I have two people in my family who are professional artists (painters). One of them is… very average (she makes paintings that I could recreate, and I am absolutely not competent in visual arts). One of them is extremely talented (she makes paintings I couldn’t even begin to understand the skills behind and feel I am only skimming the surface with my big, clumsy, non-artist brain trying to begin to identify the technique involved in what she creates), and considers herself a skilled, successful, professional artist.
The first person (average) is prolific (makes multiple paintings a day) and “successful” (sells her paintings regularly, has a large community of fans of her artwork, networks through her paintings, and then sells even more of them.) The second person struggles to create enough pieces each year for her annual show, does only slightly better than breaking even in sales, has a small community of “real” artists who consider her extremely talented, and doubts everything she does and feels like an impostor as an artist.
What the actual fuck?
Now, I know that the second person COULD make significant amounts of money but prices her art low because she believes that all people should have the ability to purchase and display art in their homes, and could do a lot more painting but is horribly impeded by creative blocks, anxiety, and perfectionism.
The very average first person is not apparently bothered by any of these things.
When I was in college, I had a partner on a project who was writing a fantasy novel. He was very convinced of the eventual success of this novel, to the point that he had planned an entire trilogy, movie, video game franchise, merchandise, marketing, etc. He showed me some of what he had written already at that point.
It was bad. It was… painful to read level of bad.
I smiled and complimented his dedication and commitment and vision. And secretly thought he would never succeed.
Recently I saw that he has published (I’m not sure if through a house or self-published) his book. He is promoting it at events, book signings, online. He is building hype for the second in the series to come, and talking about movie rights.
I haven’t read the book. But in my mind, one of three things has happened – he made SIGNIFICANT growth as an author in the intervening years since we knew each other, he found an AMAZING book doctor, or he published a really crappy piece of writing. Somehow I tend to think that really crappy writing doesn’t get published, that there are actually standards and it’s hard to get in the door even if you’re a GOOD writer… But then I remember that Fifty Shades of Bullshit got published… and actually sold… and made movies… and then I just want to give up on humanity.
Six years ago, when I was in college with this man, when I was reading his (truly) terrible writing. I knew, despite all of my self-recriminations and irrational perfectionism and impostor syndrome, I knew that my writing skills were… light years more advanced than his. Yet he believed he was a great writer and would be successful, while I believed I was only an average writer and didn’t have what it takes to make it in writing.
Fast forward six years… one of us is selling books. It isn’t me.
These things lead me to wonder if… maybe… possibly… talent doesn’t matter as much as believing in yourself… If Dumbo’s magic feather actually works. If really average people can sell their abilities on the power of their own belief in themselves, and others with actual skills and talent but who can’t suck it up and figure out how to sell ourselves remain behind.
And I wonder if, really, being successful in writing doesn’t require talent at all… If the reading public really has so little taste for good writing, that really crappy things like Fifty Shades can become the mega-hit that it is… in spite of lack of talent. Maybe people really just don’t know the difference. Or they don’t care.
And maybe the people like me, suffering under all of this self-doubt and impostor syndrome are really fighting a battle that doesn’t even exist. That there’s no such thing as “good enough,” there’s only, “believing you can” and that’s the real secret to it all.