Any writer worth reading has probably grappled with the question “Am I kidding myself?” at least a thousand times.
It’s only to be expected. Your manuscripts go unsold, agents don’t want to take you on, friends who read your work don’t quite understand what you’re aiming for. So you ask: Am I kidding myself? Am I really meant to do this? Does my writing, in a word, suck?
To help you through this dark night of the soul, J.A. Konrath makes the useful distinction between a confident writer and a delusional writer. Some examples:
Confident writers take suggestion.
Delusional writers believe their words are written in stone.
Confident writers work even when it’s hard.
Delusional writers believe they need to be inspired first.
Confident writers know this is a job.
Delusional writers think this is a vacation.
Confident writers know there’s a never-ending learning curve.
Delusional writers believe they’ve learned all they need to know.
Confident writers know when to move on, and learn from their failures and successes.
Delusional writers keep doing the same things, over and over, hoping for different outcomes.
Personally, I think a fail-safe way to tell if you’re kidding yourself is to stay engaged with the written word as a consumer as well as a creator. In other words, read as much and as widely as you can.
Back in my newpaper days, I would occasionally find myself editing a story so disorganized and poorly thought-out that I wanted to ask the reporter: What is it about this business that looks good to you? Because the submitted article reflected no pleasure or even basic interest in craft, or the pleasure of telling a story and conveying information, or simply good writing. And when I asked those reporters what they read for fun, or which writers they most admired, I invariably got a blank look. They didn’t read, and therefore they couldn’t write.
You can’t hold a reader’s interest with your writing unless you’ve examined the work of writers who have held your interest. When you do that — when you’ve watched the other magicians at work and figured out where they keep their rabbits — then you are truly what Bob Dylan calls a conscious artist, one who is constantly aware of how to achieve certain effects and build upon that knowledge.
And once you’ve done that, you can face those middle-of-the-night questions about whether you’re any good as a writer, and you’ll be able to give yourself answers. When you know the good stuff, you’ll have a pretty firm idea of whether your stuff is good. (Bird-dogged by Colleen Lindsay.)