#SaystheEditor: Inherent Writerly Insecurity


Last week, one of my friends and clients — we’ll call her Stevie — got a rejection from a literary agent. She asked me for my interpretation (“Hey, she strongly encourages you to query others so yes, I’d say she’s encouraging.” I am very helpful at times, aren’t I?) and then said she wasn’t happy with part of her latest WIP.

So no surprise that Stevie crops up on Facebook saying she feels like a fraud. And no real surprise when a bunch of other writer friends — published in various ways, as always — chimed in that they feel the same way.

I threw sparkles and unicorns at ’em ’cause I recognized what was happening: our buddy IWI, or Inherent Writerly Insecurity.

It’s part and parcel of the curse of being a writer. The self-doubt. The feeling like you can’t replicate past success, even if the success is something only in your perception. Hell, I feel it. I worry I’ll never be able to create a character as wonderful and alive as Trevor Fucking Wolff. And with a name like that, are you surprised?

The question really becomes how we deal with it. If we can learn to embrace the Inherent Writerly Insecurity enough to make it work for us. No one as amazing as Trevor? Throw that gauntlet DOWN, folks. I’m THERE. (I’d like to think I did it with T, the bass player for Ice Cubes in Hell and yes, it took me THIS long to realize I have two amazing characters who are bass players and whose names begin with the same letter. We’ll get to author signatures another time, though. And if you haven’t met T, pick up Broken. For sale at all your favorite retailers for a whopping 99 cents.)

This is a hard lesson to learn, to make IWI work for us. To view it as a challenge, and the fact that not everyone can do what I do is part of what makes the world such a wonderful place. Takes all kinds, right?


Since you ain’t me, here’s what I tell my clients, all those Steves and Stevies, who drop into my inbox to lean on my really strong shoulders:

It’s okay to feel this way. Hell, you wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t.

But yes, it’s you who created everything you see on those pages at B&N, Amazon, and GoodReads. You really did accomplish that, and it is proof you are not a fraud. Frauds always get found out. Always. Trust me. I’ve pulled back more than one curtain on people who try to call themselves Oz. I know whereof I speak, and I know damn well, having seen the work you send my way, that you’re NOT a fraud.

What you’re listening to right now is the nagging voice of doubt. We all have it, even the people who aren’t authors. For us, though, who take every phone ring that’s not an agent offering representation as a rejection, who take every glance at our sales reports as a rejection even though we just checked thirty seconds ago, well… we let those demons in. We let our breath catch every time the phone rings. We keep checking the sales reports.

We have to be more diligent than the rest of the world about our fears and doubts. We can’t let them cripple us.

That doesn’t mean that every now and then, we don’t need to spend a day (or, better yet, an hour … okay, ten seconds) beating ourselves up because what’s in our head doesn’t transfer to the page with the same eloquence it danced across our brains. I think that taking a step back and listening to the doubt can be a good thing. It helps push us forward — see above about Trevor and T and the way I intend to make other characters as alive and vivid as those two.

Use it. Inherent Writerly Insecurity should be nothing more than another tool in our arsenal, another way in which we can connect to characters of all shapes, sizes, temperaments, and talents. Let it power your character’s flaws, their own sagging self-confidence.

Don’t let it get you down. Don’t let it cripple you.

You are made of stronger stuff than this. I promise.

And I got your back. More than anything, I got your back.


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