. Rowling/the author of that awesome book you just read/your childhood favourite) than that author is. Your MS in its current state may be boring and draggy. And the world is unjust.
To get the most out of this one, forget that you’re not — shouldn’t be — trying to be the best anyone but you. That you have a story only you can tell, and even if it’s relatively privileged (or relatively not), there’s someone out there like you who might want it. Need it. And everyone’s MSs are crap before they’re done.
Everything I write is genius. (Alternative title: Everyone else is stupid and bad.)
The “Everything I write” series capitalizes on contrasts. In this companion piece — sometimes meant to be played alternating or even concurrently with the previous one! — you can really feel the frustration and denial that come with readers not receiving your work the way you think they should have. This is also easy listening for reading a commercially successful book that you find facile, boring, or pandering.
The genius of this piece is that it places all the blame for ineffective writing or lack of personal achievement on others. It captures the intermingling of secret fear and inertia that prevents writers from improving their work. Instant classic!
That popular author already wrote my story, so I might as well not try.
This despairing piece is full of soul. After all, there’s nothing closer to a writer’s heart than that story idea they’re working on. This piece captures the torment of wondering if all those drafts and revisions will be for nothing — if no one will publish a novel about vampire romance now that Twilight exists — if everyone will think you ripped off the latest Star Wars because you, too, decided to explore space-opera engineering espionage.
Truthfully, sometimes this old chestnut is nothing more than harsh reality: maybe your re-imagining of Hamlet isn’t as good as The Lion King, and seeing the latter has made you realize this wasn’t the story you ached to tell, since, if it were, you would have done it better. Dystopian YA featuring a teenage female saviour is a harder sell in this post-Hunger Games world.
Connoisseurs know that to truly appreciate this, you must forget that self-publishing exists and that all writing is worth it regardless of how many people read it. Writing is also for growth and exploration and telling ourselves the stories we need to hear. Ignore too that many great authors told and re-told familiar stories: what mattered to them and their readers was the manner of the telling and not the general progression of the plot. Instead, turn your volume up to eleven and blast this baby over a tub of your favourite ice cream!
Everything will be different when I’m finished this MS/have an agent/get published/get on the bestseller list/…
Ah, the exquisite tragedy of the moving goalpost! How what ought to be a prod to do better can transmute into an excuse to avoid improvement or the difficult emotional labour of acceptance!
What a gorgeous work we have here. It conjures the stubbornness of waiting for an arbitrary achievement in order to advance as a writer. And because this mulishness is masked by ambition — wanting to reach that achievement — the listener can deceive themselves into believing the tune is happy and productive instead of stagnating.
If you listen carefully, you can hear the subtle counterpoints of setting oneself up for a never-ending series of disappointments. Which is why you’ll want to listen to it on repeat. Forever. Without ever turning it off.
JUST TUNED IN? SIT BACK, RELAX, AND ENJOY WTT 247 THIRTY MINUTES OF AD-FREE MUSIC, WHICH IS DEFINITELY AD-FREE BECAUSE THIS DOESN’T COUNT AS AN AD EVEN THOUGH IT INTERRUPTS THE PROGRAM TO EXTOL THE VIRTUES OF SOMETHING ELSE, LIKE THIS STATION.
The genre I write/they write isn’t real writing.
Who can define which writing qualifies as valid? This breakout hit has fans among writers, critics, and English departments alike. Nobody can get enough of making it sound like you’re defining an objective hierarchy of quality while secretly merely documenting your own pre-existing tastes and bias.
The catchy chorus is such an ear worm — I am way better than them/So much better I’m not going to pretend to try/So I don’t have to risk my pride by admitting/(I’m trying and failing). That’s right: writer, beware. Don’t listen to this track if you want to get any work done, because it’ll stay in your head for hours.
Writing should be easy.
This punishing, thumping classic feels inevitable, driving repetitive lyrics: this isn’t how it should be, I should be better. It takes a discerning ear to pick out the subtle multi-voiced polyphony, and the more melodic message that pairs so nicely with the beat: ‘should be’ matters more than ‘is.’
Every writer — every creator — feels the tension between what they do accomplish and what they wanted to be able to do. If it were as easy to refine and express an idea as to think it, everyone would be a great artist. But it isn’t. And they aren’t. And the information we get about those we consider great artists tends to elide their hard work and focus on their achievements. Between them and the carefully curated social-media insights into our peers’ writing processes, it can feel as though writing is always joyful and careless, able to squeeze into any lifestyle or level of stress.
Aficionados often wonder why Writing should be easy is more popular than the B-side track Who cares how easy it was, as long as you got it written?, but it’s easy to see the latter requires more intense contemplation to appreciate. The beat of the first is so catchy, its chorus so simple, that many listeners are tempted to forget the rest of the album.
Why did their work get published when mine is better?
Sometimes, even the most ardent audiophiles need a break from sophisticated compositions. Relax your ears with this simple ditty. Harkening back to childhood favourites in tone and theme, this is the piece many turn to when the literary world seems too arbitrary and difficult.
The gatekeepers of publishing have been known to reject good stuff, true. And there are unfortunate cases where prejudice and lack of knowledge leads to publication of ignorance, or even bigotry, while editors and agents ignore marginalized voices. But writers turn to this nostalgic melody less often out of resistance to sociological problems — in its heyday, it played more often for the shamefully-resenting-others’-success crowd.
It’s the perfect “jealous colleague” piece. After all, you need some way to express how it feels that your crit partner’s piece — the one you just didn’t like and argued against chapter by chapter — is coming out in a year while yours — which speaks more directly to the soul of its genius creator — racked up another rejection email. It hurts too much to dissect how that so-called trashy bestseller appeals to readers more than your heartfelt labour of love. It hurts to examine your assumptions to see if you’re wrong, and, if you find you are, it hurts even more to learn how to change your writing and your perspective to be better.
And it’s a lot of work.
So much work.
In fact, why don’t you listen to this playlist once more from the top instead of worrying about it? But first, a word from our sponsor!
(Whatever you do, don’t) BUY INTO YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING. (So don’t) CHANGE THAT DIAL!