Let’s get one straight: being a writer is exceptional. It takes focus and determination to stay productive in the face of a day job, other commitments and an endless supply of rejection letters. Lucky for us, there’s nothing our culture likes more than an underdog, with names ranging from “Rock” to “Rudy”. But this also a danger a sense of exceptionalism – the notion that we are special enough to overcome anything on our path. This is what happens when we won’t take “no” for an answer – and “no” is exactly what we need to hear.
Exceptionalism happens when we are so determined overcome the obstacles in our path that we fail to recognize the only one standing in our way is ourselves. This could happen when we are so protective of our story, we refuse to send it to a critique group. Or it could be when we are dead set on publishing an unpolished work, as almost happened with me. And the other side of the spectrum, it can happen when we won’t let go of a project to move on to other things.
The myth of exceptionalism constantly urges us to move forward – a sentiment that really isn’t helpful in the middle of the crossroads. The problem is, it takes more than talent and determination – it also takes patience, discernment and a challenging combination of self-confidence and humility. And since every writer is different, each of us has a different blindspot bedeviling us somewhere in our attitude.
Had everything gone according to my master plan, I would have probably self-published my first novel by now. For a while, I was absolutely determined self-publish by the end of this year – until I realized my motives weren’t as clear as I wanted to believe. The problem wasn’t that I wanted to be a successful writer – probably all of us want that in some way. There’s nothing wrong with that desire, in and of itself. The problem was that I didn’t just want success – I wanted to be validated. I wanted notice and appreciation. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t in it for the right reason. After reviewing all the feedback I received from the Out of Excuses Writing Retreat, I knew this was definitely for the best. I just wasn’t ready. Yet.
The biggest myth of exceptionalism is that good writers are born prodigies instead of works-in-progress. In high school, I was always asked if I would write the Great American Novel when I graduated. To this day, I still don’t even know what the Great American Novel looks like. But one thing I have learned is that you never graduate from writing, even with a high school diploma, a Bachelor’s, an MFA or PhD. If you are still learning and you are still writing, then congratulations, you’re a writer. There’s just one fundamental rule to keep in mind.
Never ever believe your own hype.