6 Personality Types Who Will Fail as Writers

You folks have seen them out there. You could hardly miss them.

But why are they going to fail?

  1. THE WHINY: those who throw hissy fits when writing advice is hard on their tender egos

    These are the people who write back to agents who send them rejection letters. You know how many acceptances those people get from those agents once they’ve let them know they’re not taking rejection lying down? I can tell you in words of one numeral.

    Now that the blogosphere has made good on Andy Warhol’s promise, “in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” it is simply amazing how many folks are out there cleaning up the Intertubes for democracy, storming around letting other people know how dreadfully unhappy they are with the way things are being done. This is their use of their perceived 15 minutes.

    Last week I found a guy posting an extraordinarily thoughtful and lengthy letter from a mega-big literary agent saying to him, “Can we please stop?” in response to his post-rejection tantrum letter, in which he apparently not only objected mightily to the agent’s rejection of his work but also made claims for its quality he clearly could not sustain. When I picked myself up off the floor from the shock of seeing how much time and courtesy this agent had spent trying to bring a little light to the life of this amazing dimwit, I was even more appalled to read the letter he wrote back, which of course he also posted.

    Seriously. That agent is neeeeeeeeeeever going to represent that guy. And now that he’s posted his eye-popping idiocy online, no other credible agent is going to, either.
  2. THE LAZY: those who have no intention of making writing their life’s work

    Sometimes I talk about what it takes to become a professional writer: learning how to write impeccably, for one; learning the ropes of the business, for another; learning all the ways to earn a living as a writer besides through fiction, for sure.

    And the minute I type the words “professional writer,” I hear in my head the chorus of objections from those who are writing fiction as a hobby. “We don’t want to be professional writers!” they cry. “We just want to win the lottery!”

    Professional writing is dull. Winning the lottery is exciting! Planning your work, meeting deadlines, taking advice without whimpering, being edited, going to business meetings, negotiating contracts, doing it when you don’t feel like it, making good on your promises, treating it like a responsibility rather than a right—that’s boring. Dreaming up a few characters out of half-remembered movies and throwing them on the page and waking up the next morning to find you’re J.K. Rowling—now that’s living!
  3. THE SELF-INVOLVED: those who insist on writing only about themselves

    You’ve met them in workshops and critique circles, the ones who submit, time after time, endless, mind-numbing, pointless droning on and on and on about whatever their pet peeve happens to be, styling their protagonist (almost universally in first person) as the ultimate blameless victim of fate who just—coincidentally—happens to do and say things that bring down all hell and high water on their own faultless little heads. Oh, the injustice! In sleep-inducing detail. “I woke up. My bed was just like it was yesterday, when I also woke up. I got up and got dressed. I brushed my teeth and spit in the sink. I rinsed my mouth and looked in the mirror, thinking about myself. I went in the kitchen to see if everyone in there was thinking about me, too. They weren’t! They were talking about their own stuff! Of all the nerve.”

    Here’s a tip: if even the people in your critique group keep saying your protagonist is unsympathetic, there is no way in hell anyone’s ever going to pay you for that privilege.
  4. THE DISGRUNTLED: those who are already mad that they don’t make enough

    Hey, you know what’s a bad idea when you think you don’t earn what you’re worth? Going into a field people work just for the love of it even when they have to move back in with their parents.

    Then quitting your day job.

    In the UK you people have the Dole. It’s not so easy here in the US. You know who lives under bridges? That’s right. Lots of really pissed-off people who quit their jobs in a huff the minute they got an agent—any agent—completely clueless about the publishing industry in general and their own teeny, tiny little role in it in particular.

    Remember the ultimate torture chamber in The Hitckhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Where you see the entire universe in all its enormity and your own dust spec of a self diminished down to its actual subatomic particularity? This is you. This is you without a day job.

    Even George Clooney appeared in a zillion unmemorable TV shows and movies for sixteen years before he got “discovered” on ER. I remember. He was really good. All of you with less talent and inherent compatibility with your medium than George Clooney can multiply that number by the number of years you were doing something else before you decided to throw your hat in the ring for this craft.

    And you thought you were disgruntled before.
  5. THE UNREALISTIC: those who have No Idea what the publishing business is really like

    Are you a Twilight enthusiast? A Bella-Wannabe? Mooning endlessly over Bella’s identification with Wuthering Heights and thinking the only thing as great as being the author of Edward would be being the author of Heathcliff?

    Just so you know: the author of Heathcliff was dissed by her publisher, left unpublished until he could ride the coattails of her sister Charlotte, then published in a terrible edition with sloppy typesetting and cheap paper, and ignored by the reading public, who found Heathcliff—beyond reprehensible—downright disgusting. Emily Bronte was a bonafide literary genius whose greatest work, a saga in verse, was altered after her death against her passionately-clear wishes by busybody Charlotte and re-published in its mutilated form, although half the poems had vanished by then and have never been recovered. Emily Bronte died young, unloved, unhappy, unfulfilled. Undiscovered.

    And the author of Edward can’t write for beans. She stumbled on a misogynist aspect of our culture she could exploit in impressionable kids, along with a really good marketer. That really good marketer is now busy with Twilight, and you are in their backwash.
  6. THE UNIMAGINATIVE: those who look at published garbage and say, “I can write that.”

    Why, yes. Yes, you probably can. So can a monkey. Are you as smart as a monkey? Congratulations.

    And you will suffer the fate of those authors: you will spend endless hours sending hundreds of queries to agents who want nothing to do with you until you stumble across one desperate enough to take a risk, all the while telling yourself, “You’ve got to persevere,” without wasting so much as an iota of your perseverance on learning the craft.

    You might even be a hardcore-enough marketer to push for publication until someone gives in and publishes you. Then you will get your head all puffed up with grandiose ideas of your own importance because you got a book on a shelf (as though the authors of all that other garbage didn’t have exactly the same thing), and you will be thrilled to have your name all over crap a dog wouldn’t read, and no one over the long run will take you seriously because you treated a craft many, many people love with all their souls as a quickie money-making gimmick.

    People will point to your book at garage sales and say, “What garbage! I can write better than that.”

    Yeah. On behalf of everyone who takes this craft seriously: thanks.

UPDATE from Twitter: @rd_morgan “6 Personality Types Who’ll Fail as Writers” Or: 6 Personality Types Who’ll Inevitably Be in Yr #MFA Prog.

Coming up next: 6 Personality Types Who Will Succeed

36 thoughts on “6 Personality Types Who Will Fail as Writers

  1. Shawn says:

    I love this. I’ve encountered #s 1, 4 and 6 in the last two weeks. Great post. Thanks for being honest.

  2. Hillary says:

    I think its interesting that all of these types are all about making lots of noise.

    The people who are suited to this are the ones doing, not just talking about it.

  3. Kathryn says:

    I’ll have to admit, I had a little touch of the 1-6 virus when I started querying over a year ago.

    I finished typing the last word of my very first manuscript and thought, “They’re going to love this!” ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m hoping I have some redeeming traits. I’ll find out in the next post.

  4. Pulled through my first book published online. DigestStory.com, The Golden Boy, A Novel. Free read. I have gotten that far, my first larger piece of work.

    I do whine a little, I should make more for the stuff I do for others, lets see these six again. I do persist though, and can delve in for hours…

  5. Tracy says:

    Phew, for a second there, I thought there was going to be a Meyers-Briggs type list of people who will fail, and I was worried that INTP was going to be on it. :o) Fortunately, I don’t seem to suffer from any of the things you’ve listed, so there’s hope for me yet!

  6. Carolyn Bahm says:

    I noodled around online until I found the example you mention in #1 and all I can say is, “Good lord!” Talk about a sense of entitlement.

  7. Marisa Birns says:

    I feel compelled to tell you that I really liked your post. Really. Writing is hard, hard work. No room for lazy bones. No room for whining, entitlement, etc.

    And the more one writes, the more one learns.

    Ranting and raving when sent a rejection letter? There are no words.

  8. KarenG says:

    Love this! You hit the nail on the head with this one (What about those who use cliches every chance they get lol! But it doesn’t count when blogging.) And guess what, I’ve been every one of these people, but I’m getting over it. I’ll RT this.

  9. Monica says:

    Hahahaha! This is the second blog I’ve seen today about what NOT to do when trying to get a book published. The first blog was about what an author should and shouldn’t do when querying agents and publishers. What is the universe telling me if I see another blog oh this topic?

  10. Victoria says:

    Aw, you all are HILARIOUS. I swear, you guys make this post.

    All you sweet good-hearted things checking to see if I mean you. It’s even worse over on Twitter. Of course I don’t mean you! I mean me!

    What a lovable bunch you are. For the post on personalities that WILL make it I should just list your names.

  11. Somewhat linked to number 5, I think people who have unrealistic expectations will fail. If you put a lot of pressure on yourself, without heeding the reality of the publishing world, you will lose the enjoyment factor. I love your disclaimer, by the way! May we link to you for Friday’s round-up? To me, this is inspirational to see which of these I am not ๐Ÿ™‚


  12. JohnE says:

    Guilty of 2 and 5! I don’t intend to make writing my life’s work. I’m 65 years old and have been working on my first draft for 20 years. My life is almost over โ€“ I’ve outlived my first doctor’s prediction and am closing in on my second’s โ€“ and no way can I learn everything about the publishing business. I like the advice in your book about concentrating on writing first and postponing my education about twitter, platforms, queries, and such. Although my antagonist says: “All things in good time,” I don’t think I have another 20 years to work on my second draft. Maybe I’ll skip it and start my third. That’s why I’ll seek the help of a kind, perceptive, and knowledgeable editor who appreciates the difference between an en dash and an em dash and likes strawberries and whipped cream. Do you happen to know such an editor?

  13. This was an amazing post!

  14. Victoria says:

    Marissa, yes, of course. Thank you!

    JohnE, I’ll look around. I probably have a phone number for someone here somewhere.

  15. layinda says:

    Luckily, I passed this test with flying colors, because I have an award for you over on my blog (if you choose to accept it). Enjoying your words of wisdom – glad to have discovered this blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Oh, here I am AGAIN at the last of the line. Real life keeps interfering with me commenting on your posts in a timely manner. Imagine that. Me writing instead of commenting. Sheesh!

    This post made me so angry I can spit! I’m going to go post about it on my blog that don’t post on anymore RIGHT NOW. It has made me that upset.

    You know I’m kidding. ๐Ÿ™‚

    This is brilliant, really. I have done all of these things, but I think there’s something to be said about the fact that I can read through this and smile now. This post deserves a big gracious *HUG*

  17. e.lee says:

    Oooohh this is harsh, but it hurts soooo good. I want to show this to some people I know hahhaha

  18. Declan Burke says:

    Great post. Very funny, and lashings of bile.

    The flip side, given that great writers tend to break new ground, is that there’s probably very few great writers who didn’t have fragile egos, weren’t whining about being misunderstood, weren’t entirely self-involved, and weren’t utterly unrealistic and totally disgruntled about publishing in particular and the world in general.

    Of course, very few of them confused who they were with what they wrote. And none of them were lazy and unimaginative.

    Hard work and imagination, eh? Who’d a thunk it was that easy?

    Cheers, Dec

  19. Simon L. says:

    HAHAHAAA!!! *cough* *snort*

    BAHAHahaaaaaa! Whoo!

    Love it. You should rant more often. It’s fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

    It’s only funny ’cause it’s true, of course (if ever-so-slightly hyperbolic). That’s the great part about it.

  20. David Rix says:

    Aaaaaa yes – absolutely brilliant! Spot on, every one of them. The best part is though that i defy anyone, even the best authors, to read it without a twinge of identification with at least a few! It’s human nature after all – but yes, i suppose it isnt about perfection since nobody is (thank goodness). I think doing any art involves striking a kind of deal with your own nature so you can actually get the job done! Ideally, you find the balance between honesty to yourself and responding to others that you need in order to produce what you want to produce – whatever that is. Which is what your list is all about! I am tempted to put your list on my wall!

  21. Rahma says:

    Whew! I almost didn’t read this because I was sure I’d be on the list. Thanks, now I think there might be hope for me!

    As for John who thinks his life is almost because he’s 65, he could end up living ’til 90 and publish a dozen books. Anything is possible. Writers hold on to the impossible dream longer than anyone.

  22. Maine Character says:

    Great post, but just to clarify (and prove my geekness has no limits), Vogons might torture you by reading their poetry, but they didnโ€™t use the Total Perspective Vortex.

    โ€œThe man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically in order to annoy his wife.โ€ (Restaurant, chap 11)

    In truth, it fried her brain, and from then on it was used to execute people.

    The only person who ever walked away from it, of course, was Zaphod (he thought it was kind of neat).

  23. Betsy Pritts Ickes says:

    OUCH! I can see bits and traces of all of those in myself at one time or another! The more I write, I realize how much more I have to learn.

    I believe you forgot one trait – the “FEARFUL.” It takes courage to send your heart & soul out to possibly be rejected. I’ve encountered several writers so afraid of rejection they won’t take the risk to share their work with others.

  24. DianeC says:

    You write about the “total humiliation of being known as the author of shlock.”

    Excuse my ignorance, but what exactly is ‘shlock’ when it comes to literature? Surely, you don’t mean genre fiction? For example: romance, crime, science fiction?

    Surely not? If not, then what exactly is ‘shlock’?

  25. Margo Zmich says:

    Thereโ€™s a book recognized as โ€œAvoid Retirement And Remain Aliveโ€. The concept could be the actuality that retirement has no place in modern society. If you have the ability to make work pleasurable by balancing it against the other points you’ll like to try and do, then you can easily reside like youโ€™ve got all the time inside of the globe.

  26. Meg says:

    I would respectfully (this is my first comment here, I’m here by way of Nicola Morgan’s “Help, I need a publisher” blog) like to submit that you missed one.

    The person who is overwhelmed by the whole publishing business, and, talent or lack of it aside, can’t deal with what it takes to be pathologically persistent and thickskinned enough to do what’s necessary to get there (or what will be required once s/he arrives). Not because s/he feels entitled, but because the business end is too high a bar to jump.

  27. Wandering Author says:

    These are all true, but I especially like number six. At the risk of being savaged by later commenters ๐Ÿ˜‰ I will say this: I would rather write the best novel I possibly can and sell six hundred copies than churn out something targeted to the lowest common denominator and sell sixty thousand. By this, I don’t mean to suggest that sales figures, high or low, have any direct connection with quality.

    What I do mean is I would have no respect for any writer who is happy just to be published. I’m not as good a writer as I’d like to be – and I never will be. No matter how good I ever become, I will always want to improve to become even better than that. If all someone wants is wealth and fame, there are much easier routes. And anyone who is truly serious about being a writer should never be happy just to do as well as the worst published crap they can find.

  28. Victoria says:

    I don’t allow savaging on my site. Be nice, or be missing.

  29. Lee says:

    There are a heck of lot of people out there saying they are writers, or aspiring writers with, frankly, their heads up in the clouds.

    I was one myself, thinking that writing the next great world novel (I am not American) was all about producing papers after papers (my dreams dated back to days before laptops) of an amazing story in a quaint cafe somewhere.

    I have since become a big fan of several writers, though, and I read everything about them I could get my hands on – including the nitty gritty details about the work. The non romantic side.

    That part hasn’t deterred me. I just know that I need to work and work and work harder to produce quality reading – and then prepare for multiple rejections.

    Thank you for posting this. I’ll forward it to fellow writers I like and hide it from those I don’t care about ๐Ÿ˜€

  30. Elysia says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s really encouraging! Maybe that sounds a little weird, but sometimes I need a reminder that my passion and hard work do mean something. I’m anywhere near as disciplined and mature as I’ll need to be in the long run, but reading an amusing article about those little bad habits taken to an extreme helps to make the change seem a little less daunting. I can tell myself that even though critique can still sting, and sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) skip writing just because I don’t feel like it, at least I’m not spiteful, and at least I still put in the time.

    The thing that bugs me the most out of all of those is number 5, I think. I have to bite my tongue whenever someone close to me says something stupid about getting published. People can be so insulting sometimes, like writing is a piece of cake, and anyone can make it big. You have to love writing for the sake of writing; I have no idea where this notion that being a writer is glamorous, fun, and easy came from. How can a person want to write if they don’t actually love all that writing entails? It isn’t always easy, but to me, almost everything you described as boring stuff is rather exciting. Maybe that’s because I’m new to the publishing world, but still. Even if I never make a dime, I’m never going to stop. I appreciate meeting people who feel the same way.

    1. Elysia says:

      Oh god, that was a total tirade! I’m sorry. Apparently this post really set me off, haha.

      1. Victoria says:

        Elysia, I love tirades. My blog is always a place where you’re welcome to tirade all you like!

  31. Goodness – they all did think it was about them.

    I liked this very much, and found you very amusing, direct and willing to use fact and conjecture to make readers sit up.

  32. L Armstrong says:

    Hooray! You are so right!

Comments are closed.