Friday, February 13, 2009

I'm Better Than You

I'm a much better writer than you are.

Sure, I know that taste is subjective. But if we could wave a magic wand and strip away personal taste and bias, leaving only the raw, core elements of what makes writing good, everyone would know the truth: That I'm the greatest writer to ever live.

It doesn't matter if other writers make more money. They got lucky, and good for them. But my writing is better than theirs.

It doesn't matter if other writers sell more books. That's all dependent on the publisher, and how big a marketing budget a book has. It doesn't make their books better than mine.

It doesn't matter if other writers win more awards, or get better reviews. That's all subjective. On a level playing field, if we stripped away the bias and nepotism, I'm better than all of them.

I shouldn't ever say this in public, of course. People will think I'm an ass. An egomaniac. A deluded know-it-all. They'll question my grasp of reality, and try their best to cut me down, to prove me wrong.

In fact, they might try to cut me down even if I never speak of how great I am. That's okay. They're envious, or ignorant, or unhappy with their own lives. A writer as magnificent as I am can't be bothered with petty people.

But the undeniable fact remains. I am the greatest writer who ever lived. I am a legend. I am a god.

I have to believe this. I have to believe this with all of my heart and soul. How else could I keep sitting down, day after day at my computer, forcing out prose that might never ever sell?

I know I'm the best. How else could I keep my sanity in a crumbling marketplace and a volatile industry?

I'm superhuman. How else could I justify the time, the money, the blood and sweat and toil and tears I've shed pursuing this profession? How else could I believe that someday I will land that megadeal, and hit that bestseller list, and win those awards, and get those great reviews?

Do you really think I'd get anything done if I believed I sucked?

But that is irrelevant. I don't suck. I'm incredible.

Every time I struggle through a tough scene, wrack my brain for a plot complication, send yet another baby out into the world to be ridiculed and rejected, the only thing that keeps me going is my unwavering faith in myself.

I. Am. The. Best.

And if you don't think you're the best, quit now. Once you begin to doubt yourself, you get eaten alive.

I encourage all of you to gape in awe at the greatest writer in the universe. I command that you gaze into this writer's eyes and see the creative genius simmering within. The writer that towers above all others. The writer that will conquer the world.

Go. Do it now. Look at this magnificent writer.

Hint: You'll need a mirror.

38 comments:

Kathryn Magendie said...

Why, how could you be, when it is I who is the greatest writer ever? Well, I suppose you can take second place? yes? (smiling)

Sarah pekkanen said...

Not only are you a great writer, you give the rest of us pep talks when we need them most. Thanks.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Hi, Joe, love your posts and your approach as always. You remind me of Dr. Cox on Scrubs--all bluster and edge but with a heart o' gold.

There is another possibility besides being the best:

I'm not the best. In fact there are thousands of better writers out there who aren't yet published and may never be. But God chose me because He is good at taking the weak and useless things of this world and making something great happen with them.

I am published because God has plans for me. He wants to give me a chance to change culture for His sake through my writing. It is an honor and a gift to be able to fulfill my heart's cry to tell stories, get published, and reach people, so...

I'd better take this seriously. I'd better work my rear off. I'd better get to my keyboard and craft a story that would make God proud.

No, I am not the best. I am not the most talented or even the most disciplined. But the God who took a little hick town like Bethlehem and gave it everlasting honor; the God who took a little shepherd boy and made him king; the God who saw fit to change the world with tax collectors, fishermen, harlots, and hypocrits--that God chose me to write books.

That said, I need to go write. ;-)

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

You rock

Now go get your wife something really cool for Valentines

FIONA said...

Just what I needed to hear today.

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Let me offer a dissenting opinion here. The idea that you must/should feel you're the best, or get out of the writing business, is terrible advice. Self-doubt is normal (after all, we're human and humans have flaws!) and everyone feels doubts from time to time. Wishing away that reality is no more useful, or possible, than suggesting that we should wave a wand and wish away our insecurities.

The idea that you have to exist at one of two polar extremes--either I'm the best at what I do, or I'm a self-doubter who will fail--is logically flawed in the most obvious way, and likely to do harm to those who heed Joe's advice.

My advice to Joe and others: accept your self-doubts as a normal human emotion (so long as these thoughts don't paralyze you), accept that you're probably not the greatest writer in the world, accept that you don't have to be the greatest to be a successful author, and stay away from advice that invites narcissistic thinking (it's bad for your mental health and your soul).

Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

Your self-confidence is applaudable, but the statement that writers who get paid are just lucky is an utterly specious argument...except in the case of some of the crappily-written novels I've read lately. Now that gives me the incentive to plow on with creative writing! If those books get published, surely mine will too, even with the competition from you!

Happy VD!

Jennifer Roland said...

I'm with Georganna--If those guys/gals could get published, so can I!

JA Konrath said...

I love dissenting opinions. :)

Self-doubt is normal (after all, we're human and humans have flaws!) and everyone feels doubts from time to time.

Giving in to self-doubt is deadly.

Every time a batter approaches the plate, he has to believe he can knock it over the wall. He HAS to.

And if he doesn't knock it over the wall, he has to believe he can next time at bat, or he'll never bat again.

You're missing the point, here, Anon. We all fail. It's inevitable. We're going to fail whether we think we're the best, or whether we doubt ourselves.

But thinking we're the best allows us to shake off failure and keep trying.

Winners know how to lose. They know it's part of the game. But to be winners, they also must believe that, under any circumstance, they can win.

There is no room for doubters on the ball field. The doubters fulfill their own expectations. Believe in yourself, or find another business.

And there was no reason to post anonymously in this case. Your point was intelligent, well made, and presented politely. You should have the self-confidence to own your comments. It's tough to take advice--and yours is decent advice--from someone without a name or a face.

JA Konrath said...

Georgeanna--just about every bestselling novel, every award-winning novel, every well known and beloved novel, was rejected by agents and editors.

Books get sold through luck. The right book in front of the right agent in front of the right editor at the right time means a whole punch of things have to fall into place.

And since you acknowledge bad books do get published, there's really no way to objectively judge the good from the bad, the publishable from the unpublishable.

So it comes down to luck. Scary, but true.

Amber Lynn Argyle said...

I write on hope. When my hope slips, so does my fire for writing. Right now, we're down to embers.
Love the Dr. Cox sentiment, Wayne. So true!

JA Konrath said...

Amber, hope is a four letter word, as I've said many times before.

Hope implies no control. If you have no goals, no wants, no needs, then it is okay to live your life without control.

If you desire to better yourself, it doesn't happen by crossing your fingers and clicking your heels together three times.

Set goals you can attain, then reward yourself for reaching those goals. Don't dwell on things beyond your control.

Once you take hope out of the picture, you'll find that hard work, passion, and creativity can offer a lot of personal satisfaction.

Then, when the stars align and something sells, it will be a nice surprise rather than a relief.

N. Mahana said...

After reading the first couple of paragraphs to this, I couldn't help but think of Marty from Slaves of New York. *lol*

AstonWest said...

Indeed, one has to think they're the best writer that ever lived to keep going in this business.

The trouble arises when the rejections keep coming, over and over.

But I'm still the best...I don't know what you're smoking thinking you are. ;-)

JA Konrath said...

The trouble arises when the rejections keep coming, over and over.

Those people are clueless, unable to recognize genius when they see it.

Your job is to make them recognize it through persistence and obsessive detail to your craft.

Anonymous said...

I think it is great that you share with us these things that work so well for you...generous and helpful

I do have some general thoughts about how useful today's post might be for others though...

if when you say "I am the best"you hear a voice saying -- "come on, you can't be serious" then this "I am the best"method is not going to work so well for you...

I Agree about not giving in to self doubt, BUT

the best sportsmen do not stand in front of mirrors mouthing mantras about how they are the best -- all that does for many is build false, brittle self esteem that shatters at the first pressure...

suppressing the self doubt, refusing to acknowledge it, just pushing it down with affirmations, leads to the unconscious sabotaging people -- like the yips in golf, or the mystical writer's or artists block...

the best sportsmen have tools to use when the self doubt creeps in -- they look at the self doubt and acknowledge it, say "hi, you back again? well, thanks for wanting to keep me safe, if I don't try I can't fail -- but really I don't needyou because..." then they go on to working affirmations that are based on real tangible facts

eg "but you see, I AM hitting at 0.400, so I have no need to doubt myself"

now one way to boost yourself and be real -- is to just modify the affirmation slightly:

"I am the BEST writer to write THIS book...only I can do this story justice...."

the key is to have positive affirmatoins that your unconscoius can buy into -- then your unconscious and conscious minds work together to produce the best game...

ok -- off my psychology soap box now

thanks again for the blog - always interesting and usually tremendously helpful

CJ

PS Google not accepting my id and password for some reason so had ot post this as anonymous -- hope you don't take that [personally -- I have put my usual user name as a signature -- CJ

John McFetridge said...

Every time a batter approaches the plate, he has to believe he can knock it over the wall. He HAS to.

Sure, but much of that belief has been built up over many hits in the past. The very first time as kid steps up to the plate he wants to believe. He only really believes he can do it once he's done it. The biggest failing of the self-esteem movement has been the idea that self-esteem can be achieved on its own, simply by believing without actually doing anything.

Of course everyone has to find what works best for themselves. For some people it's believing they are the best, for me it's believing I'm on the right track to become the best.

JA Konrath said...

I don't mind anonymous comments--that's why I allow them. But usually they're so people can say "You're an idiot, Joe" without fear that I'll hunt them down and shoot them.

Ali is widely considered the greatest athlete of all time.

Is it a coincidence that he called himself The Greatest? I don't think so.

I think many of the best sportsmen DO stand in front of mirrors and talk themselves up. That's what the coach does to his team at every halftime. That's what the ringman does in a boxer's corner.

I know a bestselling author, and whenever she's in contract negotiations she psyches herself up in the mirror before talking to her editor.

"You're worth a fortune. Your potential is boundless. They're lucky to have you. They're lucky to even be taking your call. You deserve more, and you're going to get more."

And it works.

Much of life is how we view ourselves in it.

I contend there is zero room for doubt in this business. Once doubt creep is, failure is crippling. And we all fail sometimes.

Go all in, or step away from the poker table.

JA Konrath said...

The biggest failing of the self-esteem movement has been the idea that self-esteem can be achieved on its own, simply by believing without actually doing anything.

Great point.

Before you become the greatest writer in the world, you have to write, and write a lot. You have to learn what makes good writing. You have to learn how to edit. You have to read. You have to learn about the business.

But these are all skills that can be mastered. It just takes time and commitment.

If you're committed to reaching a goal, and understand the steps needed to reach that goal, it is in your best interest to not only believe you can do it, but that you're unstoppable.

Chris Wood said...

Thank you for that! It provided a boost I needed.

Mary Duncan said...

"I am the BEST writer to write THIS book...only I can do this story justice...."

PERFECT!!! If each of us blogging here today were to be given the same subject to write about, each of us would have a different story.

A bit like the telephone game where someone begins by giving a statement then passing it on. By the time it reaches ten or twenty people, there's probably not much left of the original. However, there's probably some very interesting stories that have morphed from that first statement.

My point, before I forget it, is that while luck certainly plays a huge part in getting published, being able to write the story that's in your heart the best way you know how will eventually capture the attention it deserves.

And besides, who needs to be on the bestsellers list anyway? ;o)

ben said...

Go all in, or step away from the poker table.

Being a poker player, I sure can relate to this. Good post Joe.

Merc said...

*cackles*

Joe, that was absolutely hilarious and highly motivational, thank you.

Of course you're wrong, I'm the best obviously, but you're welcome to have your delusions of grandeur. ;)

~Merc

James Scott Bell said...

I would tweak this just a bit. A writer who self-hypnotizes him/herself into thinking "I am better than anybody else" and gets rejected is prone to bitterness: they just don't recognize my genius! It's putting validation of the theory into another's hands.

When I was unpublished my self-talk was, "I am the hardest working writer I've ever heard of." When I'd read about the work ethic of other writers, I'd strive to emulate or surpass that. That put the control in my hands, and I could assess progress every day.

I still try to remind myself of this often. Your last comment was right along those lines.

Christine Fletcher said...

If you're committed to reaching a goal, and understand the steps needed to reach that goal, it is in your best interest to not only believe you can do it, but that you're unstoppable.

This, I wholeheartedly agree with.

I also agree that a writer MUST have confidence in him/herself. We can't wait for affirmation from others to believe in ourselves, because we'll be waiting a looong time. Not to mention that any positive affirmations will be few and far between, while rejections pile up and our families ask if maybe we'd like to take up gardening instead.

But I don't agree with the mantra "I'm the best writer in the world," because that gives me nowhere to go. I've known a ton of novice writers over fifteen years, and the ONLY ones who have succeeded to publication are those of us who are never satisfied with our own work. We hold an ideal in our heads that we strive to reach. If we reach it, we set the bar higher. I'm not the best. But I believe with my heart and soul I will be the best, because I have confidence in my ability to learn my craft and persevere despite anything.

The writers who I believe will NEVER succeed are those convinced they're at the pinnacle of their talents, their books are already the best they can possibly be, and that the publishing industry is full of idiots who fail to recognize how great they are. Yeah, good luck with that. They're stuck, they'll stay stuck, and they'll never understand why. All they have is hubris, and that ain't enough.

I recognize when another writer is better than me. I recognize when another book is better than mine. That doesn't cause me to doubt myself. It raises the bar. It drives me to learn from that writer, and that book, and to surpass them.

You're right that doubt can be crippling. But doubt is there, and writers have to learn how to deal with it. Which is NOT simply sticking one's fingers in one's ears and chanting, I'm the best over and over.

The value of doubt lies in the overcoming of it. If writers can't do that, they'll fail. OTOH, if writers have no doubts at all, then they have no impetus to improve...and they'll fail.

Chris Fletcher
www.christinefletcherbooks.com

Janet said...

I totally disagree. I found myself free to write when I stopped trying to be the best. I am perfectly happy just being very good. ;o)

Seriously.

But then, I have always detested superlatives as essentially meaningless. Even in kindergarten I was dismayed when they asked for my favourite colour. How on earth could I choose a favourite, or a best?

Funny, I posted on this very question a few days ago. You stalking me? ;o)

Laura said...

JOE YOU ROCK.
'nuf said.

Anonymous said...

"If you think you're a hack, then you aren't one."

(I believe this line came from an old Apple ad targeting advertising art directors.)

JA Konrath said...

How on earth could I choose a favourite, or a best?

Because human beings have opinions, and the human mind works by subconsciously analyzing and catagorizing sensory input.

I've known a ton of novice writers over fifteen years, and the ONLY ones who have succeeded to publication are those of us who are never satisfied with our own work.

I'm never satisfied witht he level of success I achieve, which is why I continue to try harder.

But if I wasn't satisfied with my writing, I'd do something easier.

At the end of the day, the writing is the only thing we have control over. If we aren't happy with what we're putting down on paper, why do it?

The whole "tortured artist" image is BS. We make stuff up and get paid. That's more fun, and easier, than just about any other job I can think of.

As a friend says, "No one ever complains about farmer's block."

But those are some great points, Christine.

A writer who self-hypnotizes him/herself into thinking "I am better than anybody else" and gets rejected is prone to bitterness: they just don't recognize my genius! It's putting validation of the theory into another's hands.

Well, James, you're right. But so am I.

There's a thin line between self-confidence and self-delusion. How do you truly know the difference?

I think I'll blog about this in the near future, because I know a lot of newbie authors who feel entitled to a career when they simply aren't good enough yet.

Janet said...

"How on earth could I choose a favourite, or a best?"

Because human beings have opinions, and the human mind works by subconsciously analyzing and catagorizing sensory input.

LOL! I guess I'm not quite human then. I can handle favourites in the plural, I can handle the concept of quality, but "best" always eludes me.

I'm looking forward to the post on the line between self-confidence and delusion. I personally like to think I'm confident...

An important element in the distinction is the relative level of ignorance and sophistication. In any field, the more ignorant you are, the less capable you are of evaluating your own competence. Hence all the people who know how the country should really be run, blissfully unaware of the constraints and complexity of it, the armchair quarterbacks swearing at the coaches and, of course, the deluded wannabe writers who cannot see that their grammar limps, their dialogue clunks, and their plot line wavers uncertainly in several directions at once. The opening rounds of American Idol give us plenty of examples in the musical realm.

JA Konrath said...

In any field, the more ignorant you are, the less capable you are of evaluating your own competence.

Great observation, and very well put.

Nett said...

I happened upon your blog just in the nick of time. Now I can perfect my chant of, "I am the greatest" with continued gusto! Excellent pep talk!

All the best!

Christine Fletcher said...

The whole "tortured artist" image is BS. We make stuff up and get paid. That's more fun, and easier, than just about any other job I can think of.

Definitely agree with this. By never being satisfied, I'm not tortured and I'm not unhappy; I do think I'm a very good writer, and I'm confident I'll only get better. For me, that's part of the lure of writing. There's always more to learn, always somewhere new to go. I love that. That's why I wouldn't say I'm the "best;" number one, it's not true, and number two, it feels like shutting a door. It's the open door that entices me. If I was satisfied with my writing five years ago, I wouldn't be writing at the level I am now. Ditto (I hope) five years in the future.

In any field, the more ignorant you are, the less capable you are of evaluating your own competence.

Perfectly put, Janet. This is what I was trying to get at. If a writer is too ignorant to know what he doesn't know and he's convinced he's already the "best," that's a recipe for failure.

jerseygirl89 said...

You're killing me here. I've written several posts on how much I hate our GPS, Garmin Girl. Yet you have not only given me a way to kill her, if I help save your Sheila I get to read one of your books. I am so torn.

Jen said...

Interesting post, Joe. I've been contemplating this a lot since the beginning of the year, and I've come to a slightly different conclusion.

While I think it's important to not give into self-doubt or buy into the tortured artiste image (which cracks me up whenever I think about it...gimme a break!), I think false confidence doesn't do you any good. The whole "fake it 'till you make it" school of thought can be a godsend for someone who struggles with self-esteem, but if you puff yourself up too much, your ego gets a little too fragile, as others here have pointed out.

I make jokes about people not appreciating my genius, but I am always very aware that there is room for improvement. If I ever fall into the trap of thinking I'm the greatest writer EVAH, I think it would be a disaster.

YMMV, of course.

*big grins*

JA Konrath said...

Jen, I think "fake it till you make it" works in some cases.

Confidence is attractive. Most people aren't confident. Learning to fake it leads to good things happening.

You can't learn to fake good writing, however.

That's why I always get into trouble when I make sweeping blanket statements. Life is more complicated.

In order to get a book done, you should believe you're the greatest.

Then, when you rewrite/edit, you need to believe you can make it better.

Then, when you send it out into the world, you need to believe you're the greatest again.

Cole Buzan said...

I am honestly interested in a Guru's opinion pertaining to horse urine in today's energy drinks.

Cole Buzan said...

I happened to google my name from my cell phone at work today. I noticed that I had posted on this blog. I apologize for the post. It was meant for The Baka Guru/Rahx. I am one of those horrid people should not drink wine at the computer. I tend to leave countless windows open. D= No blog was safe. When I research I usually have up to 10. It is a nasty habit.

I was leaving "Post a Comment" windows open to remind myself to post. I am currently using 3 open windows and will not be leaving the far too similar, plain and white "post a comment" windows open in the future.

I think this blog is brilliant and a wonderful motivator.
And if you don't think you're the best, quit now. Once you begin to doubt yourself, you get eaten alive.
This is complete truth and I agree with you. I honestly needed to hear/read it. So, I read it out loud to myself and although The Meep looked at me as if to say, "You have lost your mind," I feel better for it.