No one ever sends their manuscript off to an agent thinking, “There goes that horrible piece of junk. Boy am I glad to get that worthless manuscript off my desk.” No one sends the first pages of their book into a contest saying, “I know I’m going to score poorly and lose.” And certainly no one who self publishes says, "It's not all that great, but oh well, I'm publishing it anyway."
Instead, most of us polish up our work until we think it shines with brilliant glory. We labor over it and try to get every word perfect. Sure, our fingers might tremble with anxiety when we finally hit send or publish. But let’s admit it. We usually think our work is pretty darn good. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t put it out there.
Yet . . . many manuscripts that agents and editors see just aren’t ready for publication. I've judged numerous contests entries that still need a lot of work. And let's face it, there are even plenty of self-published books that aren't up to par either.
Why do we struggle to know our skill levels? When we’re just beginning, why do we often think we’re better than we really are? Why are most of us blind to our own faults?
Here are a few of my theories: (Make sure to chime in with yours!)
We naturally view our work through our maturity level.
My daughter likes to bead. Recently, she pulled out some bracelets she’d beaded when she was younger. “Wow, these are ugly,” she remarked. “I can’t believe I ever thought they were pretty.”
“At the time you made them,” I said, “that’s all you were capable of. You viewed their beauty through the eyes of a little girl. But now that you’re older, you know more about colors, designs, patterns, and styles so you can create more complex jewelry.”
The conversation reminded me that we naturally see our writing through the eyes of our maturity level. As a beginner, we’ll think our story is riveting or our descriptions beautiful simply because we don’t know better yet.
As we grow, our insight and understanding will deepen. We’ll see writing patterns and styles with more complexity. And we’ll realize what we once thought was beautiful was amateur at best.
We have a tendency to overlook our faults.
Whether in marriage or parenting or whatever, we can easily point out the faults in our spouses or children. But it’s much harder to recognize our own issues.
No matter how long we’ve been writing, it will always be easier to see what someone else is doing wrong and so much harder to see the same problems in our own work.
In some ways the blindness to our issues is a natural defense mechanism. We want to protect ourselves from the pain that comes from admitting we’re wrong, that we’re not perfect, and that we have an uphill battle of hard work before us.
The creator’s love is a powerful bond that precludes objectivity.
If you’ve ever been a parent, you’ll understand the bond that happens the moment you give birth to your own flesh and blood. As the parent, your love for that creation supersedes the love anyone else could ever have. After all, the baby is a piece of you.
When we birth our stories, no one else will have the same depth of love for our creation that we do. Invariably as I write my first drafts, I fall in love with each story. That’s why it’s always so hard when my editors don’t fall in love with it right away and end up sending me lots of rewrites.
Most of us don’t realize how much hard work published authors have put in.
We often have a distorted view of writing and the publication process, especially when we’re starting out. How many times have you heard someone bash an author by saying, “This book isn’t any good. I’m sure I could write something better”?
Now that I’ve been writing a while, I realize writing isn't just about talent. What I’ve come to understand is that it’s more about hard work. Those authors with 10, 20, or even 40 books aren’t where they’re at because of luck or talent alone. They make it look simple and easy, but in reality they’ve put in hours, weeks, and years of sweat and back-breaking labor.
If we think writing a book is easy, then we likely haven’t immersed ourselves in the reality of what it takes to write good fiction in today’s market.
The point of all this theorizing is threefold:
1. ALL writers MUST have critical and objective feedback on their work, preferably multiple edits from qualified writers or professionals.
2. We must resign ourselves to the fact that writing a publishable book is NOT easy. We have to stop trying to take the easy way and simply embrace the reality of the hard work.
3. Stay humble. If we attempt to view our skill level realistically and humbly, we’ll be much more open to hard feedback and subsequent growth.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Why do you think it’s so hard for writers to know their own skill level? And why are so many of us blind to our faults?