I am experiencing an odd mixture of megalomania & insecurity – go figure

Interesting times I live in right now. All in all I feel pretty good about where my writing is going – I’m having new conversations, I’m seeing things in a new way, etc. It feels like stuff is starting to happen for me, and that’s a toweringly awesome feeling. So I don’t wanna sound like an overly negative yutz or anything, because I’m in a good place with the whole “journey to publication” thing. In fact I’m probably annoying people with how good I feel about it – occasionally I send an email or have a conversation with somebody and a few moments later wonder if I was being a preening, strutting donkeybutt, talking about how great things are and how happy I am with my progress, tacitly inviting someone to backhand me across the face or drive a knee into my fleshy parts.

This is as good as it gets, folks.

Over the last couple of days, however, I’ve had more than a few moments in which I think “oh crap, am I just a big fraud? I mean, there are people who really know how to do this, and they’re way better than me.” Yeah yeah, these extreme confidence swings are commonplace for writers, I know…they are, aren’t they? You have them too, don’t you? JUST SAY YES…

The thing that’s causing this annoying (if less-than-fatal) lapse in confidence is Francisco X. Stork’s superb YA novel, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD. I will lay off on any discussion of whether it should have won a certain award beginning with the letter “P” and rhyming with the word “Blintz” – instead, I’ll just say that I don’t believe it’s possible to write a better novel than this. I usually cringe a bit at statements like that because seriously, this writing stuff really and truly is subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, etc. I recently had a Facebook exchange about how many of those spirit-killing Disney-flavored princess / mermaid / fairy / unprogressive / death-on-a-stick books I should buy for my daughter – she loves those insipid things, and I try not to judge her because hey, I read Alan Dean Foster’s original Star Wars novel SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE about 500 times when I was a kid, who am I to judge? People have accused me of reading crap pretty much my whole life, so seemingly objective judgments like “oooh, nobody can write a better book than blah-de-blah” chap my hide. I don’t care for the work of either Thomas Hardy or J.D. Salinger, which makes me a bit of a Philistine in the eyes of some. So be it!

But I’m reading MARCELO and it’s ripping my mind up into feathery little scraps and assembling them into a collage with a jar of paste made from the innards of some spectacular beast that dwells among the stars and craps out visions of the pure, essential truth of what it means to be alive in this cold and uncaring universe. Such a good book. I have boundless respect for the work of Francisco X. Stork, and will lay hands on a copy of THE LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIORS as soon as I can. And of course the stunning fabulousness of MARCELO is making me feel a smidge insecure about my own work.

There’s a limit to the insecurity, because like I said earlier, I also feel godlike and powerful about my writing these days – my confidence is as high as it’s ever been. But it’s natural to have this kind of “oh crap I am such a colossal LOSER, I should just go put my head in the oven right now” reaction after tasting the greatness of another writer’s wordy souffle, is it not? Don’t cry for me, Argentina, I’ll be fine. But I seriously doubt I’ll ever write something as profound, moving and distinct as MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD. That is one particular bar I’ll never rise to. And that’s okay. Yes, it gives me the occasional urge to put on a hair shirt and lash myself with a thorn-festooned club while bemoaning my comparative lack of gravitas, but I’ll resist. I think. Hopefully. No, really. Where’s my hair shirt? I MEAN AAGH I’LL RESIST I WILL

In itchy sartorial splendor,
m.

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32 thoughts on “I am experiencing an odd mixture of megalomania & insecurity – go figure

  1. Dude, I hate it when I read a completely awesome book and then it makes me feel like total crap about my own writing. It happens to me a lot. You’re not alone!

    In fact, right now I’m in a weird mental space where, while I’m impossibly excited and overjoyed that my book is on its way to publication, I’m almost entirely convinced that EVERYONE WILL HATE IT. Even my friends will hate it and won’t want to tell me. Plus, I’m working on a different WIP that is kicking my ass and making my brain feel like jelly. Incompetent, uncreative jelly.

    I haven’t come up with a solution for this apparent paradox yet, other than denial…

    1. Yeah, I don’t know that there IS a solution. I’m wondering if/when I get to where you are I’ll have that same fear of everyone hating my book? I suspect I’ll have my share…

  2. It had a similar effect on me–except I did feel inspired to reach for greater heights. Usually books of greatness make me want to turn in my word processing program and become a sheep herder or something because how could I ever write something that good? MARCELO . . . well, I didn’t think “I could write something this good” but it did make me feel “I want to write something that makes someone else feel even 1/10 of the way this book made me feel.”

    And if you look at my Twitter account around January you’ll see me ranting a little about it not getting the Printz. The Horn Book gave it the “Someday My Printz Will Come” award for this year, haha

    1. Hey Amanda, yeah, I sometimes do feel inspired to reach greater heights, and I sometimes feel lower-than-low in comparison. I usually manage to get back to the thought that I really can’t do anything as well as any other individual writer, not because of any objective (or even subjective) measure of comparison, but because we’re all unique individuals, with unique sets of skills/talents/experiences/processes. I can’t believe it wasn’t even an Honor book!!! Such injustice!

  3. This happens to me all. the. time. Like Acquifortis, I have no solutions. It’s just one of the joys of being a writer. I haven’t read Marcello yet. After your recommendation, I’m getting my hands on it today.

    1. I guess it’s just part of the ups and downs, right Nan? We writers have these lapses of confidence, lulls in productivity, etc. all the time – this is just another one of those. Tolerate it, cope with it, eventually it passes… Oh, you’re gonna love MARCELO. So, so, so, so, so good.

    1. Yeah, the Printz hooha is interesting, isn’t it? Not that I doubt the worthiness of the other selections, but MARCELO feels like a GLARING omission to me.

  4. When I read THE BOOK THIEF I had a very similar feeling as you, Mike. I loved the book, but at the same time, was convinced that everything I’d ever written was complete garbage when compared to it. As a writer I think it’s so important to read these incredible books so that I can stretch myself creatively. Even if I never write anything nearly as good, at least I will have tried.

    1. A good point, Raynbow, and I do agree – reading the very finest stuff out there IS an important way to stretch our own capabilities and take risks with our own work. It’s essential to keep growing creatively, and it’s also essential to maintain that growth in different ways.

  5. I first heard about ‘Marcelo’ and the Real World in a writing intensive with a to be un-named editor from a Very Well Known Publisher. The attendees were given a sample chapter to read and then we had to compare it to our own unpublished work. And share our observations with the rest of the group.

    Talk about feeling about knee-high to a grasshopper. A number of years later, I am still working on that particular WIP and am ready to give up, throw in the towel, tell my crit group I am wasting everyone’s time and resign.

    I think such flips of emotion are true for any person in a creative profession.

    The best thing to do is hold on for dear life and enjoy the ride.

    1. Yep. Hold on, work it through, and do the best we can. Our best can be pretty good, after all. And I still harbor the fantasy that someday a young writer will read MY books and say “wow, that Mike Jung, he does snarky throwaway entertainment better than anybody! I feel so bad about myself!”

  6. Happens to me all the time as well. I try very hard to turn the feeling around into inspiration instead (“maybe someday I’ll be able to write as well as this person”). I agree with some of the above comments – I think it’s natural for creative types to feel this way from time to time, and that it’s actually a GOOD thing. Keeps us humble, y’know?

    Thanks for the heads up about the book. I must check that out.

    Debbie

    1. Yeah Debbie, the humility is genuinely useful – it takes effort to work through it, but it’s one of the things that reminds us to keep striving to learn and attempt things we might otherwise feel complacent about!

  7. I am not Mr. Stork.

    Also, not Einstein, Da Vinci or Abe Lincoln.

    So what?

    I haven’t read him yet, but I can probably tease out a few things I can use to improve my writing. For the rest, I will just relax and enjoy the master.

    1. A little secret? Sometimes the megalomania rears its head, and deep in the shadowy crevices of my mind I WANT to be on the same plateau as people like the ones you’ve listed. I’m not, and I won’t ever be, but I think that attitude can also be useful in tiny, contained, assiduously managed doses. The desire for greatness is something that can fly out of control with remarkable ease, but I think there’s value in having just a touch of it at our disposal.

      1. Mikey-boy, there’s the difference in our thinking. I see each book we write as a new chance to achieve greatness.

        And I don’t see greatness as all or nothing.

        I enjoy reading the writers who you designate as master writers, I learn what I can from them.

        I don’t feel like I have to compete with them, or feel like there’s a hierarchy.

        What’s a great book? One that tells a fabulous story? One that has unforgettable characters? That makes a kid laugh until he pukes? Or saves a reader’s life? Those are all great books.

        So yay for Mr. Stork, and yay for Mike Jung, and yay for even me. Because I think we can all learn from each other to write the most amazing genius books possible.

    2. Now see, it probably would be healthier and more productive for me to see things your way – less heirarchical thinking, more nuance, a greater sense of the creative life as a continuum, a lesser sense of the creative life as a series of plateaus. I’m gonna work on that.

  8. Been there. For me it was Terry Pratchett’s NATION, which I found a tour-de-force. I despaired of ever ever ever being able to write even a millionth part as great as that. Also THE BOOK THIEF. Haven’t read MARCELO yet, but I guess now I’ll have to…

    I don’t have a solution either, except to persevere. The more I write, the better my writing gets. This I know for sure. And one cannot simply give up reading, even though the thought might be tempting (you know, if you don’t READ those wonderful books, you don’t have to constantly compare your own writing to them). But not reading for me would be like not breathing. And Richard Peck says we must read read read. You’re supposed to read a thousand books in your genre before you ever write your own.

    One thing that helps me: when I met Laurie Halse Anderson at the bookstore last fall, she admitted her rough drafts are crap. If Laurie can do it, I can do it! The thought is very liberating. And boy am I churning out the crap now!

    1. Oh, it’s absolutely essential to keep reading, I agree! Something that I perhaps didn’t make clear is that while I do have the occasional complex reaction to a truly stunning book, it doesn’t ever eclipse my pleasure at the opportunity to read a TRULY STUNNING BOOK! Feelings of competition or not, there’s nothing quite like the joy of immersing one’s self in a great novel. And yes, the fact that great authors like LHS write crappy first drafts is helpful to me too, Joanne!

  9. I’ve definitely read books here and there which make me think I’m in the wrong business (if I can call if a business when I haven’t been published yet) — but I’ve also read TONS of books where I thought that I write at a similar level…so it all evens out 😉

    1. It does even out, doesn’t it Robin? And you’ve actually pointed out one of the things I find dangerous about my reaction in this kind of situation – the impulse to draw comparisons works BOTH ways. Sure, I can bemoan the feeling that I’m not on the same level as someone like Stork, but what does that mean when I cast my net a little wider? That I get to look down on others who I feel don’t come up to MY level? There’s something a bit icky about that.

  10. I once read about a bestselling writer whose name I forget who said with every book release he just knew everyone else knew what a huge fraud he was. He was so convinced of this that he considered taking out an ad in the NY Times apologizing for being a fraud, but then he worried everyone would read the ad and say “Sheesh, that guy is such a fraud, apologizing for being a fraud.”

      1. lol! It’s the bane of being a creative person – how dare I suppose I might be capable of creating something others might find valuable.

        And (insert genius writer’s name of your choice here) probably bemoans the same thing, especially after reading (another genius writer’s name here).

  11. I had the same feeling this weekend reading Simone Elkeles ‘Rules of Attraction.’ Had a whole series of “Oh, why bother?” moments.

    I’m almost recovered, but not quite.

    1. Aw, you’ll recover, Anne. We HAVE to, am I right? Because ultimately, reading fantastic books, whatever they may be, is one of the very best things we can do for ourselves, both as writers and as people. YES I HAVE MADE A PROFOUND STATEMENT THAT’S IT RIGHT THERE

  12. Best book I read last year, period.

    And I completely understand the feelings of inadequacy. BUT, the cure is this: go to Francisco Stork’s own blog (www.franciscostork.com/blog)and read the genius there. Beautiful and thoughtful and always inspiring.

  13. I own the book and can’t wait to read it.

    I also sometimes wonder if I’m good enough at this writing thing after I read amazingly awesome books. I wonder if my own novels are so-so in comparison. I just figure I have to work harder at writing a knock-your-socks-off, take-your-breath away, amazingly awesome novel.

  14. Mike, thanks for the book rec. I have to read Marcelo in the real world. And, I experience that feeling of fraudness or inadequacy with some regularity. I think it would be strange if I didn’t.

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