American literary giant, Tobias Wolff, in the Guardian:
For all that, he still struggles to shake the fear that he will one day be rumbled, found out, exposed as the hubristic kid who told tall tales. “I still feel as though I’m faking it, but maybe that never goes away,” he admits, sitting outside in inclement weather by the authors’ tent. “I’m sure I disappoint my students on a daily basis. They expect me to talk about great books and big ideas, whereas a lot of the time I want to talk about baseball. My banalities are always alarmingly exposed.”
While I’m in no way intending to put myself anywhere near Wolff on an achievement level, I can really agree with his statement about faking it. Every single time I sit down to write, I feel like I’m winging it. From all the research I do to watching all the reviews come in, it still doesn’t feel real. Those poor Amazon reviews seem like a plot to expose me by those who know the Truth.
Before I was published I thought I was kidding myself, but I got lucky. Ever since the day my book came out, I felt a that someone’s going to find me out. I got my head down and put some more words onto the paper and kept on faking it all to hit that deadline. When I send that book off to my editor, I worry I’ll get the reply that to say they’ve finally worked out I’m some kind of literary fraudster. For any unpublished writers out there, the doubts will never go away, so get used to them.
What’s comforting about it is the realisation more of us are frauds than we believe. There’s solidarity to be found, brothers and sisters, even with the greats of literature.
I think that after enough experience, you can probably know if you’re written a good book. I doubt you could ever know if you’ve written a great book, though–that’s too subjective.
Possibly, but a good book is only something I feel I can decide in relevance to myself, perhaps, and not the rest of the industry.
Thank you for sharing! Very reassuring.
It is nice to know that others feel the same way. Thank you for being honest.
Although I agree with you insofar as I have no idea what is happening when I’m writing, “having no idea what [I’m/you’re] doing” is a far cry from “faking it.” A con (wo)man fakes it: he/she is knowingly trading some kind of valueless object or service on the basis that it has value. Art, however, has only possible value, and that value is determined by the buyer/consumer/viewer/&c. But what’s more important, in terms of whether or not we are faking it, is that you’re probably not actively setting out to create something worthless and make it appear valuable. You’re just a dude out making something, and seeing the results, which happen to be Win.
What’s funny is that the people who really are faking it (in my slightly-less-than-humble opinion, at least) are those who act as though they know exactly what to do: how to produce a great novel, story, painting or song or whatever. The results are usually shitty, and lots of people buy into the scheme.
And for the record, I faked this entire comment.
As an aspiring writer I seem to run into this issue all the time, to the point where I’ll abandon a piece if it seems ‘too fake.’ I always thought that publication would help tone done the ‘fakeness’ of it all, but it looks like (judging by your post) that it only gets more ‘fake.’ Oh well, I guess it’s just a burden that all writers have to carry, thanks for sharing!
Fully agree, one day I’m expecting a fan/reviewer/editor to stop me and ask why I put a paragraph or scene in a particular way and my only response will be ‘erm, seemed like a good idea and I wanted to finish so I could go play xbox’.
Having not done A level English and had no decent teaching before that, I always have the feeling that some people know why they put the words together in a certain way and when my editor finds out I’m guessing, they’ll cancel my contract… After five books I had finally got to the point where I was fairly confident about the scenes I was writing straight off, but now I’m onto the new series I’m back at bloody square one. The verbs are the doing words, right?
Ben, you’re suggesting that there are fakers who are faking faking it? Or are you just bluffing? 🙂
Tom – thanks for stopping by. That first response would stand up well as far as I’m concerned. I think I was reasonably lucky that, having worked in publishing, I could see there seemed no prescribed way of throwing down the words onto paper, but that is only a little bit of consolation…