Delusions of Writer

Having worked as a professional editor now for over 22 years, dealing with hundreds if not thousands of writers, I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty: There are two kinds of writers.

First, there are writers who have a lot of talent, but very little confidence.

No matter how wildly successful they may get, regardless of how many books they sell, awards they win, reviews they get, or how large their fan base grows, these people always harbor at least a TINY bit of doubt about whether they have any genuine talent.

Even if they seem (humbly) confident on the outside, they constantly think they can do better, write more, learn more about how to improve in their craft. No matter how great everybody else thinks they are, these writers always believe they are miles away from being the best writer in the world.

And then, there’s category number two: writers who have very little talent, but are exploding with confidence. (In my experience, these people make up approximately 99% of the pool of aspiring authors who submit their work to agents and publishers and/or who self-publish.)

Often, these people are the ones who don’t read—at all—and refuse to believe that being a reader bears any relation whatsoever to developing their skill as a writer. They believe in their hearts that they are somehow “special,” “chosen”—that the rules everybody else has to follow to become great writers (like reading a lot, learning grammar, and above all, WRITING, every day, to keep getting better) just don’t apply to them.

The world today is lousy with this second type of writer.

Now, before you think I’m holding MYSELF up as a great example, let me clarify: I know perfectly well that I’m not one of those writers with a lot of talent, but I’m also not one of the ones in the second group with too much confidence. Not even close. I am the sole member of a third group of writers, lacking both talent AND confidence. (Hooray for me!)

I’ve been writing since I was in kindergarten, I’m been an editor for decades, and I know most (if not all) of the rules, and yet, every time I click “Post” for this blog or share my writing in any other way, I physically cringe, because I worry so much about letting people see my work.

I’m never entirely happy with what I produce, no matter how much other people may like it, and I work at my writing every single day—and read at least 100 books a year—all in an effort (even if it’s in vain) to keep getting better at writing all the time. Even if I don’t have all that much talent, I fall firmly into the first category of writers.

But I work with a lot of people who don’t. Take this person, for example, who had the nerve to send me this email:

“I am the best at writing than [sic] anyone Ive [sic] ever seen. I have manuscripts waiting, realy [sic] good ones. It’s just wrong that all my talent is going to waste.”

Please note that there are more spelling or grammatical errors than there are LINES in this short excerpt. And this woman claims to be the best writer she’s ever seen. That’s just plain scary.

She’s also lying. Though she says here that she has manuscripts waiting, in her very next email to me, she admits that she doesn’t read—at all—and hasn’t written so much as a private diary entry since middle school. These “manuscripts” she’s talking about? Exist only in her imagination. Yet she thinks I should publish them.

Huh?

Where do people—those who fall into the second group of writers—get these crazy ideas? Where do they acquire what I call their “delusions of writer”?

What makes them think they are so talented that they don’t actually have to do any work? Somehow, I’m supposed to make them bestselling authors—even though they haven’t yet written a single word.

What is going on in our society?

If only I could answer that question (and use it to eliminate the second category of writers), I could not only cut my workload in half, but also, I believe, cure many of the ills in our troubled world.

I think this insanity has something to do with the way we’ve stopped competing. We give kids trophies just for showing up, and somehow, they seem to learn that this means they should receive a prize—in whatever contest or line of work they choose—just because they decide to declare themselves “athletes” or “reality TV stars” or, in this case, “writers.”

The truth is, not everyone needs (or deserves) to be published. And even those who may have some talent don’t necessarily deserve to be published NOW.

If that sounds harsh, hear me out: All I mean is that if you want a prize, you need to do more than show up. You need to work hard, get great, and, yes, WIN.

It’s the same with writing: If you want to be a writer, you have to put in the work: reading and writing (and writing and writing and writing).

And before you lash out at me (and I know all too well that people in the second category of writers often tend to become hostile when someone tells them they’re NOT already the best writer in the world), please understand this:

I’m not saying give up on your dream if you’re not already a great writer. I’m not saying you won’t someday be published.

I’m just saying, again, that you need to do the work first.

And if you’re not willing to do that? Then you have delusions of writer.

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