Writer’s Syndrome

I hope you all had a happy bunny day, as my professor used to say to us.

I went to a writer’s conference this weekend. It was a relatively small and cozy affair, with talks and project discussions and lots of people meeting friends they hadn’t seen since last year, and so on.

One distinguishing feature of this conference is the hollywood-esque ‘awards ceremony’ on the last day. Every participant has the option to submit work, and at the end some are shortlisted for a prize, like the Oscars, and the final choice is announced during the ceremony. Prizes include best presentation, best characters, best mechanic, and of course, best piece overall.

This ceremony is intended to inspire people to submit good work, and to encourage people with talent to aspire to even greater heights. Unfortunately, it seems that some people take things waaaay too seriously.

Let’s take the example of my friend Tyler. Tyler wrote something for this conference last year, which was received very well by its audiences and, though the judges didn’t quite know what to do with it, they gave him two awards. Good work, Tyler.

Only now, Tyler thinks he’s the god of Writing.

This year, Tyler wrote a gender-bending piece about love. It was nicely done, it had good mechanics, and in general it was well received. But Tyler didn’t care about this.

Tyler was incensed that it was nominated for only ONE award. And he figured it wouldn’t win. So what did he do? He left the conference early, went home, and wrote an angry blog post about how nobody appreciated him. Sounds like someone has a case of Writer’s Syndrome.

Writer’s Syndrome is a term I came up with a few years ago, after reflecting on some of my own writing behavior and observing disturbingly similar behavior in others. To use myself as a case study: back in high school, I was accepted into a very competitive writing program. I won one of 10 slots, beating 130 other applicants for my space. As it was proven to me that I was good enough to get this competitive slot, it became apparent to me that I was so good that I could dole out advice like some great, benevolent writing fairy and the advice that I so lovingly sprinkled over the work of others ought to be taken with gratitude, because I was so great, right?

Basically, I was told I had a small amount of talent, and I became an arrogant little —- about it. The reality of my ability – that I’m good, but nowhere near perfect, that I have some advice to give but also a lot to get – didn’t come until five years later, when I witnessed a rather harsh – and well deserved – takedown of a story I had submitted anonymously to the university magazine.

Writer’s Syndrome is something I have observed in a number of would-be writers, particularly those who have been told by a higher power that they are talented. Tyler is one good example. Another is a girl I knew during my undergraduate days. When she didn’t think something was well written and I disagreed, her reasoning was, “well, I’m a Creative Writing major.”

This is, I think, what makes it most important for us to have a pool of peers willing to critique us. Of course we need a bit of self confidence, and we deserve to be told when our writing is good. But we need the flip side as well. Some of the writers I know are the most arrogant people on the face of the earth. I used to be among them. I hope to maintain the part where I’m a writer. But I’m trying to ditch the arrogance post-haste. And of course, a lot of writers experience the opposite of Writer’s Syndrome – crippling self-doubt.

Do you guys have experience with arrogant writers? Or maybe just ideas for critiquing someone without making them blow their tops (ahem, Tyler)?

Sorry for the rant. What did you do with your bunny day?

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Day Two

Mood: still positive
Word Count: 3,376

I am still going strong on day two – for the second day in a row, I made the recommended word count and then some. I didn’t actually write the 1667 words that one is supposed to do in a full day, but I had a little help from yesterday’s count.

Today’s lesson for me was that 1) writing is so much more fun than my thesis and 2) I should maybe try challenges like this more often.

What I wrote today isn’t great literature. I knew even as I was writing it that it was pretty bad. But there was something comforting about thinking, hey, save it for the editing stage. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t erase everything and sit for an hour cogitating on exactly the right word. And as a result, I reached my word goal in around an hour.

When I was younger, I was able to sit down and write novels and edit as I went along. But I haven’t written a novel outside of Nanowrimo since I was 16. Every time I start, I get a certain amount in, but then life kicks in and the prospect of getting in the right mood, editing, putting out something of the same quality in a consistent manner – it all gets to me, and I never finish. Nanowrimo helps me with that. Even though I know what I’m writing isn’t that great, I can push past that and focus on just putting things down.

I don’t know whether I’ll go back and edit it later, but I’d like to think so. Otherwise it’ll end up in the trash.

Hope day two is still a well of optimism for you guys!