When Good Writers Go Bad

Recently I listened to a thought provoking sermon about how to tell when good leaders have gone bad. The lesson was universally applicable because we all have leadership opportunities at some point in our lives. Whether it is leading a major corporation, mentoring a student or babysitting, we are providing guidance. As writers, we have an incredible opportunity to lead others. Here is my spin on that lesson, exploring several traits that indicate a writer may have gone to the Dark Side:

A Big Ego

Being an author means creating a platform, and selling yourself and your product. At some point, you may begin to believe your own press. The praise feels great and after a while, you get used to it. Then, when it does not come readily, we wonder why. Although some of the most acclaimed writers of all time had healthy egos (Steinbeck, anyone?), focusing on how the writing might benefit others is much more inspiring to readers. Someone asked me this week, “Do you write to feel powerful and  make the characters do whatever you want?” I told her my writing stems from a desire to entertain. She looked baffled and said she would probably become addicted to the control over the story and other readers. It’s easy to see how authors could get wrapped up in the ‘power’ aspect of writing, if they were so inclined–but that’s not what inspires people.


Alone time is a necessity for many writers who can’t focus with others anywhere in their vicinity. However, the more time we spend alone, the more we rely on our own judgement. The feedback from trusted advisors is invaluable, but if one is operating in a silo, that may not seem necessary. Excessive isolation can be dangerous, it keeps writers from being in touch with their audience, as well as with other writers with whom they might partner. Actor Jonah Hill has commented on how much easier it is to write with other comedians. Woody Allen has expressed that people are willing to help a writer in the creative process, as long as the author has put in the time to get a project close to being fully baked. Although there is nothing wrong with self-reliance, no person is an island. If you have it available to you, why not seek wise counsel?

Us/Them Mentality

When fellow authors enjoy success, we can either be happy for them or turn pea green with envy. We may console ourselves with the sentiments that so-and-so is only popular because they write scandalous material, or because they are friends with ‘the guy behind the guy’ at Google. Writing is a tough business to break into, and it’s understandable to feel jealous of our successful colleagues–but why not leverage them instead, and even adopt their principles for success? Author communities (i.e. WordServe Water Cooler) are committed to the prosperity of all. In this and similar organizations, writers help each other with social media support, comments on postings and general assistance in spreading the word around. It’s a huge relief when others help take up our causes. Disinterest in helping others only results in hurting oneself.

If you see yourself in any of these traits, don’t despair.  We’ve all been there at one point or another to some extent. The idea is to identify our symptoms and course correct to ensure we are keeping ourselves honest. As writers, we need to lead our followers somewhere worthwhile.

Have you ever experienced any of the above? How do you think the writing journey might change an author over time?

11 Replies to “When Good Writers Go Bad”

  1. I struggle with the ego and isolation deals, and then I’m ever aware of exactly why God chose to give me the husband and sons that I have. They keep me in the mix, and they keep me on the ground.

  2. I’m probably guilty of the isolation factor, but I don’t think I could ever write in order to have control… if anything, my stories seem to have control over me!!!

  3. I think the idea of leadership is one of the things that makes me pause and think about what I’m writing most often. Words do change people, and that’s quite a responsibility. I only hope that God gives me some wisdom to help with the process.

    1. It certainly can give you pause. Half the time it doesn’t even seem like people are paying attention, and then you find out you heavily impacted someone’s life. I definitely feel a sense of responsibility to the audience, for better or worse.

  4. Great post, Kimberly! Staying centered in Jesus is the only way to maintain balance! Comparing our success to that of our fellow authors is always tempting without His perspective, but (and oh, how I love this but) the good news is that with His perspective we actually discover true joy in the victories of those around us and true enjoyment in helping to promote their babies. His grace working in me can flip an ugly attitude faster than quick. 🙂

  5. In reality, I started writing stories to alleviate boredom and in an effort to harness and harvest the tendency to daydream. Over the years, I have made some effort to make it practical, hoping that creating good stories and bothering to write them well will make it possible for other people to benefit and enjoy them instead of me just being uselessly acting like “a space cadet”.

  6. “. . . focusing on how the writing might benefit others . . .” AMEN. This has SO been on my heart lately! Thanks for this important reminder post.

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