The Tomatoes Could Be Terrible. Write Anyway.

October 20, 2014 § 18 Comments

heirloom_tomatoesI just started working as an editor. I’m freelance, so I see a lot of self-published work, some of which fits every horrible stereotype about self-publishing. But no matter how near the beginning of their craft the author is, they’re still one up on me:

They finished a book.

They didn’t wait for the Fairy MFAmother to whack them with her magic Now You May Go To The Writer Ball wand, they didn’t let their mother’s dismissals or their lack of time stop them. They followed Nora Roberts‘ (and so many other prolific big-name authors’) maxim:

Ass in chair.

For us creative nonfictioneers, it’s often not a failure of imagination or work ethic, but a fear of not measuring up that dogs our ability to finish–or even start.

Should I write about the cancer? Nah, everyone’s got a cancer memoir. What about that time we broke up? Modern Love did that last week. My dad died? Special to me, but not everyone else. Sorry, Dad.

Fear of not being interesting, fear that our experience is too common, that we have nothing to say, that no-one wants to hear it, can paralyze a writer. After all, why should anyone care?

But there are three paths to memoir: be famous, do something amazing, or write well. We can’t control the first, and the second is often dangerous or expensive. As for writing well, we don’t know until the third, fourth, or fifth draft whether or not we’ve hit the mark. Stopping–or not starting–because we’re scared we won’t measure up is like throwing away the seeds because we might be allergic to tomatoes.

At Women Writers, Women’s Books, Shanan Haislip writes,

I still wonder if my life is a bit boring for a real writer. And it’s funny how the words can silenced by simple insecurity, by doubt, by the writer’s need to measure up to something, somehow. If you let it—and this takes courage—writing always comes through the cracks.

So dig out the damn seeds and plant the tomatoes. Maybe they’ll be bitter, or misshapen, or an odd color. They still might make great marinara. You won’t know unless you plant.

Go write. Not later. Not when you’re “interesting,” not when you’re unafraid. Now.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Every day she wonders if that was the last word she had.

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§ 18 Responses to The Tomatoes Could Be Terrible. Write Anyway.

  • ushaveera68 says:

    Nice. Inspiring. Thanks for the read. 🙂 Cheers n tc.

  • Brooke says:

    Just what I needed this morning! 🙂

  • Self-doubt. The great equalizer. I feel like a broken record for all the times I have told myself and other writers the “Ass in chair” maxim. Being a member of a local writers group stimulates me with healthy competition and constant encouragement. Writing is alone work, but it’s wonderful to have people to call or text when I get stuck or frustrated or just plain scared who “get it” and know just what to say to get me back to work.

    Writing memoir has its own unique challenges. Being an avid gardener, I love your “marinara” metaphor. Thanks for giving me my needed-daily kick in the rear end.

  • Sammy D. says:

    “Every day she wonders if that’s the last word she had.” You hit the nail on the head with that sentiment. I keep thinking, “After I write the 5 posts simmering in my head, I won’t have anything else to say! My brief stint as a writer will end with a deafening silence.”

    Ironically, my best-liked narrative was a series on my wardrobe which consists of black tops, black pants and birkenstocks! A series about “nothing” and my readers reacted with gusto.

    While that encourages and surprises me, the little negative beasty voices inside persist in keeping me doubting myself. We are all in good company!

  • As someone who’s been paralyzed on the writing front lately, I needed to hear this. Thank you. 🙂

  • cjhonaker says:

    Reblogged this on Strawbabies and Chocolate Beer and commented:
    Right on so many levels!!!!

  • I had been wondering if my writing project would interest anyone. Your wonderful post has put me back on the safe ground of dealing with the process rather than worrying about the outcomes.

  • M. J. Miller says:

    Fantastic and true. After reading Michael Chabon I became so discouraged to write my own novel because his is so good and mine is likely garbage. I wrote it anyway. Editing it anyway. Will publish (after polish and more polish) anyway. There’s room for both of us in the literary universe, I think.

  • Ken Dowell says:

    You have to start from the standpoint of what’s interesting to you. And you also have to get over thinking about all the people who won’t be interested in certain things. You never really know who’s going to be in the audience until you get it out there.

  • borenbooklady says:

    Thank you! Needed to read this!

  • Debbie Weil says:

    Spot on – thank you!!

  • Thank you, I needed this just at this moment!

  • jackiesill says:

    Much needed. Thank you for the encouragement.

  • Excellent post, and excellent point of view! I could not agree more with your assessment.

    With respect to writing, I believe that employing a bit of indifference as to the outcome works wonders for me.

    There’s nothing more paralyzing than being overly-concerned about what others will think of your work. And, to be frank, your writing is not going to appeal to everyone; nor should you expect it to.

    There will always be critics, no matter how well one writes, but don’t let that stunt your creativity – just keep writing to further develop your literary acumen!

    There’s an old saying that I often apply to the negativity that one might encounter in life, and it’s just as relevant to writing as it is to living, which is: “What you think of me is none of my business.”

    And, to that I say. . .”Write-on!”

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