As anyone who has watched a reality television show knows, there is one sure-fire no-doubt-about-it way to tell if someone is going to get voted off the island or “auf”ed by Heidi Klum: overconfidence. When a reality tv, uh, person looks the camera in the eye, talks about how great they are and how confident they are in their alliance, before you can say Jeff Probst, poof, they’ve been blindsided and voted off the island. Works like a charm.
Just. Like. Writing.
Let me first start in opposite land and stress how important confidence is to a writer. Every writer, from the rankest amateur to biggest bestseller, experiences the type of rejection that would make Vlad the Impaler tear up and beg for mercy. Writers sometimes don’t even have the confidence of their friends and family, it’s hard work, and it takes some series intestinal fortitude to stick with it and keep on writing (that or alcohol).
Confidence = good. Confidence = important. (I heart word math)
But in my line of work I’m in contact with quite a few aspiring and unpublished writers whose confidence… well, let’s just say their confidence in their writing sometimes exceeds their ability.
Here’s a general rule I’ve discovered among the unpublished: the people who are most unwilling to heed sound constructive criticism and the ones who most need to heed said constructive criticism are the ones who are most convinced of their own genius.
There’s good reason for this rule to apply. One of the absolute most important attributes of any successful writer is the ability to scrutinize their own work in order to improve it and make it better. The minute a writer starts thinking what they write is genius is the moment they stop scrutinizing their work for places where it can be improved upon, changed, or, most importantly of all, removed. A healthy skepticism is an essential tool in a writer’s arsenal. Also bourbon.
So let’s all learn a lesson from the hilariously inept Four Horseman alliance from a past season of Survivor, who were stunned to find out that their genius plans were foiled by a guy named Dreamz. Overconfidence will not only get you voted off the island, it might just interfere with your writing as well.
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Art: Jacques de L’Ange – Allegory of Vanity