“I’ve seen this story before. But so-and-so did it much better.”
“You’re just not good enough.”
“What a waste of time. You should just give up.”
“Who are you to think you can get a novel published?”
“Who do you think you’re fooling with this?”
If there’s one thing I can tell you based on all of the podcasts I’ve listened to, the articles I’ve read, and the self-help books I’ve seen lining shelves (and some I own), it’s this: Writers are particularly hard on themselves.
It’s easy to get discouraged. We put our hearts on pages and ship them off to be judged by people we don’t know. We’re sometimes trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of rejection. And then it sometimes feels personal. We put so much time and effort into our work, then if it’s turned down, we take an internal hit. Of course this person passed on it, too. Maybe it’s true…you’re just not good enough. Who do you think you are?
My two biggest enemies are imposter syndrome and comparisonitis. My imposter syndrome tells me that I can’t write a novel. Who am I to think I can be in the same group as these published authors? And of course, that goes hand-in-hand with comparisonitis. Who am I to think I can be in the same group as these published authors who are sooooo goooood? I’ll never be as good as them.
And where does this kind of thinking get us, kids? Say it with me now… NOWHERE!
This negative self-talk is so damaging, and it is no way to talk to our creativity. I learned that especially from everyone’s Creative Fairy Godmother, Elizabeth Gilbert.
I was in quite a writing rut, and I was only in my first draft. I was skeptical of my story and abilities as a writer. I am so glad Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, was there to take my hand, give it a squeeze, and tell me to slow down, take it easy, and remember why we’re all here and why we enjoy creative endeavors: Because we can. Because we’re allowed. Because it’s human. Because it’s fun.
Big Magic showed me that my imposter syndrome and comparisonitis were based in fear. My brain is trying to protect me from rejection. It’s telling me that my heart is in my work, so I need to protect it. But my work itself is telling me that it’s fine! It’s got this! It can handle rejection. So brain, thanks for being sweet and trying to protect us, but we’ve got this!
I need to especially keep this in mind because next month I’ll be doing something that I find very challenging and yes, scary. I’ll be pitching my contemporary fantasy novel to a literary agent, face-to-face, at a writing workshop.
I’ve never pitched. I’ve never even sent a snippet of my manuscript to anyone who isn’t a trusted friend. This is my first step into the realm of rejection. As I travel further down this road, I know my lil book will land in the hands of people who will judge it, be annoyed by it, and downright hate it. My fear will try to resurface in these moments of rejection, telling me it’s because I’m not good enough.
But I know that’s not the truth. The truth is, we all have different tastes, and publishers have varying reasons for not backing projects. And even if my book does reach people who don’t like it, that only gives me more hope that eventually we’ll find someone who does like it. And I hope that person/those people have as much fun with my story as I have. I hope they’re entertained and like spending time with these characters in this world, I hope it gives them a break from the real world for a while.
If I don’t find a publisher, I’ll eventually self-publish. I’m having too much fun with these characters, and I see no stopping point in the distance. So take that, imposter syndrome. There’s room for everyone in creativity, and we all belong.
And my book won’t be heralded by scholars. I won’t win a genius grant or Nobel prize. There are people out there who do these things, but that’s not me. And that’s ok. So goodbye, comparisonitis. I’m on my own path, and comparing it to other people and works of art will only slow me down.
So fellow writers, let’s not be so hard on ourselves. Published or not, we belong. We all have stories to tell and unique ways in which to tell them. We’re here and writing because something has been pressed upon our hearts and minds. All we can do is answer the call and work with what we’ve got. We write, and we set our work free, time and time again. As we do this, we learn and grow. And maybe eventually our fear can see that it’s not so scary after all.
And just as a side note, this is my copy of Big Magic. I began highlighting and flagging pages as I read, thinking I’d like to return to this little pep talk or that every so often. By the time I was about a third of the way through the book, I knew I’d added about a pound of flags, but I’d gone this far…guess I’ll keep highlighting and flagging. Plus it just looks all the more festive. (But seriously, writers and all creative types, I love this book and I can’t recommend it enough.)