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When Reality Hits Our Writerly Delusions of Grandeur

Let’s be perfectly honest. We’ve all harbored thoughts about our writerly greatness at one time or another. These are the times when we secretly hope we’re better than others, that maybe we won’t get rejected 100 times like everyone else, or that perhaps we’ll be a best seller on our first book.

I had one such recent delusion of grandeur. This past spring my editor at Bethany House told me she would be in contact with me when she started doing her line-edits on The Preacher's Bride. Since I was busy writing my next contracted book, I didn’t think too much about those edits.

But then, weeks and weeks began to pass. I hadn’t heard from my editor in so long, at first I wondered if she’d forgotten about me. Then came the delusion: What if she’d already done the line-edits and everything was so good, that she hadn’t found anything major to contact me about?

Yes, I’m chagrinned—I really did think that—but only in passing. Reality hit when I got an email from my editor not long after. It read: I’ve been really busy with other projects and I haven’t started line edits for The Preacher’s Bride yet. When I get into it, I may have a few questions or things to discuss. If so, I will call or email you.

My visions of glory faded, replaced by a cloud of anxiety. I couldn’t help thinking back to the sweat and tears I’d dripped over my substantive edits. And I quickly realized how foolish I was to think I would be spared the line edits. I’d have to do them, just like every other author in the history of publishing.

Why do we have the tendency to think we’re better than we really are? What is it about the human heart that longs to skip over the muscle-straining, back-breaking work? Why do we so often wish for success without the painful process of getting there?

I have to battle against that tendency to think more highly of myself than I ought. During the struggle to stay grounded, I remind myself of these realities:

*We’re usually never as good as we think we are. We may downplay our writing abilities to others, but inside we often think, “I’m good. If only an agent or editor would take a look, they’d see how good I really am.”

While we do need to have quiet self-confidence and believe in ourselves and our dreams, let’s remember there will always be those better than us, those further along the journey. If we hang onto false impressions of our abilities, then we may lose out on the chance to improve our writing skills and stories.

*We’ll always have to make more changes than we anticipate. Contest judges, critique partners, editors, agents—privately we hope we’ll escape the criticism, that somehow we’ll have gotten it all right and won’t need much, if any, editing.

While we do want to strive to have our work the best it can be, we have to accept the fact that change is an integral part of the publication process. We have to know the heart of what’s truly important to us and keep that in our palm, but then be willing to let the rest slip through our fingers. If we cling to our words too tightly, we may miss opportunities that could propel our careers forward.

*We’ll all have to face rejection. Of course we want to be the one who beats the odds. We harbor the hope that our stories will be universally lauded and applauded by everyone, that we won’t get a scathing review, or stinging comment.

While we do want to minimize our chances of rejection by following guidelines and maintaining professionalism, we can’t possibly hope to be perfect or please everyone. We’ll disappoint some of our readers. Not everyone will agree with everything we write in our blog posts. And not every agent or editor will like our stories. And when we try to please everyone, we only spread ourselves out and make ourselves into somebody we’re not.

So, my final thoughts on combating writerly delusions?
Stay humble. Be willing to change. But be secure in who we are.

‘Fess up! Have you ever had any writerly delusions of grandeur? What do you tell yourself to stay grounded in reality?

61 comments:

  1. Oh, I totally have fantasies of releasing my MS and everyone is open-mouthed with amazement at how good it is. Where has this woman been all our lives? Instant bestseller! Straight to the top of the charts!

    And then I grin and realize I'll settle for just a few hundred rejection letters.

    Thanks for the post!

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  2. Eeek, yes, I def. have these delusions. LOL A few ways to stay humble include querying and entering contests. Wake-up calls every time. :-)

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  3. Umm....yes, definitely. I have those at least once a day. But I also have writerly delusions of horribleness once a day too. I've been known to swing from, "My writing is wonderful" to "This is the worst crap I've ever read" all within the same hour. Pretty unstable. My medicine: a healthy dose of Jesus. Just knowing that this passion/talent/whatever-you-want-to-call-it isn't mine, but a gift. I truly could not do it on my own (I've tried).

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  4. I'm like Katie and swing from one extreme to the other. After finaling in a contest, I had grand delusions that I might final in the second one. Ha! I was so wrong. :)(And it is embarrassing to admit that I even thought that! But since you were so transparent, I thought I'd share mine.)

    But like Katie, I have to think that if God put this writing bug in my heart, then I am right where I need to be and the journey path He has laid out for me is the perfect way to go!

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  5. Yes, I talk myself into thinking I'm good, I'm great and then reality hits and I have to work hard at it.

    It was hard to accept that my children weren't perfect (they are nearly though) and difficult to accept my writing isn't perfect.

    Great post.

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  6. Yes. But I also swing to the opposite extreme too. I try and separate myself from either viewpoint, realizing that it's just my mind playing games with me. It has nothing to do with my actual writing.

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  8. Okay going to try again. Blogger is acting up.

    I think most writers think they suck more often than they have delusions of grandeur. If you have been subbing or entering contests a while you get the haughty beat out of you pretty darn fast.

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  9. We all have dreams. For some they come true...me? I just wake up. *grin*
    I am being realistic and enjoying the writing journey. I just want to complete my wip, whether I will find courage to do any with it is yet to be seen.

    Happy Scribbling.

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  10. Definitely have those fantasies . . . and then I go read my WIP. *sigh*

    But good reminder to stay humble and work hard . . . but to also remember we definitely can't please everyone!

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  11. Good points, Tina and everyone! I think we can also struggle with the opposite emotion--thinking we're totally the pits. And we can let discouragement dictate our writing. I try to combat discouragement the same way I do delusions--I stay humble and willing to change, but try to remain confident in my stories and in my love for writing.

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  12. Oh, I think we ALL dream about being the one to make it minus rejection... having contest scores come back glowing with minimal bad feedback. I'd call it more an unrealistic "dream" than a delusion, because few of us really think it's actually going to happen (or at least I don't, ha!)

    I think I teeter-tater between the two extremes... hoping that I'm super good and some agent swipes me up, and thinking I'm the most wreched writer ever. More of my dreams if you will, is to counteract what I know is my tendency towards a low self-esteem. There is something about making yourself be confident about your writing (without being cocky hopefully) that helps you improve as well.

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  13. Oh yes, delusions plenty. But usually reality sets in pretty quickly and I come crashing back down to earth:)

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  14. My delusions are gone for awhlile--now just trying to convince myself I can write at all. LOL
    Good post Jody! Thanks!

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  15. Good advice, "Stay humble. Be willing to change. But be secure in who we are."

    I admit, I've had those delusions--and recently, too--with the Genesis contest. I think it's good to dream big but we also need to prepare ourselves and realize that everything in writing is work and no matter what, it always will be.

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  16. Jody, it wasn't so much that I thought I was great, but when I started doing school visits after the publication of my children's books, everywhere I went, the kids treated me like a star. It was an odd dichotomy, because inside I knew that I was just a regular old mom who had worked hard and been fortunate in achieving the connections that led to publication. I felt I was in a privileged place to share whatever I'd learned thus far with the kids. But I had to constantly downplay my "star status," not because I believed it, but because I wanted the kids to stay grounded about it. I think I've had a sense of humility at my base the duration. What probably comes close is when I didn't get the third contract. Well, I did, but that little publishing house folded. And rejections have followed. So, if there were a few moments of me feeling like I'm all that, those moments were fleeting. I'm pretty well grounded now and don't see myself ever floating away too high. However, when the next contract does come, I'll likely appreciate it even more than the first two times, if that's possible, because I know how difficult it is to both achieve and secure long term those vital connections. Good to be mindful of the truth of the matter. I think many writers who seek publication see the end result through rose-colored glasses. It's rarely that, but it can be an interesting, beautiful journey if we see the whole picture. :)

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  17. I'm so nervous about getting my edits. It will be the first time I've ever gone through this process. It's intimidating!

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  18. Delusions of grandeur? I have had a few seconds perhaps of imagining my book on the best seller list. No, that's not true. I've imagined myself sitting next to Oprah because then I'd be on the best-seller list. But than, reality always does set in and I flip to the dark side. Staying humble is such a lovely way to approach this dilemma, Jody. Thanks for sharing, as always.
    Karen

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  19. I decided to give myself this entire weekend for my delusions. Every time my husband asked me what I was doing, I said something like, "I'm daydreaming about my novel selling like crazy!" Now today I'm back to a cautious optimism, back to preparing layers of defense mechanisms against rejection!

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  20. I tend to have these kinds of thoughts from time to time. Some of it comes from the tendency of people to post only nice things in reviews of my books instead of taking me to task for the things that didn't necessarily work---giving me the false expectation that I'm always going to get four- and five-star reviews. (And then I see the 0-. 1-, and 2-star reviews on Library Thing and that delusion is gone.)

    Last year, after my debut novel didn't even final in either of the categories I entered it into in the ACFW Book of the Year contest, I had a very bad reaction. And I was ashamed of myself because of it and decided not to enter any more contests. And then my publishing houses entered my book into a couple of contests without my knowledge this year, and one has already been announced as a finalist. And while I'm thrilled to have finaled, I'm more afraid of what this will do to me in the future. Is it setting up false expectations or a sense that all of my books will be so recognized?

    I'm glad you addressed this topic---it's a struggle that doesn't go away, and for me, has gotten to be even more of a struggle since being published.

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  21. Be willing to change the story is the best piece of advice. If you're not willing to do that, you won't go anywhere. That was a hard one for me to learn.

    Wonderful post.

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  22. Jody,
    This is a word I needed to hear! So much of what you said could have been written by me -- your thoughts and secret hopes of soaring above the criticism and rejection!

    I also have to remind myself constantly that ALL my gifts come from the Creator. He has just entrusted them to me. Everything I do should be for His glory and not my own. I find God has been using my children lately to remind me how truly lost I am without Him!
    ;0)

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  23. No delusions yet. Just big dreams. And delighted when anyone thinks anything I write has worth.

    I just keep telling myself "in His time, in His way."

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  24. Haven't we all had these delusions? Thanks for being brave and sharing yours with us.

    Happy Monday,
    Jen

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  25. Ha! Do I have to admit this? Not many, though... I'm usually too worried that it's all wrong!

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  26. I think I teeter between the "I can do this" and "I'm not good enough." We all want to believe that one thing (edits, etc) will be easy and painless. Everyone has some delusions of grandeur at some point (writing or otherwise). Such as, the moments when we see ourselves turning into the next Nicholas Sparks... every other book we publish turns into a movie.

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  27. I think the best thing for my development as a writer were those early rejections that burst the delusion balloon and helped me to ask how serious I was about my writing and where to go. Those rejections helped point me up Revision Road, which led to Rewrite Road, which led to Write Another Book Road.

    I love your trilogy: "Stay humble. Be willing to change. But be secure in who we are."

    That says it all!

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  28. Um yeah. I think there was a time I hoped for a book deal a few weeks after submission started. That didn't happen!

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  29. Oh I have them at regular intervals. I a small way they fuel me. Hey ya gotta dream big right? ;) I'm glad you survived edits though. I can totally see me thinking the same thing after not hearing back. lol!

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  30. I'm having one right now. Sweated out my heart and soul on Draft #4 and my agent says, what? It's not "there" yet? Are you kidding me? Puts on hard hat and goggles and climbs back into the trenches... ;-)

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  31. Those final thoughts sound like excellent advice.

    My best friend has been writing much longer than I have and isn't published yet. Her advice has been that until I'm satisfied my writing is the best it can be, there is no point in querying or submitting, no hope of attracting an agent or publisher, and I hear enough rejection stories in the writing world that it's not hard to believe she's right.

    I sometimes daydream about how "the call" might come, or what marketing methods I'd use to promote sales if I were being published, but I don't really have any illusions of making it big. Fortunately I love to write and I continue doing so with the mantra of "good, better, best" and the hope that God will give me the wisdom to know when I'm ready to start the next part of the process.

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  32. I'm not having delusions of grandeur. Right now, they're delusions of crapdeur! However, I've had times when I needed to keep my ego in check. God used a sweet friend to remind me of that recently. Talk about a humbling, yet very embarrassing experience.

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  34. In order to keep me grounded I keep all of my rejection letters I have gotten over the last 16 years. When weighed against the acceptances they are pretty humbling.

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  35. Guilty... I admit it. It's a fun flight, but it's always best to come back to the ground.

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  36. I think Kaye touched on it for a lot of us. We work on our manuscripts and then give them to people to read and critique and a lot of us face well-meaning but not industry-savvy friends or family that tell us how wonderful everything is and we, though we should know better, start to think we can be the exception. Start to think even though we hear stories of amazing writer after amazing writer facing rejection then we'll escape it. It's just not realistic.

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  37. Jody,

    The delusions are what keeps me going! And I'm not ready to give them up yet. When I'm done with my first draft, I admit, I know in the back of my mind it'll happen. But for now, ignorance is bliss :)

    Your post really pulled some sympthetic laughter from me. I'm there.

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  38. I wish I were enough of a writer to make even a single intelligent comment on this subject. Alas, I am not; I confess I have not worked hard enough to determine whether I'm any good.

    Truth be told, all too often I allow my fear of being no good -- or at the very least, of being mediocre (euphemism for worse than bad), to stop me.

    Color me chagrined.

    But I purpose in my heart that I will never stop dreaming, believing, and trying! I owe myself that. Thanks, Jody, for sharing your very valuable perspective.

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  39. Best trick to get your feet back on the ground: Read something you wrote 2 years ago. In many cases you'll find so many things you would do completely different now, so many obvious flaws, that it will cure you of your "My writing is perfect" ideas.

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  40. The more I write, the more I realize that writing itself has a way of making the adjustments for you.

    It's easy to talk about writing and easy to be critical of other writers, but very hard to write something of quality.

    I have nothing more to say -- I'm wrestling with my own manuscript!!

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  41. Ooh, I'm glad I'm not the only one who goes through these phases. It's gut wrenching when you get contest scores/comments back, rejection letters and what not. But I always remember, Writers Write.

    It keeps me moving forward.

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  42. Hi Jody -

    LOL! It was more common when I first started this journey. Then reality smacked me hard. Now I have to watch I don't swing too far in the "I'm a rotten writer" direction.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  43. All good points and ones that I deal with in everyday life. I think a lot of it boils down to pride. :O)

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  44. Wrong week to ask me this question. I'm swinging too far in the opposite direction to have delusions right now. Maybe next week? :) I'm sure I've had delusions of my greatness in the past and I know I will, again, but for now I'm drowning in self-doubt. I'm so glad I learned early on how to swim.

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  45. THANK you for posting about this so honestly! This is why I love your blog. Not only do you give outstanding advice and choose wonderful topics, but your insight and integrity in reporting on your experiences are gems.

    Martina

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  46. Delusions definitely keep me going, especially right now, in an early part of my writing journey. However, a healthy dose of reality is an absolute must as well. Thank you for this post!

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  47. Delusions of grandeur? Every day.

    What do I tell myself to stay grounded? WAKE UP AND GET TO WORK!

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  48. Love the advice to stay humble. We can use that in every area of our lives, can't we? I always like the way you break things down into practical points. Thanks:)

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  49. Thanks for sharing this.

    The only time I've had illusions of grandeur is when I've done manuscript exchanges or critique groups, and thought, "My work is better than that."

    You're right, there's always more work to be done to a manuscript than we think there will be.

    I'm not a big fan of rejection, but it's forced me to become a better writer.

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  50. I wish I had more moments when I believe in my writing, but I have a tendency to doubt my abilities. When that happens, I do my best to remember that God gave me the desire to write and to listen to my hubby, who is president of my fan club.

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  51. "If we hang onto false impressions of our abilities, then we may lose out on the chance to improve our writing skills and stories."

    I've been so afraid of this, not being able to grow.
    Thanks for giving me a base to start from in changing that. :D

    Also,
    I've always loved to write, but looking at where I am, and where other people are, man...sometimes I wonder.

    I have a lot of problems feeling as though I'm not good enough...but given the chance to talk about my stories to my friends, I'm trying to ignore the false need inside me to claim all the glory, so I try to point them to God..."He gave me the talent"

    I WANT to want Him to get all the glory...even though the selfish me wants some of it too.

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  52. Jody,
    Thanks for this post. It's good to hear someone at a different spot in the road saying the same things I've found myself thinking. (The good and bad.) It's a much-needed reminder that we're all fighting similar battles; and that, bestseller, newly published, or pre-published, we all have the same doubts and hopes within our craft. I truly appreciate your honesty, and your advice.

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  53. Yes! I have delusions of grandeur at least once a year! And each time I'm humbled, but these experiences make me stronger. I think God is polishing the sharp edges of my pride so that I can be an empathetic writer. What a blessing--much better than bragging rights--at least in my book!

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  54. Hi Jody... one of my editors quickly shattered my illusion. My delusion of writing grandeur was rapidly snuffed out. Nowadays I seldom raise my hopes regarding my writing. Better be modest is my new policy.

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  55. Definitely been there!

    To remain humble, I remind myself:
    ~this is part of the process
    ~stay focused
    ~do what's necessary
    ~what shall be, will be when the time is right!

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  56. "If we hang onto false impressions of our abilities, then we may lose out on the chance to improve our writing skills and stories."

    This is the key sentence in this blog post. Thanks for posting!

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  57. That self-confidence is GREAT, unless it gets in the way of one's career. I hear of difficult authors and think, "Wow. I can't imagine ever not being thankful for every second of work I'd have to put in to get my book on the shelf." But I know it's human nature to adapt. We land an agent...and we spend that first month feeling like we're the luckiest people in the world...but we adapt. We get a publishing deal and the same thing happens...we adapt. I guess we take it for granted, in a sense...but it's human nature to be that way. I think it's all about realizing that every bit of work we're doing is going to make the book stronger, and it's all about the book. It's trusting the process and the people who have been in the industry and know what works and what doesn't. That's the tough part -- letting go of that control!

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  58. My ego is plenty healthy. :-)

    And that's what I always remind myself of - that my ego is always going to think I'm better than I actually am...which is fine to embrace while writing, and important to shove into a corner while editing/revising. Hence the importance of good, honest beta readers who aren't afraid to tell me exactly what they think. I need that to keep me grounded.

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  59. I don't need to stay grounded. As soon as an agent reads my first MS, I'll be an immediate best-seller!

    Seriously, you were talking to me, weren't you? Yeah, I have those moments... then I get embarrassed and swallow a dose of reality.

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  60. Oh yes, I've had those moments! But they are fleeting. For the most part, I usually don't think I'm good enough. I'm having to constantly give myself little pep talks so as not to give up.

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  61. his is the worst crap I've ever read" all within the same hour. Pretty unstable. My medicine: a healthy dose of Jesus. Just knowing that this passion/talent/whatever-you-want-to-call-it isn't mine, but a gift.
    PPC Advertising India

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