When Working Hard isn’t Good Enough

(c) qisur (Creative Commons - Flickr)

(c) qisur (Creative Commons – Flickr)

I've always been a believer in the concept that hard work brings about good things, be it monetary success, satisfaction, or general improvement of one's circumstances.

It simply isn't true.

Sometimes, no matter how hard one works, it doesn't bring about the results needed or desired. Sometimes it is a matter of circumstances. Sometimes it is a matter outside of one's control. Sometimes it is something else entirely.

Sometimes working hard simply mitigates the damage.

Working hard is supposed to be a miracle fix, something that guarantees quality, a solid chance at a career, or whatever your personal goals happen to be at any given point in time. Working hard is the knee-jerk piece of advice given for most circumstances.

Your job isn't going well? Work harder! You don't earn enough to pay your bills? Work harder! There are errors in your novel? Work harder! Your kids are running wild and causing problems? Work harder! You don't fit society's standards of normality? Work harder!

In the novel writing world, there are several vicious realities I've had to face.

  1. No matter how hard you try, it won't be good enough.
  2. Even if you pay good editors good money, there is still a chance it won't be good enough.

There are other points I could add to this list, but it boils down to ‘that wasn't good enough, do better next book.'

I've spoken about depression before. I suffer from a milder form of it. (Mild still sucks.) I've always approached my depression and my work with the work harder mentality, as though this was the magical cure for all of my problems.

I'm far from perfect. I'm really, really far from perfect. I came to literacy late in the game, without the solid foundation many other authors enjoy. I've tried to make up for my lack of background with hard work, but the reality is depressing. It's not good enough.

I want to tell good stories people will enjoy. I want to tell the types of stories I enjoy reading. I want to entertain. I want to let people step out of their own world for a little while and invite them to mine.

I want people to buy a copy of one of my stories and come away with something.

I sit down at my computer and I work hard. I spend tens upon tens upon tens hours writing, reading, rereading, correcting, fixing, proofing, writing, fixing, reading, rereading, correcting…

The unfortunate reality?

It's just not good enough.

From my very first novel right up to Blood Diamond, which will be released as soon as I have cover art, there's been one simple–and painful–fact.

All of my novels have had substantial editorial done on them. On average, I've paid rough $1,000 on copy and proofing editorial alone per book. When I get the notes back from my editors, I read, reread, correct, and work on my novel for tens upon tens upon tens of hours.

It's just not good enough.

Working hard guarantees nothing. It doesn't even ensure a level playing field. It doesn't actually give you anything, really. Yes, I work hard. I struggle and fight to try to write a story people will enjoy. When I find an error, I fix it. I upload the fixed copies to amazon as soon as I can.

Yet, for every error I fix, there are three more waiting, lurking in the pages.

I average anywhere between 3-5 editors on a project, and there are still mistakes. Sometimes it is a stupid error. Sometimes it's something that myself plus 3-5 other people just missed.

Ultimately, no matter how many editors I bring into a project, I am the one responsible for the words in my book.

I've learned a lot from my first novel, but I've also learned that settling for improvement each and every book just isn't good enough. I don't want to be ‘good enough.'

I want to be the best I can be, and I want that to happen now. But it won't–it hasn't. It may never happen.

Working harder doesn't replace talent. It doesn't replace skill. It doesn't replace knowledge. It doesn't substitute the synergistic relationship between talent and skill.

Working harder is as much of a trap as it is a necessity for success. Yes, those who do succeed have worked hard.

But it's never a guarantee. I think our society has settled into a pattern of expectation, clinging to the belief that hard work is a guarantee. If you haven't achieved your goal, it is because you're lazy. It is because you simply aren't talented or good enough. If you haven't gotten to where you think you should be through hard work, you're a failure.

There is the belief that we are owed something if we work hard.

That simply isn't true.

I work hard, but that doesn't mean my books are as good as they should be–or could be. I hire editors. I rely on them to help me correct my book.

But it's ultimately not enough.

I have been told by people I know, in real life and on the internet, that they're amazed by how hard I work, how dedicated I am to writing, and things of that nature. Every single time I hear this, I feel like a fraud. I put in a lot of hours each day, but the results simply aren't what I want.

Working hard hasn't gotten me through the glass ceiling, putting my work on the level I want it to be. I've always wondered why this is the case. Why is it that I work so hard, yet I can't quite seem to leap over the obstacles preventing me from writing a truly good book?

I've always been about working hard. I always will be. No one is going to hand me anything on a silver platter. That's just life. That's reality. I'm not going to earn anything if I don't try and put in the effort.

There are no handouts in life–at least, not for me.

I have always promoted the use of editors in fiction writing. Editors help writers make their stories better.

Ultimately, however, writers are responsible for themselves and their books. Editors help, but they are not the ones responsible for the final product. You, the author, are.

I am.

I work hard, but I think I've worked hard believing other people would help make my final product perfect. I need to work hard, but instead of relying on the crutch of my editors fixing my stupid mistakes, I need to sit down, shut the fuck up, and make sure I'm working hard to fix them on my own.

I'll still get help, because I need it. But, maybe this time, working hard will let me get closer to good enough.

Too bad good enough is a sliding goal, one that seems to stay just outside of reach.


Leave a Comment:

Tom Stiveson says June 21, 2015

Greetings R.J.,

Have you considered Plan B?

In the business world a business plan is considered a very important tool of the trade. As part of my business plan, I have Plan B waiting to be implemented if I must abandoned Plan A. I studied a recent report where nearly 80 percent of all business startups end up reverting to Plan B because Plan A simply wasn’t working for them. In my current startup, I am totally prepared to revert to Plan B if Plan A fails to produce the desired results, typically in the form of Return On Investment (ROI) by a certain period of time.

The amazing and exciting aspect of Plan B is the fact that Plan B should have been Plan A along. As an example, you write fantasy, correct? Have you considered writing in a different genre? You are a very prolific writer and you obviously have good stories to tell and have a standard of work ethic that is to be admired.

I would encourage you to consider writing fiction. Here’s and idea: write a beautifully crafted novel about an aspiring young author who is struggling to sell books. Tell the reader all about her trials and tribulations, the good and the bad in her life, describe her writing day in detail, describe how she suffers from depression but continues to write. In fact, this determined young author is writing and producing good works against all odds. The struggle continues though until one fine day she suddenly realizes that she must abandoned – wait for it – that’s right – Plan A and reverts to Plan B, in order to take her writing career to the next level of success.

Over the course of time, one thing leads into another, 3 years later she suddenly finds herself on the New York Times Best Seller list for writing award winning children’s books.

I could provide you with an enormous amount of detail concerning my thoughts, but I challenge you to fill in the blanks. The possibilities are unlimited and the potential reward can be breathtaking.

Plan B can transform your writing career virtually overnight if you’re willing to take a big, bold step. I must caution you, a tremendous amount of courage is required to accomplish this seemingly crazy goal. You must be bold and brave as you weigh all the options concerning your future. Plan B can be the answer you’ve been waiting for. I’m not a fantasy buff myself, but I’ll be paying some of my hard earned cash to read a book or two of yours to review quality and content.

My business and my about to be published business book are based on learning to develop world-class skills when it comes to striving for excellence in everything you do. Perfection can never be achieved, but you can still strive for perfection every day. I can relate to editors, errors and the frustration that comes with paying people hard earned money that should produce near perfect results. I’ve been there and will be there again, so I can feel you pain, believe me. I press for quality in everything I do, in both my personal and professional life.

I admire your tenacity, your unending drive to produce a quality and as previously mentioned, your stellar work ethic. I see Plan B taking you to the top. The right ingredient is there to be sure, now you just need to figure out how to package your product. It’s all there in Plan B.

You can visit me at http://www.tomstiveson.com to get a bit of an idea of who I am, the man behind the business and the book if you are at all interested. I am here to simply talk, if your should choose to do so. Your almost there kid! You’ve got the talent, the skill and the the drive. I would encourage you to aim even higher than you ever thought possible by taking the next big, bold step.


Cy Wyss says June 22, 2015

Hang in there RJ! You’re producing some really quality works. It’s not even really my genre but I really like your books. I understand how working day in and day out then seeing lackluster sales can really drag you down. But you’ll get there, I’m sure of it. (Not that it helps having a stranger on the Internet tell you you can do it, but you can!)


Cy Wyss says June 22, 2015

Wow, I claim to be a writer but I had 4 “really”s in that comment before the third sentence was over. Ah well. That’s why there’s usually an edit button. (Eek, where’s the edit button?) Anyway, nobody’s perfect. I hope the sentiment of my comment shone through the poor word choices. Similarly, your books are perfect enough that your story shines through in spite of one or two niggling errors. (And everything I’ve read recently that comes out of New York has errors too, so don’t feel alone in your imperfection. The “experts” can’t get it perfect either.) Remember: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

    RJBlain says June 22, 2015

    :hug: I really appreciate that! And it’s okay, I really, really, really, really appreciate your words! There, I upped the ante with five of them.

    My sliding goal is ‘learn from my mistakes’ and ‘do better’ but damn, does my ego and pride take a beating each and every novel.

Deanna says June 22, 2015

Raw and honest. Thank you for this timely article. It’s good to know I’m not the only writer who feels this way at times.

    RJBlain says June 22, 2015

    You’re very welcome! I’ll be posting specifics on my mistakes as a writer, things I need to change, and my goals if that’s of interest to you, tying in with this post. I’m convinced 90+% of us feel this way, but we’re too ashamed to admit it…

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Avery K. Tingle says June 24, 2015

RJ, you remain one of most talented and dedicated writers I am blessed enough to know. If I’m feeling low about my writing I look at your page and come away thinking “Well, if she can do it…”
Thank you for opening up, writing this, and exposing a very brutal truth that a lot of new starry-eyed writers need to hear. A lot of us will bust our asses and never be successful. That’s just the way it is. We are all voices, trying to raise ourselves above the din.
I do believe that if we continue to write the stories that matter to us, the ones that burn their way out of us, eventually we will get to where we are going. I believe you will get there before a lot of us will.
I don’t say this to assuage you, I say this because I FUCKING MEAN IT. Thank you for opening up and please, keep going.

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