#8: The Golden Word Syndrome
Let's face it: we've all suffered from it; we may still have it.
It's an illness that only goes away little by little with practice and a lot of outside help and remedy -- the more we write and subject ourselves to critiques and reviews, the easier it is to realize that our words are not always golden. At times, we may even realize our words are not only not golden, but brown.
So what is the Golden Word Syndrome? At its worst, GWS comes in the form of Can't-Touch-This. The symptoms include any of the following:
- Everything I write stays as written
- I'm a genius and every word I say is the gospel
- I'm better than all the other writers out there, so what do you know that I don't?
- You're not me, and thus you would never know what I really mean, and thus only I know how to fix my writing, if there's anything to be fixed
When a writer is afflicted by this severe case of GWS, it's terminal. It'd probably take a miracle to cure it, if not completely impossible.
Now, don't confuse this acute illness with a case of severe Thin-Skinitis, even though the two are closely related. Strictly speaking, Thin-Skinitis renders the writer highly sensitive to criticism. Reactions may include itchiness, red-eyes, running nose, uncontrollable tears, heart palpitations, hot ears, temper flares, and sharp tongue. Now, the difference between Thin-Skinitis and GWS is that patients of the former may simply refuse to recognize the mistakes and flaws in the writing out of embarrassment or a related case of inferiority complex. It's treatable with frequent exposure to constructive criticism and mentoring.
Meanwhile, GWS is highly untreatable in that the writer lacks any ability to recognize the flaws in the writing. The GWS sufferer tends to suffer from a delusion of grandeur that he or she is the greatest writer ever. GWS sufferers may also display secondary symptoms of Thin-Skinitis.
Now, not all GWS sufferers are bad writers. In fact, many GWS sufferers are rather good. For example, a GWS sufferer wrote so well that my publisher actually offered him a contract; his manuscript was absolutely publishable. Only during the editing phase did my publisher recognize the severity of said writer's GWS -- it was beyond help -- and the publisher had no choice but to rescind the contract. To these days, I doubt that the GWS sufferer in this case understands the reasons. Chances are he still blames the publisher for not recognizing his genius.
The problem is, GWS may not be diagnosed until rather late in the publishing process, especially if the writer is decent to begin with. Such symptoms could be undetectable until threatened and the writer displays the typical reactions that are often confused with those of Thin-Skinitis. And then it's too late.
The truth is, nothing and nobody is perfect. Anything can be changed, edited, and improved upon. A seasoned writer must learn to accept that he's not infallible, and mistakes or flaws do not mean he is not a good -- even great -- writer. A seasoned writer understands that books are rewritten, not written. Stephen King, for example, often runs his second or third drafts by his wife, who admittedly is King's most harsh critic. Michael Chabon wrote about his "ordeal" while editing The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. "It was bloodbath," he had said. But that's also how a writer grows. The finished product earned Chabon a Pulitzer Prize and secured his place as one of the most celebrated contemporary American literary writers.
So, before you start submitting your work, seriously consider if you're suffering from GWS, or displaying certain symptoms. Are you truly open-minded when it comes to your work? Are you willing to consider advice and changes without feeling you or your work is being attacked? Are you capable to leaving your comfort zone so you can grow as a writer? Are you able to accept criticism without having your ego and self-esteem bruised or destroyed? Because you know, that's only one of the first steps on the road to success. If you can't accept criticism or see the flaws in your own work, even if you succeed in getting published, you'll meet a long road of disappointment or anger as your READERS continue to criticize your works. If you ever expect only praises and accolades, then you may in fact still be suffering from GWS -- perhaps a milder case, but GWS nonetheless.
It's time to get it treated before it's too late.