Wishful Thinking Trap Part II: I Wish I Was as Good as 'That Writer'
Attention writers! Don’t fall into the following thinking traps:
I wish I could be published like ‘that writer.’
I wish I was as good as ‘that writer.’
I wish I could be as successful as ‘that writer.’
I’d like to preface this article by informing the reader that this is part II of a series. If you would like to read part I for context, here’s the link: Wishful Thinking Trap Part I
Now, on with the show!
I: Falling into the trap
When I decided to publish my first novel, I definitely had doubts.
In all technicality, The Children of Venus was the third novel I’d written, but the first I considered for publication. I remember when I finished it. It was early one morning, near 4 a.m. I was finally finishing the last part of that chapter I’d procrastinated for far too long. I wasn’t going to sleep until it was finished.
The following day began one of my favorite parts of the writing process--the grueling process of editing (I'm not being sarcastic, it truly is one of my favorite parts). Just as most writers come to realize during the first edit, I too saw the amount of work the novel still needed.
This didn’t bring me down at first. This is normal, right? First drafts aren’t supposed to be perfect.
I’m a researcher and academic writer at heart. So, as part of the editing process, I researched other novels in my genre. What did they sound like? What was their word style? How did my novel compare? Would my novel be good enough to be next to theirs on a bookshelf?
And this is where self-doubt came into play.
Although it’s always good practice to find comp novels and understand the style of others in your genre, you also need to take in mind that these novels are written by individuals, each unique and different. As I went through comp novels, I did not necessarily think this. Instead, I compared myself to these other writers in an unhealthy way. Their work was so fantastically good, how dare I compare mine to theirs? They were entirely on another level. I constantly reminded myself that this was my first published novel, and it was inevitably going to be full of mistakes. However, the mental reminders didn't convince me.
Eventually, I got into the second–third–fourth–fifth drafts and well beyond. I received feedback from my peer editing group, beta readers, friends, family, editor–you name it. Such goes the editing process for indie authors. Even as I made improvements, I still had this nagging thought in the back of my mind: it’s not good enough and will never be.
I wish I was as good as ‘that writer.’
II: Ascent from the trap
As I mentioned in the previous article in this series, ‘that writer’ doesn’t exist. And I unwittingly dove headfirst into the trap. No matter how much work I put into my novel, I kept wishing I was ‘that writer.’
How did I get out?
One night as I was mentally debating the validity of publishing my novel, my husband came over with an open book. He said, “Read the first page.”
I did. It was the first page of a science fiction novel I purchased as a comp novel. One I hoped mine could one day be side by side in the bookstore. My reaction? “Good first page.”
“Look again–do you see it?”
And I saw it bright as day.
Was I seeing this correctly? A mass-market novel, looked at by entire teams of people, printed and published after multiple quality assurance checks. And it had an error.
Once I saw it I couldn’t unsee it. I read it over and over again. And the funny thing–that error didn’t change anything. It was still an exceptional, entertaining, and well-written first page.
“See,” he said. “Even writers like this still have mistakes in their books. That doesn’t mean it’s not good.”
And that’s when I truly began my ascent out of the trap.
A few days after this event I went back to the bookstore. I flipped through pages of various comp books.
And found a mistake in every single book.
There's an important truth in this for me. No work of art is perfect–it’s too objective for that. That means no novel is perfect. And it doesn’t have to be. A lack of perfection doesn’t mean a book isn’t good or a writer isn’t a good writer. It just means he or she is human and is going to overlook and make human errors. A hundred people could edit a manuscript, and there will still be mistakes.
III: Avoiding the trap in the future
I eventually followed through with publishing The Children of Venus. Is it perfect? No, but I’m still proud of it as any writer should be about their work. It’s creation, a beautiful thing.
So this begs the question: why do people fall into this trap? Why do they become so intimidated that their writing isn’t good enough?
I want to say a lesson well learned and that I won’t fall for that trap again. But honestly speaking, that’s not part of human nature. I still find myself skirting along the edge of that trap. I don’t think it’s possible to completely avoid it altogether, not when you’re in an industry where you put yourself out there before everyone. Instead, it’s best to take preventative measures in reframing your thoughts when you’re in such situations.
First, acceptance. Accept that this trap is a construct of one’s own mind. Meaning, that it can be overcome by accepting truths in our thinking. Accepting things as they are instead of wishing they were different. And most importantly, accepting that as an individual, you are more capable than you give yourself credit for. Accept your work for what it is. Accept your writing for what it is, and don’t second guess it.
This leads us to the next reframe.
Second, confidence in the self. Easier said than done, right? Putting yourself into the public eye in any industry is daunting. The judgments of others is a scary thing. But they aren’t the ones creating the trap. We are. Our worrying creates it. And worrying about the judgments of others is what separates those brave enough to put their work out there, and those that won’t. Will people judge your work? Yes, absolutely. However, you must ask yourself, will you let them make your decisions for you?
To add a caveat: this doesn’t mean disregarding the feelings of others and becoming apathetic to their experiences and opinions. What this means is that if you’ve done the necessary work with the right intentions, then have confidence in yourself and your work. Accept constructive criticism knowing that we are always working toward improvement. That’s what builds us. And that criticisms don’t mean that your work isn’t valid. People have opinions–just as you do– and it’s okay. Sometimes those judgments and criticisms can be harsh. It’s not a reflection of who you are or your writing capabilities.
I would like to close with a quick reminder: I'm not a mental health professional. These tips are from my own experiences and I hope that my experiences can be helpful and uplifting to those who read.
Stay tuned for part III.
Thanks for reading. As always--enjoy life!