Not good enough. In my secret soul, I fear there’s a grand register out there somewhere, with those words written against my name. Quite who would be keeping this register I don’t know, or why, come to that. From school days on, it’s how we judge ourselves, and others. Do we make the grade? Are we up to it? Can we cut the mustard? Why, in God’s name, does the mustard need cutting?
Part of the anxiety for me was around starting my new Guardian/University of East Anglia course. It’s an ‘advanced’ course, designed for people who have a first draft of a novel, to aid with the re-writing and editing, with the aim of getting it publication ready. Good enough to publish, in other words.
Just the thought of being on an advanced course brings me out in a cold sweat, with memories of the Great Ukulele Disaster of 2010, when I optimistically signed up for an intermediate level ukulele course, on the grounds that I already knew a few chords. I arrived to hear others chatting casually about how the ukulele made a fascinating contrast to the mandolin, which was their first love, after the guitar of course. The class were very kind and tried not to laugh too hard as I realised I was on the wrong page, several verses into ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Of course, disasters do make for entertaining stories. The Gentleman Caller is still frequently begged for the story of his disastrous sales tour of the Far East, when he arrived in Thailand expecting to install some technical equipment, only to be ushered into a conference hall full of suits expectantly awaiting his advice on their new sales strategy. And disaster is how we learn – I can give a fairly decent rendition of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’, after two years’ practice. Not ‘good enough’ to join the Ukulele Orchestra at the Albert Hall, but better.
Because I’ve realised something I’m going to try to hang onto. I have absolutely no business worrying about whether I’m good enough to be published. That’s not my decision, and beyond my control. What I can do is try to improve, to become a better writer. This course is about taking the draft of the novel I have now, and making it better.
Can I learn to write better? Only by practising, and by listening hard to more experienced writers, and by reading good books (and terrible books, for contrast). Whether that will ever make me good enough is neither here nor there.
My first feedback session is on Wednesday. I know I will get criticism that can help me refine, improve and polish my opening chapters. What’s going to be hard is hearing that criticism, behind the voice in my head shouting: ‘Not good enough!’