Being a "Good Enough" Writer is a Brilliant Strategy
By Katrin Schuman
All writers are a crazy mixture of egotistical, manic, single-minded, optimistic on the one hand and sensitive, catastrophizing, scattered and pessimistic on the other - at least all the ones I know. How do we live and produce work in a world filled with such extremes? Especially now when our political and physical reality is so chaotic?
Every step of the process toward publication for writers is fraught with potholes that can potentially blow our tires. Equally, every step promises to build to a run and then we’re off, we’re speeding along, we’ve done it—we are indeed the writer genius we always knew we were destined to be.
What about the beginning of the writing journey? In our up moments, we know our book will be worthy, it will stun readers and reviewers, it will make our parents proud. We may only have the concept, and in our minds it’s brilliant.
But in our down moments, we know with equal certitude that we will fail. Miserably. We will be pedantic. No one will understand what we’re getting at. Our characters will be considered dull and stupid. Our finely wrought scenes will be thought clunky or even worse, boring.
In those moments, aren’t you just a little tempted by the idea of being “good enough” rather than brilliant? There are millions of good enough books out there that people love. Do we always have to strive for brilliance?
When you read a great book, do you feel buoyed and hopeful? Or do you feel dispirited and intimidated? This is where the magic of denial and delusion and diligence all work together to keep us tethered to our computers. We find the tiny spark of hope deep inside us and we keep going.
I’ve moved offices countless times since I started writing seriously, and each time I lug my favorite books with me. I keep them close for moments when I need inspiration, and to remind myself that excellence comes in many different forms. But we must not allow ourselves to be cowed by the idea of brilliance. Though we may seek to write brilliant books, like those precious favorite stories that changed our lives, I think sometimes it's better to strive to be good enough instead.
Sometimes we need to trick our frantic, hypersensitive brains into just getting on with it. Just trying. Doing it and seeing what happens. Try for good enough—you can build on that over time.
Katrin Schumann's second novel, This Terrible Beauty, came out in March. Her debut, The Forgotten Hours was a Washington Post and Amazon Charts Bestseller. For more information and to sign up for her newsletter, go to www.katrinschumann.com.
Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at katrinschumann.com, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.See other articles by Katrin Schumann
Categories:Books & Reading Craft Advice Grub News The Writing Life
Topics:Boston Community Editing Fiction Freelancing Genre Fiction Grub Instructor GrubStreet Lit Magazines & Journals Local Authors Novel Generator Novel Incubator Personal Essay Playwriting Poetry Politics Publishing The Novel Writer's Block