Am I good enough?
It’s a question that lingers around every aspiring writer, haunting their sleep, compromising their confidence, weakening their resolve, festering in a pit of doubt. When I’d heard that Frank Herbert had been rejected by 23 publishers before Dune was accepted, I thought to myself, “Self, I know you’ve long since passed Señor Herbert’s measly 23 rejections…looooooong since passed (but that’s neither here nor there). The simple fact of the matter is, times have changed.”
It’s true. I talk to myself. Like any good philosopher.
It’s also true that times have changed. When Jack London wrote Call of the Wild, books started at a slower pace, often using the first few chapters to set the stage. It took a few turns of the page to get the story going. But such was life in the 1920’s. The prospect of going to the neighboring city was much more of a serious undertaking than it is today. When a family went to see a play, it was often an all-day event, from getting ready to returning home. Now, it’s not the case that life in the 20’s was boring, and people were just slower to do things; it’s that activities generally took longer to accomplish, beginning-to-end. It took longer to get from point A to B; it took longer to wash and dry clothes; it took longer to heat up water for a bath; it took longer to communicate from city to city, state to state, country to country. Very few people ever thought of traveling to see the world as anything but a wild, unrealistic fantasy, because most people couldn’t (and currently can’t) afford to simply pack up and travel for 2-3 months just to take selfies in Rio de Janeiro. Life, in general, just took longer, and the style of writing represented that. Of course, writers in the 1920’s had to hook their audience, but it wasn’t necessarily from the first line that it was set, or even the first page. A reader might be hooked by the promise the setup offered, by the intrigue of a mysterious character, or by the sass of another.
But, times have changed.
We went from spending the day to go see a play or performance, to not having enough time to watch a video longer than 10 seconds. Society, like species, evolves over time, according to changes in its environment—writing perfectly reflects this. Hooks have to be impactful, shocking, powerful, set in the first line, and then again at the end of each chapter, enticing society’s fickle attention spans, coaxing readers to the end. The first chapter is exhaustingly stressful. It’s no longer a serious consideration to travel to the next city (almost all of us does it daily), and cities are far larger than they ever were. The Valley of the Sun is a massive conglomeration of cities, each bordering the next. I can travel from my house, in the Northwest Valley, to the Southwest Valley (over 68 miles) on nothing but city streets. I drive faster on highways than anyone ever dreamed of traveling in the 1920’s, and I can be in any country in the world in less time than it took to travel from Phoenix to Flagstaff. Life 100 years later is nothing if not fast! What do you want to know? Google brags about finding over 210,000,000 results on “time travel” in less than 0.65 seconds. We can talk to people across the world and see them face to face in real time. The Moon is no longer an object of wonder (we’ve actually been there), we’ve taken pictures of Pluto and sent nuclear-powered objects out of the solar system. However, what’s most impressive—we can order almost any book and have it in our hand within a matter of days, or download it in a matter of seconds! It truly is a glorious time to be alive!
It’s also an extremely competitive time to be alive. Frank Herbert was rejected 23 times, but he didn’t have the ease of email to contend with. The internet has opened the door to everyone who has ever dreamed of becoming a writer. Pitching your idea, or sending your manuscript is as easy as clicking a button, and it can be done from almost anywhere in the world. The number of submissions that agents and publishers receive today is astonishing compared to Frank Herbert’s era, and they also have to contend with the self-publishing market. I believe that becoming a published writer is more competitive now than it ever was.
So, don’t give up hope. Don’t ask yourself if you’re good enough. Keep writing, if that’s your dream, even if you can only write in your spare time, and never compare the successes of the past to the struggles of the present.
I’ll end with my favorite quote, which just so happens to be from Dune.
“A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing you to grow. Without them, it sleeps—seldom to awaken. The sleeper must awaken. ”