Thursday, August 16, 2007

Writing Barriers

Apprentice Writer recently attended a meeting where published authors shared a little about how they decided to pursue writing professionally, as well as their best and worst steps along the way. Unsurprisingly, one of the common themes had to do with regret at how long it took to overcome lack of confidence, and to keep going despite the persistent feeling that their work wasn't good enough to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing.

Self-confidence is a tricky thing. What is the proportion of writers who really have talent but don't think they do so their work remains invisible in a desk drawer somewhere, vs. those who are no good but believe they are the next J.K. Rowling and send their work to every contest and agent under the sun? Impossible to tell.

An aggrieved viewer once asked why the obligatory British judge of a hugely popular televised singing contest couldn't simply tell singing hopefuls something like 'no, thanks', why he had to go so far as to shred their soul with negativity. The answer given by a fellow judge was evasive; Apprentice Writer believes that the first reason for the soul-shredding necessity is, obviously, to keep up high show ratings. Does ANYBODY care what the wishy-washy, feel-good judge thinks about the performers? Not even the performers themselves. They're just waiting for the opinion that counts - that of the soul-shredder. Why? Because if the soul-shredder deems them good, then they can have some confidence that they really are. Whereas if Wishy-Washy says they are good, they can't tell if it's true or if she just thinks their ego is bruised and they need some stroking.

The second reason why the soul-shredding habit developed is probably because of a simple wish to save time. Talent reality shows provide fresh proof with each new season of the astonishing number of contestants who are so bad that they cannot even aspire to become mediocre singers, let alone passable, yet who rant and rave and rail at the camera that they are, in fact, the best. This delusion is so extreme, and also so widespread, that it makes sense for people who have to listen to untold hours of auditions to use all weapons at their disposal to stop the deluded from returning and trying again - and again, and again.... In these cases, the soul-shredding can almost be seen as altruism - a kindly attempt to prevent that contestant from wasting effort and perhaps money in directions that are doomed to fail.

Apprentice Writer sees herself as somewhere in the middle of the heap. Confident enough in her writing to continue pursuing it, yet uncertain enough that outside validation is sought and not considered self-understood.

In a salute to those who keep on keeping on despite their self-doubts, consider this:

"I have an inferiority complex - but it's not a very good one."
Steven Wright


Christine d'Abo said...

I never looked at it this way, but you are right. Being nice can sometimes be worse than being blunt.

Wylie Kinson said...

I completely agree. Take A.Idol... Simon Cowell may be a bastard, but 9x out of 10, he's right on the money.
Not very constructive perhaps, but certainly better than Paula's gushing.