?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Writing: The pros and cons of self-delusion

I had a great time at East Brunswick Library last night. Forty people turned up to hear my talk, 10 Things Every Writer Should Know. Folks seemed to enjoy it, and afterwards, some even bought a copy of Fur-Face, for which I'm extremely grateful. A huge 'Thank you' to everyone who came along, especially EBPL's Susan Kaspin, who was kind enough to invite me to give the talk in the first place.

During my presentation, I talked about excusitis - the failure disease. In describing the symptoms, I mentioned how some folks convince themselves that finding an agent or publisher is a matter of luck, nothing more, nothing less. As it turned out, someone in the audience actually believed that, and told me so, which got me thinking about writers and self-delusion.

The pros and cons of self-delusion
To a certain extent, writers need a little self-delusion (I know I do), particularly when we start out. If we ever hope to reach our publishing goals, we have to believe we're good enough, even though there's little evidence to support that belief. In fact, I suspect deep down, most of us know we really aren't as publishable as we think, at least, not yet. The best we can do is hope (and work) to become so.

That's certainly the case with me. When I write something I'm proud of, in my head I might give it (say) 9 out of 10, in reality, it's probably deserves an 8 or even a 7. Still, as long as I'm making a conscious effort to improve, I have no qualms about kidding myself in the meantime.

Whenever I pitch a story or send a query letter, I visualize an acceptance letter. Before every talk, I spend a few minutes pretending I'm 'on stage' as it were. I imagine the room's full of people who laugh at my jokes, and try to convince myself the audience will be glad they came (I also practise, a lot, because I know how my brain likes to sit back down again as soon as I get up to give a presentation).

These delusions are helpful, at least to me.

However, when almost everyone in your critique group says the characters in your story aren't realistic, or the plot doesn't make sense, telling them they just don't 'get it' is an unhealthy kind of self-delusion. The same goes for folks who try to convince themselves (and others) that getting published is a matter of luck, a crapshoot, that work rejected by agents and publishers is no different from the work they take on.

I guess we all delude ourselves in one way or another, the trick is to only do it in ways which can lead us somewhere good.

How about you?

What kind of writerly self-delusions have you come across?





Site Meter


Comments

( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
karin_gastreich
Oct. 11th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
"When I write something I'm proud of, in my head I might give it (say) 9 out of 10, in reality, it's probably deserves an 8 or even a 7."

You know, I actually do the opposite -- I tend to underrate my own work. (haha -- Or perhaps it's a self delusion to assume I'm underrating!) But I really had to go through a lot a lot a lot of outside readers before I began to entertain the thought that what I wrote might actually be interesting to someone else as a reader (much less as an editor or an agent).

I find a lot of people think landing an agent or an editor is a crap shoot. There is a bit of luck involved (once you get past the writing-a-respectable-manuscript part) -- but on the other hand, so much of what we call "luck" is recognizing the opportunities presented to us & taking advantage of them.
jongibbs
Oct. 11th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
And putting in the hours :)
msstacy13
Oct. 11th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
I'm sure it's more like poker than craps.
karin_gastreich
Oct. 11th, 2011 04:48 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes! Putting in the hours.
msstacy13
Oct. 11th, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC)
It takes a real pro to run a good con.
:)
jongibbs
Oct. 11th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a tag line from Leverage :)
dqg_neal
Oct. 11th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC)
I think the most common self-delusion is quality writers under the delusion they are not good. I forget what it is called, but the delusion that they are just faking it.

I wonder, does that mean writers fall into five categories:

1) The awesome writer that knows they are awesome.
2) The good writer that thinks they are slightly better than they are.
3) The good writer that thinks they are faking it.
4) The bad writer that thinks they are good.
5) The bad writer that KNOWS they are bad.

With 1 & 5 being the least common options.
jongibbs
Oct. 11th, 2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
I don't know, but I hope to work my way through them all at some point :)
karen_w_newton
Oct. 11th, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC)
I think the hardest thing for a new writer to grasp is that, no matter how well written the story is, not everyone is going to like it. They cling to the idea that if they can just write well enough, everyone will love it, and it won't happen. I'm not at all fond of Hemingway or George Eliot and yet they're still in print somehow. Related to that is a refusal to accept the concept of marketability. It doesn't matter as much whether the editor likes the book as whether he or she thinks it will sell.
jongibbs
Oct. 11th, 2011 11:21 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean, everyone loving your work is a wonderful thought. Of course, if you've got a 'my old gran' in your family, that's one delusion too far :)
xjenavivex
Oct. 11th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
I am not writing because I do not have the time.
jongibbs
Oct. 11th, 2011 11:22 pm (UTC)
Definitely a symptom of excusitis :)
bogwitch64
Oct. 11th, 2011 07:19 pm (UTC)
I've come across so much delusion, I couldn't even BEGIN to write it down without wanting to poke my eyes out with a sharp red pencil.

The most recent one is an author who believed that once a manuscript is accepted, the author's job is done. All editing, complete. Nothing more to do than slap covers on it and put it on the store shelves.
dqg_neal
Oct. 11th, 2011 07:50 pm (UTC)
They are in for a major shock when one of my copy-editors gets to the work. Unleash the pendantry!

bogwitch64
Oct. 11th, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
The author in question even wrote: FINAL draft (Yes, capital letters) on the last draft sent to me.

Um...no, it's not!
jongibbs
Oct. 11th, 2011 11:22 pm (UTC)
If only :)
mary_j_59
Oct. 12th, 2011 03:36 am (UTC)
Oh, but that's such a NICE delusion! So friendly and comforting! Who wouldn't want to believe that one?
bogwitch64
Oct. 12th, 2011 01:37 pm (UTC)
True, it IS a comfy one...but WOE to any reader unfortunate enough to pick it up! :)
peadarog
Oct. 11th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
If I had known at the beginning how incredibly long the path to publication would be, I'm not sure I could have kept going. Luckily I "knew" I could do it a lot sooner than I did!
jongibbs
Oct. 11th, 2011 11:23 pm (UTC)
Fair point, though I do believe there's a road map which can help us get there in half the time. If only we knew about it from the start.
peadarog
Oct. 12th, 2011 06:50 am (UTC)
Yeah, we all make mistakes.
mongrelheart
Oct. 11th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
I have this delusion that I'll finish writing my book some day! =D
jongibbs
Oct. 11th, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
That's not a delusion, that's a racing certainty :)
mongrelheart
Oct. 13th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
Aww, thanks Jon! i gotta print that out & stick it on my computer :)
tracy_d74
Oct. 12th, 2011 12:00 am (UTC)
Hmmm? I don't know what my delusion is. I do know many think that you write draft one and it's submission ready. I've never had that thought. But I did journalism in high school and college. I was a managing editor. I know better. Plus, I've read parts of my first drafts. They SUCK!
jongibbs
Oct. 12th, 2011 09:23 am (UTC)
I do know many think that you write draft one and it's submission ready.

I know I did: http://jongibbs.livejournal.com/23770.html

Mind you, it makes for a great story. I include it in all my talks :)
tracy_d74
Oct. 12th, 2011 06:13 pm (UTC)
That was a good post. My first rejection was in high school, but I can't recall what it said. My first REAL--I say that because now I'm seriously persuing writing--rejection letter was nice. Too nice. She said it had a lot of wonderful thinks and would likely do very well, and had no doubt I would find an agent with it. But she didn't love it enough to represent it. I was on cloud nine. The full had been requested by 5 people at that time I received the letter. Everyday I watched the phone, waiting for her prophecy to come true. Well, every agent rejected it. That's when I learned that I prefered letters that simply said, "Thanks but no thanks," unless the person is providing tips on how to improve.
dendrophilous
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:12 am (UTC)
I suppose the idea that I'm working hard enough or long enough could be a delusion.
jongibbs
Oct. 12th, 2011 09:20 am (UTC)
Lol, if it is, then I suspect we all suffer from it :)

Mind you, I think some folks tell themselves they're doing enough of the right things, when they're really not.
dendrophilous
Oct. 12th, 2011 12:15 pm (UTC)
Exactly. If a few years ago, I thought I was working hard, but I'm working harder now...will I be working even harder in another few years?
mary_j_59
Oct. 12th, 2011 03:39 am (UTC)
Good post, Jon. But I do wonder: what's the difference between a delusion and acquiring some basic confidence? Because, for a long time, I thought I couldn't possibly write a novel. I think a lot of people suffer from the delusion that they haven't got a story to tell. That's a deadly one. Much better to be overconfident, IMHO!
jongibbs
Oct. 12th, 2011 09:25 am (UTC)
I agree. It's much better to think you can, find you can't, then vow to change the result next time, than simply not bother trying.
jennygordon
Oct. 12th, 2011 07:16 am (UTC)
"...most of us know we really aren't as publishable as we think, at least, not yet. The best we can do is hope (and work) to become so." So, so true, and thanks for this really honest, frank post.

Every time I read a book I rate, I'm reminded that I have a way to go yet. As you say, it's all about putting in the hours and effort and being open to learning all the time. In fact, I hope I never stop trying and learning - anyone, author or otherwise who believes there's nothing left for them to learn is ... um ... deeply delusional!
jongibbs
Oct. 12th, 2011 09:30 am (UTC)
I think this is a good test to see if you're still working on improving your writing skills:

Read something you thought was excellent when you wrote it a year ago. If you can't see ways to improve it, you're either a brilliant writer, or you haven't learned much in the last twelve months.
jennygordon
Oct. 15th, 2011 09:42 am (UTC)
Phew! I think I pass the test. I can ALWAYS see ways of improving what I've written, even a few months ago. Still waiting for the day when I qualify as 'brilliant'! ;O)
jongibbs
Oct. 15th, 2011 10:30 am (UTC)
Lol, you and me both :)
ex_naomi_ja
Oct. 12th, 2011 08:41 am (UTC)
That grammar and punctuation aren't as imporant as just telling your story. Drives me mad! If you want me to read your story, punctuate it properly!
jongibbs
Oct. 12th, 2011 09:31 am (UTC)
Good point. Of course, for folks like me, it's easier to acknowledge the need than to achieve :)
jakobdrud
Oct. 12th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
For me, it's the delusion that my English is as good as my Danish. Only, sometimes I get feedback from native English speakers saying 'interesting word choice'. When I look the word up in a dictionary it means something else than I thought.
jongibbs
Oct. 12th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't worry, Jakob. that happens to me all the time :)
claudee
Oct. 23rd, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)
As a native speaker of German with English just as a second language, I always wonder how ... native and 'normal' my choice of words sound...
DonnaGalanti
Oct. 13th, 2011 10:40 am (UTC)
Delusions
Jon, you got it right. I think we need to be a bit delusional to keep moving forward in getting our work published - otherwise we'll never share our work with those who can help us get there - editors, peers, agents, publishers, the public. But in a way its really just being positive and optimistic, isnt it? And if we need to be delusional to achieve that, it works for me ;)
jongibbs
Oct. 13th, 2011 11:00 am (UTC)
Re: Delusions
Me too, Donna. Me too :)
claudee
Oct. 23rd, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
I am not sure it's self-delusion what you're doing before your talks. It's about being positive towards the things that come, getting yourself in a good mood to actually make those talks a positive experience for everyone. It doesn't work out that well when the lecturer is going out with a "OMG they will hate me" mood. So it's just good preperation, not self-delusion maybe :)
jongibbs
Oct. 24th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
A fair point :)
( 45 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there


No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there















 











THE MEAGER PUDDLE OF LIMELIGHT AWARDS


Books by my writer friends - compressed

NJ Writing groups - compressed

NJ writing conference - compressed

Tags

Latest Month

September 2017
S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Paulina Bozek