Anne Lamott, in her must read book on writing Bird by Bird, famously commented that two DJ’s reside in the writer’s psyche. They are considerate to each other, so they typically don’t try to talk over when the other host is on air. Lamott has aptly labeled their radio station id K-FUK Up. Use your juvenile imagination to fill in the missing letters.
The first DJ, for this exercise we’ll call him Mr. Slick, runs a program dedicated to your awesomeness. Spend any amount of time tuned into his broadcast, and you’ll soon be convinced that you’re the second coming of both JK Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien. He speaks into our ears, “If only the world could see how talented, creative, and downright amazing you are, you’d already be a New York Times bestseller.” He can take the most nuanced of compliments from our beta readers and amplify them to Publisher Weekly acclaim. And the more time we spend with his radio show on, the more we become convinced we’ve already arrived, so there’s really no need to stay the course in honing our craft.
Then, almost as if by some form of dark magic, the second DJ’s show starts up. We’ll call him Mr. Insidious. Quite the opposite of Mr. Slick, this DJ has all of our greatest fears and failures on a never ending lowlight reel. Remember that one time when your 11th grade teacher said she’d never read anything so dull and lifeless, oh, that’s gone platinum he’s played it so many times. Oh, and all the statistics of how many aspiring authors never attain any form of success, he has 3D spreadsheets that would make your high school teacher swoon. Spend any amount of time tuned into his show, and you’ll realize your dream never had any basis in reality to begin with, so you might as well give up now and save yourself, and the world for that matter, a lot of wasted effort.
The irony between the two DJ’s though is while their show’s are incredibly different, they end at the same destination: the writer not writing. Here’s the truth: we’re never as good as we think we are, so we’d best keep working on our craft, and, we’re never in as terrible as we think we are, so we’d best keep working on our craft. Drill that truth into your head. The DJ’s aren’t going to stop their broadcasts, so we make the decision daily, hourly, breath-by-breath, to keep working. Our craft is what keeps us from despair and false hope. It keeps us grounded. It’s how we become better writers.