I once worked out that I have over a million words in print.
And that’s just the commissioned pieces – I haven’t even counted the blog, or my constant literary ramblings (filed in dubious–sounding folders such as ‘hmmm, ‘strange’ and ‘why’) or the innumerable stories I wrote as a child!
So. One million words. Views in the thousands. Followers by the hundred. And a successful career built on, basically, what comes out of my head and hits the page. And still, I feel a fraud.
I’m convinced there’s an authorial equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes just waiting to pounce. But in this case, the revelation won’t be sartorial, it will be literal. A lone voice will suddenly cry “But you CAN’T write! Hasn’t anyone noticed?” At which point my entire readership will wipe the figurative mist from their eyes, leap to their feet and cry, in unison, “By God, it’s TRUE! We’ve been bamboozled!”
(In the worst of my imaginings, I’m naked when this happens. But that I can explain – it’s just background anxiety, like dreams about taking exams without your trousers on. However, I digress…)
The point I’m trying to make is that all true writers I’ve ever met feel exactly the same: that we really don’t know what we’re doing. (Conversely, whenever I’ve come across someone who maintains they’re “simply brilliant” I’ve been massively underwhelmed. Horrified, even, by the standards of their work.) So, what’s the link? Why do talent and insecurity go hand in hand, skipping blithely into the sunset – and off the proverbial cliff of self-doubt?
Far greater minds than mine have probed the issue. I’ve seen analyses of this link by the dozen (http://bit.ly/1XSz1US and http://bit.ly/1s54csR), and Tennessee Williams summed it up beautifully when he said: “I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.” But my thoughts on the matter are, quite simply, this:
- There’s no mathematical standard for measuring good copy. Logically, 2 + 2 = 4 (well, in this universe, anyway). But creatively, if there’s a numerical formula by which one can judge writing, I’ve yet to discover it.
- To be any good, you have to be unsure. It prompts you to research, to study, to fine-tune and perfect. Show me someone who will agonise for half an hour over the placement of a comma, and I’ll show you someone with the makings of an excellent writer.
- And lastly, writing requires imagination. A wonderful ability, that will take you to places undreamt of by say, actuaries and accountants. But it will also create mental worst-case scenarios (hence the Emperor’s New Clothes) far, far beyond the imaginings of those in the more pragmatic professions.
Incidentally, if anyone would like to criticise this piece, feel free. There’s nothing you can condemn that I haven’t already considered, beaten myself round the head with, and wept buckets over. In fact, right now, my insecurities are standing next to me, bellowing: “So now it’s one million five hundred! And you STILL don’t know what you’re doing…”
Are you a writer? Do you feel the same way? I’d love to know I’m not alone in this…