Often in a writer’s career there are times when they
question if they are really a writer or (to borrow from Neil Gaimon) that some
man with a clipboard will show up on their doorstep and tell them that they
need to get a real job, wear a tie and go into the office every day. This
anxiety comes from the uncertainty that we hold in ourselves. It is that voice
that says you are not good enough, you are washed up, you really don’t have a
clue what you are doing, you have missed your opportunity—and we listen to
that voice. What can we do when we are faced with feeling like we are frauds?
Sadly, there isn’t any single answer to how to face it. Not
every writer handles this the right way. Some “disappear” from the industry.
Some turn to substance abuse. Some even turn to suicide, as we feel hollow
without our art or we feel that drive that pushes us like an unrelenting
taskmaster. Others face it in more healthy ways of reaching out to other
writers and feeling their support or to supporting friends and family.
From a personal point of view, this feeling is a constant
companion. I have had some poems, articles, and short stories published but I
haven’t “made it.” This is how I keep my “monster” gagged. To be honest it
hasn’t always worked. I have almost walked away from this calling in life more
than once . . . more times than I want to count. But there is a drive that keeps me going.
1. Remember you are human, not the embodiment of
There is a saying on a plaque that
my grandmother had given my father. I didn’t know where it had come from until
after she passed away or I would have thanked her when she was alive, because
it has kept me going through a lot in life: “Don’t worry if you work hard and
your rewards are few. Remember, the mighty oak was once a nut like you!"
All humor aside, the fact is
our art and ourselves as writers are organic. We may have heard the call of our
muse when we were very young or much later in life, but that call was a seed
planted in our minds (or soul). We start to work on our art. We haven’t been
touched by some divine being with the ability to just sit down and create a
masterpiece. Our abilities grow and the path is frustrating, rocky, slippery
and never straight. To be strong in our art we have to face these tribulations,
as much as we don’t want to. Without facing those fears, failures and stumbles
we couldn’t be the writers we are today. Some of us get recognition for our art
sooner than others, but even those writers are still growing or they quickly
2. Remember why you write.
If I had a quarter for every time a “want-to-be”
writer have approached me or asked at a
writing workshop or conference “how do I get rich writing?” I might be able to
pay the National Debt off for us all and still live comfortably. Not that
wanting to write for money is bad—I would love to be able to live on that kind
of income rather than rely on a second full time job—but if you are going to
write because you think you are going to get rich you may as well grab a pick
axe and a pan and mine for gold somewhere else. It would probably be as much
work with as little payoff as this craft of ours.
You decided to answer the call to be a
writer for a reason. Do you remember when you were bright eyed with the idea, the feeling behind
those first scribbled words were first put
on the page (digital or paper)? Why did you do it? What about it gave you
satisfaction? Your reason to write may have changed since those first steps
into this strange creative world. What was the initial reason? If that reason
has changed, has it changed for the better?
When we are writing for the wrong reason,
we get in our own way and we doubt our talents and gifts. We see our flaws, our
failures, and succumb to the negative seduction of the inner critic. When I
feel like a fraud, I look at what I am trying to write and what I am trying to
do. I dissect my motives behind the question of “why write this story?” That question can kill the work I am doing or
cause it to be shelved for a later time because the fault and the doubts aren’t
really about my talent but about the motive behind the story. I have to
reconnect with the art in me and what has brought me to this insane industry in
the first place—has led to the sacrifices we all make in pursuit of it.
3. Remember that any flaw as a writer that you
have, you are never as bad as you think. (No matter what any critic says
We all have our problem areas in our art.
Some of us it is dialogue, some it is avoiding cookie cutter characters, some
it is description, some of it is voice. We all have them. To us they stick out and
we get frustrated OR we submit for publication with blinders on and then wonder
why it got rejected. This frustration and feeling of rejection is the gateway
through which our doubts and fears enter. We can sit there and ponder, “Well
[enter other author name] writes crap or ill disguised fan fiction that gets
published. Why can’t I?” Then our frustration grows and often unrealistically.
The fact is, unless you are some kind of
“Mozart” of the writing world, you are flawed and those flaws bleed into your
writing. Instead of being frustrated, embrace those flaws—learn them and learn
how to find them in your manuscript. Stop beating yourself up over it and adapt
to overcome. Yes, it means a lot of work. Everything we achieve or fail to
achieve is directly related to how smartly and diligently we work on our art.
Why beat yourself up over being you? How useful is that to improving what you
do? (If that sounds flip, it really isn’t. I face this not only as a writer,
but also as a martial artist. It is in what we do when we face it that defines
us as an artist.)
4. Remember that every writer has flaws.
I wish I was any of my literary heroes:
Erle Stanley Gardner, Isaac Asimov, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Alexandre Dumas,
and the list go on. The fact is, I’m not. Not anywhere near them. Because I
have grown to idealize them, much as many writers do Stephen King, James
Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Walter Mosby, and others, we start to see them as the
idea rather than the flawed human and flawed writers that they were or are.
Pick up any one who has been published a lot and read their work with a
jaundice eye of our craft and you will be able to see their flaws. As you read
them over time you will see how they have grown as a writer to over come those
flaws BY WRITITNG!
They may have gone to some workshops or taken
some classes here and there, but they worked to improve their craft by
constantly writing and working to improve their flaws. These flaws sometimes
still stand out like a “neon kick me sign” in their first drafts, but they go
back and rework the pieces to improve them.
Personally, I have created a writing method for me to be able to spot my
flaws as a writer with a laser focus. As I fix them and trying to ignore that
inner critic, I have to remember that I am organic. I will always have flaws.
There is no perfect manuscript and all you can do is do your best and remember
why you write in the first place.
The truth is that we all face the feeling in being an
inadequate writer or being a fraud. It
is how we face this feeling that defines us as an artist. We only become frauds
and failures when we give into the feeling and walk away from your calling.
Fiction is the world
where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human
condition as he chooses.