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September 29, 2011

Are All Writers Delusional?

Question marks around a face

My first sarcastic impulse is to answer that question with “Duh.”  Writers have to be somewhat delusional to pursue a career that has such a minuscule chance of financial success.  (Not to mention that fiction writers exist in a constant state of make-believe.)  But there are different styles of delusion.

There’s the unconsciously incompetent phase we go through when we first start out, when we don’t know what all we don’t know.  This stage is dangerous for those considering self-publishing because it’s so easy to delude ourselves into thinking we know what we’re doing.

There’s the diva delusion of thinking that because we have X number of followers, published books, dollars for an advance, etc., we’re better than someone else.  Being published doesn’t suddenly mean that we have nothing else to learn, as Tawna Fenske so eloquently put in her blog post, Who has the right to say you suck?  (Answer: Everyone.)

Unless we’re JK Rowling, even most best-selling authors aren’t as big of a deal as we think they are.  Millions of non-writers, non-readers, or casual fans couldn’t tell us who Stephenie Meyer (of Twilight fame) is or identify her in a lineup.  Most best-selling authors are known by name only among readers of their genre (and sometimes not even then).

In other words, the phrase “a big fish in a little pond” applies to writers especially well.  Big fish can feel little if they’re put in a different pond, and vice versa for little fish.

For example, Tuesday night I went to my first meeting of a local writers group.  I spent the evening with 50 or so writers who aren’t on Twitter, checking out writing blogs, or hanging out in any of the same places I do.

They automatically assumed that I, as the newbie to the group, knew nothing about the publishing industry or writing in general.  I don’t fault them for that in the slightest.  After all, it’s not like we were exchanging our writing qualifications.  But the experience sure made me feel like a know-nothing little fish.  *smile*

The next morning, I woke up to several comments on Tuesday’s blog post about the Ask Jami idea, where I offered to answer people’s writing questions.  I could really relate when Todd Moody mentioned that he couldn’t ask people to guest post because he felt like a wannabe.

After Gene Lempp commented:

“You are one of the few people I’d consider taking advice from, so I think this is a cool idea.”

I responded:

“I need a disclaimer: Why are any of you here at my blog? Don’t you know that I’m not published yet? Why the heck are you listening to me?”

And yes, I put LOLs all over that comment, but the fear is real.  Self-doubt, thy name is Jami.

Luckily for me, Gene came back with a pep talk that was echoed by Jenny Hansen, and then Kristin Nador volunteered that my advice to her actually *gasp* hit the nail on the head.  So I splashed back into my home pond, happy with my delusions that I might know some stuff.

Or were they delusions?

The awesome-dipped-in-glitter (TM) Kristen Lamb has a series of posts on the three types of people to get to know for building our social media network.  Yesterday, she described the second type of movers and shakers, Mavens, people who accumulate knowledge.  And in a sense of cosmic timing I want to hug her for, she listed me as a Maven:

“Mavens are pathologically helpful. We are collectors of data and brokers of information. Not only do we collect vast stores of information, but we hold a rare ability to put that information in a useful context. We are unparalleled pattern filters and can spot trends and changes that others don’t or can’t yet see. And, not only do we have all this information, but we long to share it to make the lives of others better. … And, since our only agenda is to be helpful, many people listen to us.”

Huh.  I am pathologically helpful, I’ve mentioned before how I have hundreds of writing blog posts open at a time, I retweet the best of the best to my Twitter followers simply to be helpful, and I do analyze the big picture of the publishing industry for patterns and trends.

So while I know I still don’t have all the answers, Kristen helped me see where my strengths are.  And I think that’s what we all have to do.

Being delusional about how much we know is bad, but as writers, we’re equally likely to suffer from self-doubt delusions by focusing on our weaknesses.  On both ends of the scale, we have to learn to see through the delusions.  Overconfidence and under-confidence are equally destructive to our ability to grow.

Do you ever worry about being delusional on the overly optimistic side?  What about delusional on the too-negative side?  Has that caused self-doubt or other problems?  Do you have any tips on how to figure out if you’re delusional or not?  Have you ever experienced the shock of changing ponds?  How did you react or cope?

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What do you think?

51 Comments on "Are All Writers Delusional?"

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Shain Brown

I laughed when I read the topic of your post, and then laughed harder when your opener matched exactly what I was thinking. You could not be any more correct.

Luckily, I have a long way to go before I have any misconceptions about how perfectly polished I write. Right now, for me, it’s all about learning everything I can and writing everyday.

Sarah Pearson

I worry all the time about being too hard on myself. I do it in all areas of my life so it stands to reason that it follow through to my writing. I keep making excuses not to show anyone anything. I can’t decide if that’s because I really don’t think it’s good enough, or if I’m just too scared of someone actually telling me that it isn’t.

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly
You’re only delusional if you’re wrong 🙂 Personally, I think these delusions are only a symptom of insecurity. You hide in the corner never showing your work to anyone because you think you’re a newbie nobody? Insecurity… You have a need to feel superior to others, hence throwing your deals in their face? Why do you need to feel superior? Insecurity… I’ve only been toddling along at this silly writing pipe dream for a few years. Nothing compared to the seasoned veterans out there (I sat in on a few sessions with John Dalmas at Spocon. He’s been writing longer than I’ve been alive. Wow) However, I’ve two years experience that nobody else has. People may have gone much farther down the path than I, but IMHO there is no ‘THE path’. We each have our own, and we each learn unique things. And, we each have our own unique stories to tell. So, if ya focus on the fact that you have stories and experiences that nobody else has, that should help address some of your insecurity. Make peace with the fact that you’re flawed, and it’s no problem to trot your stuff out in front of others. As far as those who think they’re gods gift to literature because they’ve sold some books and have some nice book deals? Well, from the computer world…Microsoft. They sell software hand over foot, but most of us have seen how really good it is. Their marketing and business acumen? It’s obviously… Read more »
Janet B Taylor

Hi Miss Jami- Long time no hear, huh?
I rarely comment, but I still read (and Love) your blog every day. This one is spot on. You are an amazingly giving writer. And as another “aspiring” trying to balance writing and life, I have to say I don’t know how you find the time. Plus you make it look so effortless. It’s very cool and WAY admirable!
So thank you for doing what you do…

You….my sister… ROCK!

Suzanne Johnson

I think part of the problem, for me, anyway, is that I still don’t think of myself as an author–so I can’t imagine anyone wanting to ask me anything or to want my opinion. I registered (after editor prodding) for the Authors After Dark con next summer and looked at the list of authors who are going to be there and could only think, “OMG, they’re going to realize I’m faking it.” LOL. Not sure how to get past that.

Susan Sipal

You ARE incredibly helpful, Jami. And you do have such an insightful way of understanding writing and the problems we all face. Many times I’ve felt like your posts were especially geared to me. That’s why I love your blog so much.

And, yes, we’re all delusional. How else could we create completely fictitious worlds in our minds. But, in my deluded pond, you’re quite a big fish! 🙂

Roni Loren

I’m with you. (And am a fellow Maven, lol, go figure.) But I built my “writing advice” blog before I had an agent or a book deal. Once I got those, it didn’t make me anymore qualified to do it than before. But like you, I share what I learn as I go along. It’s not an “I know best” mentality, it’s a “hey, look what kickass thing I learned today” kind of thing.

Roni Loren

Oh, and one more thing. I had to laugh on what you said about the writer’s group. I’m a member of my local group as well and the majority of them aren’t social networkers/bloggers, so really have no clue that I have this successful blog going.

And I know that at RWA Nationals I’ve sat next to people at dinners and such, learned their name, and then later realized they were some bestselling author that I’d never heard of. So none of us can ever afford to get the “I’m kind of a big deal” mentality. Unless you’re at the JK Rowling level, you’re probably NOT a big deal. 🙂

Jenny Hansen

Roni,

I did the same fist bump Jami did on your comment. I know literally hundreds of published authors and I listen to the cool things that they know. Then there’s my thousands of students and they know more groovy stuff. All that nifty knowledge has to go somewhere right? (Thank God for blogs!!)

Signed,
Another Maven 🙂

Jenny Hansen

Hey Jami,

I’m soooo glad you did this post. I think scores of writers feel this way and it’s great to have someone else say, “Hey, me too.”

I don’t often pimp a post in the comments section (because I know it’s bit rude) but in THIS case, I think this Life List Club post that Gene Lempp and I collaborated on at his nifty blog is very appropo.

It’s called Playing To Your Strengths and is something I think many, many writers forget to do:

http://genelempp.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/guest-post-by-jenny-hansen-playing-to-your-strengths/

p.s. Thanks for the shout out, and thanks again for the guest post on Writers in The Storm. I’m gonna sneak you over to More Cowbell next!

Gene Lempp

We Mavens have to stick together you know 🙂

Self-doubt, hell yes. Daily. Every time I sit down to write a blog post, plan a scene or do anything writerly. But. I never let it stop me either and the reason is simple. If I never write (or take any action when I know I need to) then I’m guaranteed to fail. In all honesty, I’d rather be made fun of then fail.

The best way to combat this feeling is to remain realistically confident and press forward with an open mind and heart.

You know, Jami, it is no surprise that you are the very first person that I gravitated to after Kristen. Which, by the way, made you the THIRD blogger I’d ever read. Still read every post and try to comment every time. I know, without a doubt, that success awaits you.

So, my friend, always remember that no matter what pond you find yourself in, you are still the same fish and size is of precisely zero value. Big fish simply make bigger targets for the fisherman, while smart fish just keep swimming and ignore the barbed hooks.

Peace 😀

Todd Moody

Thanks for the mention Jami! You are one of my favorite Mavens. and you really do have a great knack for spotting trends and relating great information in an easy to digest format. Thanks for being so pathologically helpful!

I’m not in any trouble of being delusional (at least at my place in the writing world and hopefully never will be).

Awesome post! (as usual)

Tahlia Newland

Great post as usual and terrific comments. When I saw your heading, I also thought your first thought.
The idea that you’re not qualified to give advice unless you’ve been published is just plain stupid because there are university professors who teach writing and have never been published and they do know their stuff. Also every reader has a valid opinion, so even from that angle you have as much right as anyone to look at people’s writing and know what’s not working. You are very helpful and the ‘look what I learned today’ is a great attitude. You filter info for us and pass on what you know will be most helpful and that’s great.

Kristin’s posts have been really helpful to me too, to see where I fit in and to appreciate the role that I do naturally. It gives me confidence that what I do is not only ok, but is really helpful. Like you, that’s my aim.
As for deluding ourselves as to our ability, the important check there is other people, people who know what they’re talking about. I figure that if we’ve had a good number of other writers and editors give our work the OK, then we’re probably ready to publish.

Melinda Collins

Hey Jami!

I’m so glad that you did this post this week! I feel the same way you do, except I still have that small fear of putting what I’ve learned -along-the-way out there for everyone because I feel like there are so many other great blogs out there that offer pretty much the same advice on writing – they just do it a bit different than I might have – but still, I feel like “who’s going to listen to me”. So, I’m on my way to becoming a Maven. I just need to get over that small hurdle first 🙂

But you, my dear, are VERY much a Maven and I look forward to your posts every week and thoroughly enjoy learning from them 🙂

Charissa Weaks

After reading Kristen’s post yesterday I realized…”Wow. I’m a maven. That’s kind of nice.” I love sharing information and trying however I can to help others. In response to Suzanne’s comment, I can relate. When I started blogging, I realized that the teacher in me was going to find a way out whether I liked it or not. And I was a little worried. Why would anyone take advice from a non-published writer? Because we’re all on the same journey. Granted…we may take different paths, but along the way most of us cross the same obstacles, jump the same hurdles. You might go under, I might go around. And on some occasions we might do exactly the same thing. So…I started to look at my posts as ‘options’ rather than advice since ultimately the reader makes the decision which way to go. But it’s nice to know the options 🙂

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Dawn Luellan
Dawn Luellan

I happened to find you via that post, and as a “little fish” that aspires to grow, I’m glad that I did.

Thank you so much for your sharings! 🙂

Julie Musil

Check, check, check, and check on the delusions! You ARE helpful to many writers, so that is NOT a delusion of yours. I can say with certainty that I don’t suffer from over confidence 😀

M.E. Anders
M.E. Anders

I think all writers must be a bit delusional, or we would quit writing. We have all heard that we have better odds playing the lottery than making it big in publishing. Writing is in our blood. Writing is what we do. Writing often characterizes who we are…delusional, or not. 🙂

Erin Brambilla

Hi Jami,

I’ve always looked up to you as well! You share such wonderful information, it’s no wonder Kristen said you were a maven.

The self-doubt delusions have hit me big time lately. But you’re right, if I let those little seeds of doubt take route, they could destroy everything. I like Gene’s saying “I’d rather be made fun of than fail.” Because it’s only really failure if I don’t try and keep going.

Thanks for this post :).

Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

Hey! I’m not delusional, I’m weird! We’ve established that a while ago. Please do not confuse me; me brain only functions that far.

Hi Jami :). Intelligence is not delusional (ok, maybe in some cases there is a delusion about how intelligent one is).
In any case, to accumulate knowledge is one thing (doesn’t require much intelligence, memory is needed) and to sort it out and understand that knowledge is another (here is where intelligence is needed).
If one keeps in mind statements like “I know one thing for certain, that I know nothing” and “as long as I live, I learn”, then he/she is not in danger of becoming delusional (at least not much). 😀

Interesting post 🙂

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Kerry Meacham

Are All Writers Delusional? Uhhh….Is this a trick question? 🙂 As you can see from my comment on your previous blog, I am soooooo behind after being in Vegas. I’m still digging out. I’m sorry, but I just had to skip over some blogs I would normally read. However, I’m reading EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOURS. Why? Seven words for the Monster Maven….Jami Gold, Just Rocks The Free World!!!!

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