I’m not sure if this is a common fear among writers who are just starting out, or whether it’s just neurosis on my part (and I am always completely willing to accept the latter possibility) But when you write something, and it’s well-received – far better received than you were ever expecting it to be – beneath that wave of euphoria, there’s this nagging little voice that says “but what if you can never write anything that good again?”
I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with being a one-hit wonder, really: you made something, people liked it a lot, and that’s not a bad legacy to have, whether you’re a musician or a writer or any other type of creative. And it’s also true for many writers – myself included – that writing for ourselves (i.e ‘getting the ideas out of my head and onto paper in a vaguely pleasing fashion’) is the primary goal, as opposed to writing for the sake of popularity. I don’t write with the intention of wowing people, although if that happens I’m not about to pretend I’m not pleased about it. I suppose people liking your work is often a happy accident, an unintentional meeting of minds in which you and the reader manage to forge some kind of connection through fiction.
And yet, the fear still plagues me. What if I can never match what I’ve already achieved? I’m 28, hardly on the brink of retirement. It’s somewhat frightening to consider that I might already have peaked as a writer. It’s also a slightly ridiculous fear, because evidence and experience shows that most writers don’t really hit their peak until much later in their career – which is to be expected. The more we write, the more we learn. The more we learn, the better our craft will become. Approaching the business of writing with an open mind and a willingness to absorb the lessons that come of it is healthy, I think, even if you are principally writing for yourself. The joy of looking at something you’ve written and knowing that it is exactly what you wanted it to be is a unique feeling – something a bit like pride, I suppose, but not exactly. And I think that’s the goal in the end. Does my writing say what I want it to say? Are the stories on the page true to the ones in my mind? Did I learn something in the process? It probably sounds trite because professional writing is largely about whether or not readers enjoy what you create, but I’m trying to avoid a mindset in which everything I create is to please others, because then I really will spend all my time floating in a bubble of people-pleasing anxiety. If people like the things I write in spite of that, then that’s something quite special.