I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone before.
There are two reasons I almost quit my English major in college. The first, you already know: I was bored with my survey courses and equally interested in taking more science courses (which I did, and almost quit writing entirely – but that’s a different story). The second, you might judge me for. But give me a chance to explain before you click away begrudgingly.
I almost gave up because I thought I was too good at writing.
This is no fault of the teachers and professors who instructed me in my teen years. There are people who are really good at helping you improve, and there are people who will give you A’s on papers just because they’re written well. I blame it on my irrational fear of being judged. I was good at writing, and whenever my professors publicly pointed that out, it made me feel like everyone hated me.
I didn’t want my peers to think I didn’t have to put any effort into my work to excel. I worked hard – that’s how you become a good writer in the first place. But I got really tired, really fast, of sitting in peer review circles and no one else ever having decent feedback for me. I stopped trusting anyone who didn’t have at least an MFA. I felt so far ahead of everyone else that I was hyper-aware of how arrogant that made me seem from the outside – and that was not OK with me.
I tried pretending I wasn’t any better at this whole writing thing than the people around me. I complained on Facebook about every paper I had to write. I hid my grades from everyone I could. I had plenty of opportunities to work with my professors on improving my skills and advancing my career before I had even decided what I wanted to do with my life – and I deliberately did not take advantage of any of them.
All this fussing made everything a thousand times worse, of course. I became that student who did not apply herself. I saw other people winning opportunities I could have had, and it upset me. I gave up what could have been a truly rewarding undergraduate experience because I wanted people to like me, when really, people who valued my writing could have been great friends and future colleagues – and people who did not like me could have just gone away without much regret on my end.
Let me tell you something: you’re never “too good” at what you do. You’re good because you’re experienced. Maybe there’s a little bit of raw talent in there somewhere. If you think you’re “too good,” you’re not going to last very long in your field. And it’s going to take a lot of work to regain the credibility you lose when you don’t just let yourself be good.
The idea that you’re “too good” has a psychological downside. “Too good” implies that you need to stop working so hard, that you have an unfair advantage over other people – that you don’t need to improve. Here’s the problem with thinking you don’t need to improve: the moment you stop improving, other people, who have been doing this not nearly as long as you have, start catching up to you. Their skills gradually approach your level of expertise. Which is great for them, and basically the end of the world for you.
OK, not really. There are a lot of good writers out there. You’re not going to be the best every moment of your career. I’m going to refrain from using a tortoise-hare cliche here because I don’t want you to hate me (of course). You’re not too good. You’re the best you’ve ever been. There is no reason to stop moving forward just because you feel like you’re too far ahead.
Other people’s opinions of you should be so far down on your list of priorities that potential judgment doesn’t even cross your mind when you’re busy doing what you do best. I learned the hard way not to care what people assumed about me. I don’t think I’m this amazing, talented creative goddess who doesn’t have to earn success. I am a good writer – because I started writing when I was seven or eight years old, and I have never stopped. I am a good writer because I have taken writing classes, and have read hundreds of books, and have figured out a process that combines practice and work all in the same strokes.
You can be good, too. It’s OK if you are – I admire you. You are a person I want to work or at least have coffee with someday. If you don’t think you’re good, keep your eye on writers you admire. You can strive to have that same level of skill and experience. It’s not a competition. Whatever motivates you to keep trying, and improving, and succeeding, hold onto that. As long as it gives you energy, and makes you feel fulfilled, you are on the right track.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.