The Mark Blog

There Is Always An Exception

As our final review approaches this coming Sunday, I am trying to keep my anxiety fairly neat and tidy. I am avoiding, while I lie in bed at night, imagining in shockingly vivid detail the hundreds of horrible scenarios that could happen.

You know the kind of living nightmares I'm talking about. I am sitting at a table with four esteemed panel members, their heads gigantic from all the writing knowledge they hold, and I am puny, covered in sweat. Each one has a copy of my manuscript in front of them, and they stare at it in disgust, as if touching it would contaminate their writing talent. Then the verbal onslaught begins. Like target practice, each panelist takes a turn firing off criticism like bullets – the implausibility of my story, the stiff and horrid prose, the irrational characters, the shallow narrative voice, the complete failure to improve based on their guidance – until all that is left of my novel is a stack of papers riddled with holes. It’s no novel and they have wasted their time. And as is the case with most of my nightmares, I can’t think of anything to say. I can only nod in agreement.

But I really have tried to limit these thoughts so I don’t walk into the review a weeping wreck. I can’t help but wonder if great writers, like Joyce or Tolstoy or Flaubert, had their moments of doubt once they let their work be seen by the critical eye of a reader. I wonder if they feared failure or if they were so secure in their own talent and work that they knew the work was great no matter what anyone said. I wonder if those that broke the rules knew their work was good enough and that it didn’t matter that they were breaking the rules. If there is one thing I have learned over the past six months, it’s that you can’t let your work be beholden to the current dos and don’ts of literature.

I don’t know if rules are meant to be broken, but I do know that they have been broken. Regardless of what they were taught, those writers believed that the rules didn’t apply to them. They believed their work was the exception. I say this not because I think my work warrants an "exception," but because all writers want the kind of faith needed to break the rules. So late at night when the terrifying scenarios of failure threaten to take over, I remind myself that just because my work still needs improvement doesn’t mean I can’t have faith in it.

But you can still wish me luck!