An Ugly, Two-Sided Coin

Hi Folks,

I am constantly amazed at the smug duality of some writers, especially those who see “writer” as some sort of elevated calling. I can spot them within the first few minutes of listening to them talk. They are somehow filled with both self-doubt and overconfidence. At the same time.

On one hand, they doubt their own storytelling ability. They actually brag about their critique partners or critique group. They brag about the number of times they rewrite and polish and how long it takes (usually months or years) to write a novel. They are engaged in the pursuit of perfection—a silly endeavor in the first place, aimed as it is at an unobtainable goal—and are absolutely certain they aren’t good enough, as they were taught intentionally in school at every level, to get there by themselves.

But I mentioned a duality, didn’t I? On the other hand, these writers who are filled with doubt of their own ability are also so haughty and over-confident in the validity of their own opinion that they force it on others. How? If they believe what they’ve written is anything less than stellar, they won’t publish it. They prejudge for their would-be readers instead of simply doing their job.

What job? If you’re an indie writer, your job is to write a story, then publish it. Period. Judging is the reader’s job, not the writer’s job.

Remember “Writers are the worst judges of their own work”? Keep saying it until you memorize it. Until you truly believe it. Don’t relegate it to the great trashheap of Things to Say Because Everyone Else Says Them. Because no greater truth was ever mumbled about writers.

And once you finally believe that “Writers are the worst judges of their own work,” believe this too: It’s true both ways.

If you think your work is good, you’re wrong. Of course, in the self-denigrating world of writers everyone agrees with this. But if you think your work stinks, you’re also wrong. And almost nobody agrees with this, but it’s still true. Because you are the worst judge of your own work.

You can (and will) judge your work for yourself—after all, you’re entitled to your opinion—but that’s where it ends. You are NOT entitled to substitute your opinion for everyone else’s. It just doesn’t work that way.

Again, you’re a writer, so write to the best of your current ability. Then publish the thing and let readers decide whether or not they like it. What they like or don’t like is up to them, not you.

Repeat after me: My story is a few minutes’ entertainment, nothing more. It is not the be-all end-all of centuries of literary endeavor. (Except to some readers, maybe, ahem, if they’re allowed to read it).

The easiest way I’ve found to overcome both equally ugly sides of this coin (self-doubt and overconfidence) is to adhere to Heinlein’s Rules. For serious fiction writers, they constitute the most important advice ever uttered or written, especially 1-4:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must not rewrite.
4. You must publish what you write.

This should be nothing short of common sense, and before “publish or perish” reared its ugly head among academes back in the ’60s, it was.

If you fail in 1 or 2, you will never be a fiction writer. Period.

If you fail in 1, 2, or 4, you will never be a professional fiction writer. Again, period.

And if you fail in 3, nobody will ever see your truly unique, original voice because you’re trying to make your work something it isn’t: someone else’s vision.

How hard is that to understand?

I am a successful professional fiction writer for only four reasons:

1. I follow Heinlein’s Rules. Occasionally I fall off one or more of them. Then I climb right back on and keep going.

2. I understand that I don’t know everything about fiction technique. As a result, I continually strive to learn from those more advanced than I am. But that’s the key: I seek out those more advanced. I see no value whatsoever in the blind leading the blind. If you do, that’s fine. But…

3. I’m also confident in my ability BECAUSE I learn from those more advanced than I.

4. I pay forward what I do know, and that paying it forward returns to me severalfold.

All writers are different. If you need a safety net of input from people who read critically, go for it. Your self-doubt in your own ability as a storyteller doesn’t harm my stories in the slightest.

But the actual readers who buy your books don’t read critically. Readers read for pleasure. Readers just want a good story.

And if you lack so much confidence that you can write a novel and then shove it into a desk drawer or an electronic netherworld and never let it see the light of day, that’s fine too.

Less competition for me. (grin)

‘Til next time, happy writing!


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