We all like to think we're special. It's only human. We're each the star of the movie called Our Life, where everything that happens is uniquely tied to us and bursting with personal meaning no one else can see.
For a lot of us, our specialness was acknowledged and encouraged from a young age. Parents, teachers, peers, strangers on the street... they noticed something about us sparkled, and they heaped praise on us. That thing might have been, I don't know, creative writing. Our stories in school came back with big, shiny A's. The teacher read them aloud to the class. University professors wrote notes about our cleverness and literary prowess. The other students in our writing circle fell over themselves to tell us how incredible our weekly submission was. Maybe we were published in a magazine. Maybe our short story received a glowing comment from a big-wig in publishing.
However the experience differs, at its core it always stays the same. We're good writers. No, we're excellent writers. Always at the head of the class, always the most advanced writer in the room, always feeling like we're ready for the next step. Words are easy, and friendly, and beautiful.
But no matter how great you are, no matter who told you that you had the good stuff, one day we all reach a wall. Eventually, if we honestly want to pursue writing, we hit that point where someone says, "No, not good enough. Go back until you're better."
The first time this happens, it can be incredibly jarring. A lot of us immediately slip into an egoistic, sensitive place. Wait. Wait. Don't you know how good I am? Everyone says so. Everyone. What's wrong with you that you can't see it, too? Often this sort of bluntness doesn't hit us until we're out of the safe haven of school and peer support. It's especially biting if we've managed to garner some nice comments from professional writers, agents, or editors. It's that first indication that no, everyone is not going to think gold falls from your fingertips. And it hurts.
This is the place where writers often diverge in the wood. Some writers bite their lip, blink back tears, and keep walking down the brambly path. They accept that this probably isn't the last time they'll hear their work is flawed, but they'll learn to live with it in their own way. Others will be so affronted, so offended, so sure of their own brilliance that they'll denounce anyone who says a cross word about their beloved work and fall back into the haven of people who lavish praise. These are the people who claim publishers can't recognize "real art" and agents are the Devil incarnate and people who write negative reviews are REALLY MEAN AND ALSO DUMB and et cetera. Still others will decide they can't hack it and will put away their writing hat and walk back the way they came.
None of this is a commentary on trade vs. self-publishing, by the way. In case anyone thought that was where I was going with this. Learning to accept criticism and the drive to be better is not something only obtainable through large publishers. Arrogance and demanding PRAISE ONLY isn't exclusive to the self-published.
It's just hard. It's hard to go through life close to the top with our writing awards and confidence only to hit that wall and realize we're caught in a crowd of other people who are just like us. It's hard to be number one for so long and suddenly realize you're only one of a thousand. Ten thousand. A hundred thousand. It's a very yo-yo-esque sensation, especially when you get up another rung on the publishing ladder and realize there are still a dozen more rungs to go.
There are always a dozen more. It's a magic ladder. An evil magic ladder.
It's really no wonder we're such an up-down bunch. This path is full of soaring highs and crippling lows. We'll get lots of brambles in our shoes and it's gonna hurt. But those bright beams of sunlight shining through the trees and the beautiful brooks we stumble across along the way make it worth it. And if that's not good enough, there are other paths to take.