The unbearable insecurity of writers

Lots of those we call great authors – okay, almost all the authors I know or have read about – suffer from an insecurity, a question they ask themselves all the time: Is my work any good? Have they done themselves and their characters justice, this time? Such is the unbearable insecurity of writers that even famous and very successful authors suffer from angst and mental health problems.

And to the general public who read books, or who simply watch the show from the side-lines, the answer is – of someone like Stephen King or Marian Keyes or Lee Child – “Of course they are good enough. They sell millions of books. What more do they expect? Perfection?”

Writerly insecurity looks a bit like – and is often mistaken for – an ego needing a good massage, but, I believe the reason for the endless quest for reassurance is more subtle.

When we first set pen to paper – okay, when we sit in front of our PCs with a new file open – we have the whole field of possibility open to us, rather like a child’s first day at primary school. We can write literally anything; excuse the pun. But as a story takes shape and the characters show us where to go, as words and plots are tied down, increasingly there arises the question, is this where I am meant to take this story? What if there is a much better line to follow out there, that I have missed? What if all I have written is but a poor reflection of what I should be writing?

And to that, I can offer only the age-old adages that, “What’s for you won’t go by you..” or “If it’s meant to happen, it will,” or “All things work out for the best…” which may be scant comfort, a bit too much like the superstitions that our forebears relied on, but what else can we do? There is no way to know definitively whether what we have is the best finished article we can make; and, we can always console ourselves that a finished book – or even a half-finished book – is probably better than no book at all.

Thanks for reading.




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