Successful authors, especially those who are household names, live very different lives to the struggling and unknown author. It’s easy to assume that with success comes confidence. In most areas of life, I’m sure that’s true, but not for writers. Even the most successful authors suffer from self-doubt.
Have you ever noticed how many successful authors are superstitious? Terry Pratchett claimed “the only superstition I have is that I must start a new book on the same day that I finish the last one, even if it’s just a few notes in a file”. Lee Child has a similar superstition. He must write the first line of a new book on August 1st. Seamus Heaney admitted to “a superstitious fear of setting up a too well-designed writing place and then finding that the writing had absconded”. Becoming a household name is no protection against self-doubt.
Do you remember the controversy a few years ago when Jonathan Franzen’s book ‘Corrections’ was chosen by Oprah as her book club pick? Franzen and Oprah fell out over Franzen’s insistence that ‘Corrections’ was very different from the normal Oprah pick. He was “solidly in the high-art literary tradition”. He also claimed his readers told him “If I hadn’t heard of you I would have been put off by the fact that this is an Oprah pick.” Does this sound like somebody suffering from self-doubt? I believe it does.
It wasn’t enough for Franzen that people appreciated his writing. He needed his writing to be appreciated by the ‘right kind’ of people. Why was this important to him? He clearly wanted the publicity Oprah could provide. When they eventually resolved their differences, Franzen was happy to appear on her show. I think the most likely reason Franzen insisted he was too good for Oprah’s readers was Franzen’s fear that his writing skills were only average. If anybody could enjoy his book, what made his writing special? It was this fear which forced Franzen to seek the approval of those who are recognised as experts on literature.
In an earlier post, I wrote about Secret Writers who are afraid to share their writing with the world. Most writers began their writing journey as secret writers. Perhaps it’s just as well we weren’t aware that the fear would never disappear.
If you’d like to read the book that I eventually found the courage to share with the world, check out my thriller ‘Girl Targeted’ here.