Let’s not dance around this fact: there are works I have out there, in publishing land, that I am less proud of than others. No, I will not tell you which ones. No, I will not confirm your guesses. No, it’s probably not the work you’re thinking about.
In public, you try not to denigrate your work. For one, it’s stupid to tell people, well this, it’s not my best, is it? For two, it’s stupid to tell someone who likes that work, well, you’re kind of a sucker for liking it, ain’t you? People like what they like. When they like your work, you shut your bloody mouth and say thank you, like a grateful person should when they’re getting paid to make bloody art.
But still, those works exist. Occasionally, in the company of other writers and artists, you will venture so far as to mention your fear that what you’re doing right now is shit, or that what you’ve done in the past is shit. That everything is shit, and perhaps its time to go back to…shit, whatever it is you do when you’re not being a writer.
If, indeed, you have such a thing (terrifyingly, I do not).
Once you hit the point where you’re publishing work, this fear becomes a thing. Obviously, you’re not completely crap – you’ve attained a level of competency that can get your work into publication, and reach a readership willing to pay good ducats for you’re creative outpouring.
But competence feels like failure when you’re hungry to do more than that. And the pressures of making a living as a writer – or even meeting deadlines, when you’re emerging – mean that occasionally ambition gets traded off against other things.
There is no dissonance harder to reconcile, in art, than the gap between what you’ve actually done and what you wanted to be when you started. Competence feels like failure, because it’s easier than acknowledging that you didn’t know how to do better in that time, in those circumstances.
That’s okay. That was the past. The next work is out there, waiting.