The Writer’s Bill of Rights

Many writers struggle with self-doubt.  I don’t know if this is a product of type of people who write, or if it’s the result of the subjective nature of measuring what’s “good writing” that leaves them crippled when trying to assess their work.  Whatever the reason, I find some level of self-doubting is nearly ubiquitous among artists.

Should I write more?  Do I spend too much time writing?  Did I get rejected because my story was bad?  Is this story any good?  Sounds familiar?

Writer Robert Dawson has put together what he calls a Writer’s Bill of Rights (check out his original here), and I think it’s an excellent document.  It sets out what all writers should understand as they enter the profession: it’s full of failure, rejection, and unrecognized genius.  If a writer doesn’t know this going in, there can be emotional trouble ahead.  Understanding this makes it a lot easier to handle.  So if you’re writer, remember that “you are allowed to have a family who need and deserve large quantities of your time,” “you are allowed to write stories that are not as good as the best thing you ever wrote,” and “you are allow to have stories that haven’t sold and may never sell.”

Some might argue that Mr. Dawson’s list are excuses, but you know what, I think he’s right.  While writers should never settle for mediocrity and should always strive to improve, writers also need to keep perspective.  Not every story I write is better than the last.  Not everything I write deserves an award, and that’s okay.  I don’t see these as excuses, especially if these ideas allow me to keep writing, when self-doubt makes a lot of people stop.

About D. Thomas Minton

Writer of speculative fiction
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2 Responses to The Writer’s Bill of Rights

  1. mobewan says:

    Timely post after the quality of my writing this morning… As long as all of the things on the list don’t apply at the same time, then I’ll happily sign. It’s a strange profession in this respect. People leaning the piano for example expect to go through a certain learning curve and to not perform at the Albert Hall after mastering chopsticks. Maybe thats one I’ll add to the list “You are allowed to give up and go and learn the piano.”

  2. ericjbaker says:

    I don’t think those are excuses, I think they are coping mechanisms, and useful, necessary ones at that. At what other activity can one be highly skilled yet still fail and be rejected most of the time? Imagine hitting a line drive past the shortstop that takes a funny bounce and is missed by the outfielder. You run fast and make agile turns. You slide in to home a half second ahead of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt. You’re safe! But… the run doesn’t count. It wasn’t out of the park. You could have cut .008 seconds if you’d waited .004 seconds to start your slide. Also, your foot wasn’t dead center of the plate. You were to the left by 1 inch. Not good enough. Plus, the outfield made an error. That was just luck. If you fix all those things, the run will count next time. Maybe.

    To do something really well by any standard yet have it picked apart and be rejected causes cognitive dissonance: I know I’m really good at this. I practice and hone and study my craft. I’m creative. Yet, I’m not even worth a personalized rejection. I can’t place in the top 25 in a contest. No one in the business treats me like I can write a sentence, much less tell a story. It’s hard to reconcile those two sides without support from people who have shared that experience.

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