I'm My #1 Fan: Why Self-Adoration Is Dangerous

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First of all, I freely admit that what I say isn't gospel. I am a total amateur at art and writing. I've learned everything that I know via the internet and a few books. It's just that I appreciate all of the tutorials here on dA that have helped me out, and I want to put a little bit of my own methods back in.

This may be one of my more controversial tutorials as of yet.

And yet, I'm not here to talk about a traditional writing topic.  This is about attitude.  Specifically, I want to talk about an author's attitude towards their stories and their talent in general.

I read a lot of amateur stories on dA, and I do mean a LOT.  But one thing that I've noticed is that many writers and artists have what I call "#1 Fan Syndrome."  That's where the writer is so deeply in love with their work that their creation suffers.  This is especially true when it comes to characters.  I hear a lot of people say that their characters are their children or their family, and that's always bothered me a little bit.  I read the stories of writers who say this, and they usually have a lot of the same problems.  I'll explain those more thoroughly in a bit.

In my opinion, your characters are not your dolls.  They're not your friends and they're not your family.  They're your employees.  They're your tools.  It's ok to be fond of writing them.  It's ok to feel like you would like to know them if they were real.  But when you take this adoration, this self-devotion too far, I feel that no good can come of it.  It's not good for you, it's not good for the characters, and it's ultimately not good for your writing.

Am I a monster for saying that you shouldn't love your creations so much?  I really hope not.  I don't mean to be.  But I feel so strongly about it that I need to say it.  In a few seconds, I'm going to make my case for this so that you can see my point of view.  Whether or not you agree with me is up to you, but I hope you can at least where I'm coming from with all of this.

Reason 1: You Look Unprofessional

A writer is almost never as good as they think they are.  Fact.  I worry a lot about this myself.  Every time I think I know what I'm doing, someone much better comes along to make my work pale and shiver in comparison.  It happens an awful lot, at least I know it does to me.  So know that I'm not trying to insult or look down on anyone, I fall into this category too.

Imagine that you are reading a story posted on dA whose author has #1 Fan Syndrome and is far too in love with their own characters.  Do you see them as a professional writer or as a teenage hobbyist?  In this case, I always see the teenage hobbyist in my head, whether or not it's really true.  Being your own #1 fan wrecks your credibility as a professional and can make you seem irritating if you're not as good as you act.  

First of all, love creates blindness.  How many times have you known a couple that you just knew was no good for each other?  And yet, they constantly fawn over each other, still came running back after every breakup, will tear your eyes out for looking at their hubby the wrong way.  That's how an author can be with their story, and an audience knows this.  They might start to feel like the author can't look at their work objectively, and this in turn makes the author look less skilled.  Proper self-assessment is important, so if you look like you've been struck by a bolt of love-blindness, you risk looking unprofessional.

Secondly, fawning over your own work doesn't look professional because it's just not what we see the professionals doing.  Do you think Shakespeare went around his town, showing all his friends his super-adorable characters and like how, OMG, Romeo and Juliet are so the greatest with the greatest love ever and their suicide is, like, SO DARK ZOMFG?  Do you think F. Scott Fitzgerald swooned over how super-cool and smooth Jay Gatsby was and how he's soooo tortured, the mostest tortured ever over losing his one true love?  The correct answer here is no.

Your job as a writer is to write to the best of your ability, not to act as head of your fanclub.  That's what your fans are for, if they so choose.  The job of the fan is vital, but you must accept that it is the one job that you can't take over yourself.  Don't have any fans?  Stop trying so hard to attract them.  Focus on your quality and promotion and they will come.  Do the best that you can for as long as you can.  People appreciate effort, hard work, consistency, and humility far more than they do self-obsession.  I hope.

Your image as a competent, professional writer is far more valuable than you may believe.  Without professionalism, you not only look foolish to those you look to to perhaps publish your work someday, but you look foolish to your audience.  Would you seriously and intently listen to someone who wrote more like an amateur than a pro?

Reason 2: It's Harder to Identify Your Weaknesses

How many times have you had a conversation like this: "Man, I just LOVE Nickelback, they're totally my favorite band ever!  But I've given some thought to their creative style and I think I've identified a few of their flaws when it comes to writing engaging and relatable music, though I still enjoy a wide range of their work.  Want to discuss it with me?"

I'm willing to guess that that's not what you regularly do when discussing your favorite things.  Most fans like to talk about the good things about what they love, not the bad.  And that's ok, it's not as important for fans to pick out the weaknesses of an author (though it really is a good idea to do so) and they're there to kick back and enjoy the story.  But it's far more important for a writer to be able to find your flaws so that you can improve.

In short, as a writer, you just can't afford to be a fan.  You need to be your own harshest critic so that you can fix every mistake and constantly improve so that your readers are getting your best possible output.  You can't get complacent with where you are.  You must know where you are weak so that you may target such weaknesses and lessen them.

This is hardest with your characters.  As a writer, it's easy to get too attached, to defend all of your bad "parenting" choices so that you don't feel like you've failed the character.  "But she needs to have two different colored eyes!  It's in her genes, she can't help it, it just happened and she has to deal with the hardship of being so different and it signifies her two different sides to herself and-"  STOP!  My god, my eyes are bleeding from all the italics.  But seriously, you may want to check if that super-unique quality of your character is actually doing anything to benefit the story.  The amateur writer reflexively says "yes."  The pro gives it a few minutes of honest thought.

Reason 3: It Makes It Hard to Let Go

This is where #1 Fan Syndrome gets a little bit dangerous.  This is where you as the writer can get emotionally hurt by getting too attached to your characters and your work.

I treat my characters as if I were their manager and my goal was to do what is best for my company, or my story.  I'm fond of those that I write, but if they're not doing their job and the company is suffering, the issue needs to be addressed.  They either need to attend a "training class" and be more skillfully written, be demoted to a less important position, or I may just need to fire them.
A while ago, I used to have trouble with one of my characters, though I wouldn't admit it to myself.  She was bland and uninspiring and was nowhere as unique and cool as I thought she was. I had no idea what to make of the character and worse, the bad character was hurting my ability to write the rest of my characters.

Well one day, I finally admitted it: my character just sucked.  So as her manager, I fired her. Gone.  Not a trace of her remains in the new replacement.  Was it hard?  Yes, it was.  But I realize now that it was best for my story and the rest of my characters.  But I could only do this because I had kept my distance and kept myself from getting over-attached to my characters.  As Faulkner said, you need to be able to murder your darlings.

My point being, could you "fire" your very favorite character if your overall story was being damaged by them?
If the answer is 'no'… may I ask why?  Why are you afraid of losing your characters?  We need to understand and accept that in the end, they're not real.  They don't really exist anywhere but inside your head.  They're imaginary.  Just make-believe.  I think that as writers, this is the hardest thing for us to accept.

Because we want our characters to be real.  We want them to exist in someone else's head besides our own.   We want them to exist on paper, to see them animated or acted out.  We want someone else to care about them too.  Because then, maybe they'll care about and respect us as well.  But this desire isn't healthy, not in the way it grows and festers on the soul of the self-obsessed writer.  Focusing on likability and acquiring fangirls usually creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in which such characters turn out poorly and with few fans to boot.  And the writer is left hurt and alone, wasting their precious life desperately clinging to badly-constructed, imaginary people who aren't real.

For your own sake, you must be able to let go.  To let go of your characters, to let go of your work, to let go of everything.  Because in the end, you're still there and you're still you.  There are real people somewhere who will still care about you and like you, no matter what you write.  And don't give me the "Nobody likes me, I'm forever alone" crap.  If you're a worthwhile human being, someone somewhere will care about you.

In the end, the point of writing a character isn't to make fans who love them.  That's just a common side effect, like fame being a common side effect of greatness.  People love well-constructed and explored characters.  The point of the character is to be used as a tool, a person to establish a connection to the audience through which themes and ideas can be explored.  If you can do this and do this successfully, people will respect the skill with which they have been written.  And just maybe, they'll grow to like this person whom they respect, or will at least learn something from them.

So now, we've come full circle.  I've given you my theory, and it is your choice whether or not you want to follow it.  I don't want you to hate your characters and hate writing them and hate everything ever.  But I do advise putting an emotional distance between you and your work.  It's ok to cross that distance and visit for a vacation in order to pull inspiration, passion, pride, and love from what you've created.  You deserve that.  But in the end, you need to return back home.

In short, don't be your own #1 fan.  Because if you're your own biggest fan, how can anyone else be?

Never, ever forget: I might be wrong. I try not to be, but nobody's perfect.  Art is one giant matter of opinion.  Feel totally free to disagree or to only utilize the bits that you agree with.  If you found this helpful, disagree with me, or just prefer another method to my own, feel free to tell me about it in the comments.  After all, I'm here to learn too.
So here we go again with a new tutorial. This one was tough to write, since it's more serious and about a certain attitude and approach to writing in general. I think I'm going to go a little more lighthearted for my next installment, and it shouldn't take too long to make. But I feel like I've said what I needed to say in this tutorial, so I hope you all enjoy this and find it helpful.

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I gotta say I am kinda of confused. I gut what your saying, but I'm mainly confused is this direct toward characters or the overall stories.