Insecurity seems to be a fundamental trait that writers share. Whether the craft is fiction, poetry, screenwriting, essays, or even copy writing, writers worry about their writing. Is it good enough? Is it the right style? With others read and enjoy it? Will I be mocked? Is it worthy of publication?
Recently, a few of my writer friends have been particularly plagued by insecurity. For them, I try to be the cheerleader. I provide an optimistic, outside perspective and offer words of encouragement or tips for improvement. However, I would be the biggest liar on this planet if I said that I didn’t feel insecure from time to time (read: most of the time). But fretting over every detail and talking down to yourself won’t help you. In fact, if self-fulfilling prophecy has anything to say about it, it will probably make you a worse writer. Therefore, the next time you are feeling a bit shaky, try remembering these five mantras:
1.) You are probably not the next J.K. Rowling (and that’s okay!).
Feel free to substitute whichever hit-it-big, rich writer you choose (mine would be Nicholas Sparks). Look, more than likely, your work will not be an international, multi-million dollar, movie empire success. Could it be? Of course. But realistically speaking, most books sell under 500 copies in their lifetime, and the ones that are a huge success nowadays tend to be so more because of marketability than literary genius (Fifty Shades, anyone?). Your work is your work. You have your own, unique style and someone, somewhere will appreciate it. You don’t have to write the next Hunger Games to be a worthy, successful author. There are thousands of mid-list authors who achieve a full-time income and/or loyal fan bases without becoming a household name. There is no shame in this.
2.) You are probably not the next Hemingway, either (and that is STILL okay!)
Again, feel free to substitute the critically-acclaimed author of your choice (mine would be Faulkner). Just as your work will probably not make you ridiculously rich, you probably won’t go down in history as one of the greatest writers of all time. Could you? Of course. But again, realistically speaking, you’re probably not one of the greats, and that is fine. Literature is subjective. You could have a million readers who believe you are the best writer in the known universe, and someone will still hate your work. In someone’s estimation, there will always be a book better than yours, and there will always be a book worse than yours. As long as you are happy with and proud of your writing, that is all that matters.
3.) No one else can write like you.
In regards to rules one and two, you may not be like other writers, because every writer is unique. You have your own voice, your own perspective, and no one can take those away from you. It is useless to compare your writing to others’ work, because it is like comparing apples and oranges (or Whitman and Shakespeare). Sure, it can be done, but you can never account for the billion little idiosyncrasies that make you unique as a writer and an individual. As long as you stay true to your voice and write from your authentic self, you will be the writer that you are meant to be.
4.) There are no rules.
This is my favorite. Grammar lovers, cut me a little slack on this one. Seriously, you can write your book or poem or essay however you like. Do you want to divide your novel by parts instead of chapters? Fine. Do you want to exclude all punctuation from your poetry? Fine. Do you want to write an essay entirely in the second person? Fine. While there are some established guidelines necessary to win over a traditional publisher (or achieve success as a self-published author), if all you want to do is express yourself creatively and experiment with new forms, then just do it! For real, what’s stopping you?
5.) You can do whatever you want with your writing.
If all else fails, remember: your writing is your intellectual property, and you can do with it what you will. Do you want to try your luck with agents and publishers? Great! Do you want to build your own author-entrepreneur business and independently publish? Nifty! Do you want to let a few friends, family members, or random internet strangers read it? Awesome! Do you want to crumple it in a ball, set it on fire, and release the ashes in international waters? Cool! At all times, you are in complete, creative control of your writing. Do with it whatever makes you happy.
As unofficial sixth point, let me reiterate: you are not alone. All writers face insecurity in some form at some time. And sure, 99.9% of us won’t be insanely rich or achieve literary acclaim. But we all have a unique voice, the right to determine our own style, and complete control over our creativity. So pick up your pen or put your fingers on your keyboard, shove that little ball of terror or self-loathing in your desk drawer, and write what you want. You have a story worth telling inside you, you deserve to write it, and the world deserves to receive it.
If you’re working on your first novel and worry that it will suck, read this. And, as always, leave your comments, fears, and encouragements below!