Mario Villalobos

Grab Doubt by the Balls and Kick Its Ass

In the past few years, I’ve written over a thousand pages of my novel in a couple of drafts, hundreds, possibly thousands more pages in my various journals, and over 340 pages for this blog, and I’m still afraid I’m not supposed to be a writer. I read this article today by Ryan Boudinot for The Stranger that humbled, inspired, and frightened me. In it, he said:

Occasionally my students asked me about how I got published after I got my MFA, and the answer usually disappointed them. After I received my degree in 1999, I spent seven years writing work that no one has ever read—two novels and a book’s worth of stories totaling about 1,500 final draft pages. These unread pages are my most important work because they’re where I applied what I’d learned from my workshops and the books I read, one sentence at a time. Those seven years spent in obscurity, with no attempt to share my work with anyone, were my training, and they are what allowed me to eventually write books that got published.

I’ve been writing seriously since I was about 16 years old, and I really don’t think any of my stuff is any good. I was fortunate to be accepted to the USC School of Cinematic Arts Writing for Screen & Television when I was 18, and which I graduated from when I was 22. I turn 29 in a few months, and I don’t think I’m any closer to getting published. I just don’t think I’m good enough. I’m trying — god knows I’m trying — to be the best writer I can possibly be, but part of me feels like I’m not trying hard enough. I don’t write enough or read enough or read the right books enough or a million other reasons. I can toil away for 16 hours a day every day for years and I still don’t think I’ll be good enough to be published.

I signed up yesterday to Skillshare, which is this really cool service that bills itself as a place for creators to learn from other creators. Yesterday, I devoured Susan Orleans’ — yes, that Susan Orleans — class on Creative Nonfiction: Write Truth with Style. After watching the class, I felt super excited to write. I learned some useful techniques to implement into my workflow that I’m grateful I learned. Today, however, I went through Yiyun Li’s class on Writing Character-Driven Short Stories. I felt like I was learning a lot as the class progressed, but there was a comment she made that struck a chord. I won’t mention it here because the comment itself doesn’t matter; it was how it made me feel. It made me feel worthless. It made me feel like I should find something else to do.

I shouldn’t have felt that way. The easiest thing for me to do is to go through my writing and revise it. That’s really it. Revise and rewrite, revise and rewrite, revise and rewrite. Problem solved. But then I read Ryan Boudinot’s article after that, and he seemed to pile more doubt onto my mind all I’ve been thinking about and feeling is that I’m not supposed to be a writer.

You know what, though? Fuck that. You know those stats I rattled off in the beginning? That fucking inspired me. I’ve written thousands and thousands of pages, and I know that I’m a much better writer than I was yesterday. I suck as a proofreader because I just don’t do it, but as a writer? I know I’m good enough to be published. I know I can be published. And yes, it involves trying harder. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m trying hard already, but you know what? I’m not published. So I need to try harder. I need to finish my novel, and I need to write more stories, and I need to read more fiction books and fewer non-fiction books, and I need to not quit. I need to keep fucking pushing because nobody else can do this but me. Nobody else wants this as much as I do.

I love writing because it’s the purest and best form for me to express myself. As an introvert, I don’t get much of a chance to express myself in many other areas of my life. Writing is that outlet for me, and I love it. I love telling stories, and I love getting to know characters and empathizing with them, and I love telling the truth as I see it. This is my world, and I love exploring it through writing. Doubt sucks, and it makes me question everything, but I think I need that sometimes because it only reaffirms my commitments toward doing what I think is right for me. It’s all on me. Nobody else is worried about my happiness but myself. That’s the truth, and I need to get my ass off the damn floor and do the fucking work.