Do you ever ask yourself whether you have any real writing talent?
I do. All the time. It’s called “Impostor Syndrome”, and it’s the nagging feeling that you’re not nearly as good as you (or others) think you are. If it catches you on the wrong foot, Impostor Syndrome can really break you down and possibly even kill off your motivation completely.
Even the greats suffer from it. At one point, Stephen King started writing under a pen name because he became obsessed with the idea that his success was solely due to the movie adaptations of his novels, and that he had no real talent whatsoever. Of course, whether you like Stephen King’s writing or not, it’s hard to deny the fact that he indeed has talent.
But let’s get back to you and I, the common mortals. How do we gauge whether we actually have talent or are just delusional?
The truth is, there’s no real way to find out, and if you decide you want to doubt your talent, nobody on heaven or earth will be able to talk you out of it. But there IS something you can do. You can change the question and re-frame. You can shift the spotlight from you onto your work.
Your question shouldn’t be, “Do I have any real talent?” Instead it should be, “Is there anyone who is actually enjoying what I write?” And by that I don’t mean publishers. I mean readers.
The way I see it, as writers, our job is to craft stories that entertain people, even if it is a really small group of people. Getting published and making money is great, and you could say that it is a measure of how good a writer is (more books sold usually means more people are reading), but it should not be the sole metric by which we measure our success as writers.
So, if you still haven’t managed to get any of your work published, don’t despair. You can still get your validation from the people who are reading your stories, and make sure you’re getting feedback from them about what they’d like to see in the next one. Remember, these are the people you are writing for. They are your fans. Let them tell you what they want to read, and write it.
Now if you’re just starting out, you probably do not have an audience. But there are still ways that you can validate your work. Here’s what you can do.
Join a few writer groups on social media or Reddit. There, you can post your stories and ask fellow members for feedback. Of course, make sure you follow the group’s rules for posting material for review, otherwise you risk getting kicked out of the group.
But before you go ahead with this, I need to point out a couple of things.
First of all, don’t expect an overwhelming response. You’ll get a couple of comments at best, but at least it will be a start. Remember, this is a longish process and you’re starting out at the very bottom.
Second, the feedback may be pretty tough. Unfortunately, you’ll have to deal with it. But this is where you swallow the bitter pill and learn your lessons. Of course, there’s feedback and feedback. If someone says to you, “You’re a crappy writer, go bury yourself,” that’s quite evidently someone who’s not worth listening to. But if someone says, “I lost interest half way through the story,” that’s where you want to dig deeper and get more information out of that person.
Here, you’ll need to ask intelligent and open-ended questions. Don’t ask, “Did you like the story?” because that will leave you with a flat yes or no answer. Instead, ask “How did you feel about the story?” or “How did you feel about the characters”. I repeat, avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
A very important point here — make sure you don’t come off as defensive. Remember, nobody owes you anything, and you should be grateful that a person has taken precious time out of his/her day to read your writing and give you feedback on it.
Understand that this is a pretty involved process, but it helps you build strong relationships with your readers. And at the end of the day, when you start doubting your talent or the validity of your work, you will be able to look at those readers and say, “Talent or not, people are enjoying my writing, and that’s enough to keep me going and improving.”