Thursday, May 31, 2012

Writers' Misperceptions About Themselves

In my last post, I talked about the funny things folks think about those of us who write.  However, in the interests of fairness, let's turn the tables and talk about the ways we writers (sometimes wrongly) perceive ourselves.  Yes, I'm breaking yet another cardinal rule and potentially offending a large part of the audience, but these things have to be said sometimes.  And they can be just as entertaining.

1.  Every writer views himself or herself as the next great voice of their generation.

There are some truly humble writers out there, but let's be honest - those are the exception.  Most of us, myself included, will try to put up a good front, but part of the reason we got into writing was because we felt we could tell a story better than others.  The perception of writers as arrogant didn't spring ex nihilo.  If you're anything like me, you're constantly correcting some of the things your friends wrote, or even mentally rewriting parts of books that you just know would be better if they added your twist to it.  Each of us believes we are destined for greatness if only someone in power would recognize our talents.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Writing can be a brutal business - your work is constantly being read and critiqued, so you have to have a thick skin to survive.  A certain amount of confidence is not only proper; it's required.  I just wish that more of us would acknowledge this trait in ourselves.  No, we don't need to go around shouting how wonderful we are, but perhaps we should can the false modesty when someone praises our work and simply reply with "thank you."  After all, most of us secretly believe we deserved that praise anyway, and it's part of why we got into writing.

2.  Our writing flows flawlessly from us.

This dovetails with the point above and is usually limited to brand new writers or those who won't go anywhere in the business.  Usually.

When I first began taking this whole writing thing a lot more serious, I knew my prose stood out above other people I knew.  I figured I was probably in the top 25% of people when it comes to writing.  Unfortunately, the top 25% ain't gonna cut it if you want to be successful in being a writer.  You need to be in the top 1%.  Or maybe the top half a percent.

Finding out that a lot of our stuff is crap is a very hard lesson to learn, especially at the beginning,.  We've gotten by for all these years by standing out above our peers.  However, what we fail to realize is that those "peers" include the boy down the street who won't take his finger out of his nose, as well as that girl who writes nothing but poetry about how she's going to kill her parents.  To break out and into something more requires a realization that we, that we need to get better.  Put simply, we're trying to get the public at large to like our stuff, not just our English teacher.

3.  Everyone wants to hear our stories.

If you're anything like me, you'll tell your tales at the slightest hint of an invitation...or none at all.  It sounds so interesting inside our head, and we usually have such passion about it that we can't imagine other people not wanting to hear or read more.  Hey, aren't they sitting there and listening, nodding at all the right places?  Doesn't that mean they want to hear more?

Not necessarily.  Sometimes they're just humoring us.

This is another hard lesson for us.  Yes, if we're any good, there will be tons of people who will want to read what we've written.  Unfortunately, not everyone likes the same things we like.  It takes maturity to accept that not everyone is a sci-fi or romance fan.  Most people will be nice about their disinterest, but some will be pricks, and that's okay.  Since people are as varied as the oceans, no writer in the world appeals to everyone.  Once you realize that, you wonder if any out there will like your stuff.  However, the upside to so much diversity is that someone, somewhere, will enjoy our stories if they're told well enough.

4.  The reason I haven't made it is because (fill in the blank) is against me.
No agent liked my work.  Amazon buried my book.  Negative reviewers have it out for me.  Everyone is jealous of my talent.  We know we're talented, so obviously the reason we haven't caught on as writers is because there are evil forces out there holding us back.

Again, for those who are successful, the smack of reality on this can be painful but necessary.  Perhaps in the old days we could claim that publishers have blacklisted us or are standing in our way to protect their own investments, but that doesn't apply anymore.  With the advent of e-books and the explosion of self-publishing, there really is little excuse for not making it.  Can't get an agent?  Go to a conference and meet one.  Work not finding success with a traditional publisher?  Self publish.  Your novel not getting the market attention you think it needs?  Well, what have you done about it?  Have you cultivated contacts on college campuses, established a presence on social media, or reached out to your fellow bloggers?

Trust me - if you can't break out, the only thing holding you back are your own excuses.

These misperceptions aren't unique to writers.  Every person who dreams has a variation of these hidden in the dark recesses of his or her mind.  And these are surface misperceptions that can be overcome and even turned to our advantage, but we have to be willing to confront stark realities if we are to do so.

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