The Hero Complex


Most writers have issues; lots of issues.  One of the biggest issues that a writer faces is who should see their writing.  Most writers and many more aspiring writers think that any audience will do.  This is a misnomer for many, many reasons.  All criticism is not the same.  There is criticism that makes your writing better and criticism that makes it worse.  You need to figure out who can do what if you’re going to write anything worth reading.  I think a lot of writers would say that having a massive audience is better than having a smaller audience and this is where I disagree with most writers.  Having a large audience means you’re going to have to appease many more parties as opposed to a smaller, more specialized audience who reads what you write because they enjoy reading your material.

A friend of mine who is an aspiring author (or pretends to be at least) thinks that the easiest job in the world would be to the next Stephanie Meyers or J.K. Rowling.  Now, this guy can barely write a novella, so I hesitate in calling him a real aspiring author, but he really thinks that a bigger readership makes a better writer or that more prolific writers are more fulfilled because they have a massive audience.  Being artistically fulfilled is just as important as being financially fulfilled I would argue because money is just money.  You can’t put a price on selling out.  A lot of readers will argue that an author was good up to a point, but once they reached that one number or whatever they stopped writing good stuff.  I think some of this has to do with how we perceive writers.  If you take a writers earlier work and compare it against their later work their later work will largely be seen as suffering.  It’s not that their later work wasn’t as good as their early work, it’s just that it usually isn’t as well developed because the author didn’t have the kind of time to work on it that they did earlier in their career.

Where the hero complex comes into play is when you begin to give friends or acquaintances more access to your work than you would your general readership.  This almost always leads to problems in one area or another.  People begin to think that you’re better than you actually are because they have more access to your material.  Most times, the writer in question hasn’t become a better writer, rather they have just begun to seek out multiple opinions of their work.  This is fine, but it can lead to a great amount of overlap in a writer’s personal and professional lives.  For example, a friend of mine who happens to be a woman wanted to read something that I wrote and thinking nothing of it I happily obliged as I do in most cases when people express genuine interest in my work.  I think that’s a relatively normal thing to be happy when people take an interest in what you do, but when you do this with the opposite sex, mistaken feelings can ensue.  Behold my case and point.

I have a friend – let’s call her Michelle because I have a million friends named Michelle.  Michelle has read maybe three or four essays that I’ve written, but she’s never read a personal essay I’ve written before.  Once I give her one of my personal essays to read she becomes a totally different person, at least around me.  I’ve talked to guitarists who say that women swoon after them once they’ve seen the way they play and this really is similar in effect even if it is not as intense.  When you write heavy story-driven prose you’re bound to get a certain type of audience as not everyone likes to read non-fiction and even fewer like to read essayists for the same reason that many in the mainstream can’t tolerate blues guitarists – it’s simply too long for them.  This isn’t to deride people who don’t like blues guitarists (though they deserve to be derided,) rather it is to suggest that if you don’t like an impresario of one kind you probably won’t like one of another stripe.

Michelle isn’t really more than a casual acquaintance.  I had a class with her – I think two semesters ago – but I run into her now and again and she’s friends with my friends so occasionally she reads some of my stuff.  This is all fine and good normally, but when I’m working on my memoir I like it to be eyes only because if other people read it they get attached.  Michelle read one of the chapters of my memoir, I believe it was Tunnel Rats or another chapter towards the end, but the day after she read it she hugged me.  That’s weird because as I said, I don’t talk to this girl like ever and she just happens to be outside the library one day?  She not only stops and hugs me, but stops to talk to me about my writing.

“It was like a window into your soul,” she says.  “I knew we were connected after I read the last paragraph.”

I don’t know what to say to that.  It’s so troublesome that I feel like it doesn’t even deserve a response.  You are not going to get a window into my soul through my writing and even if you did it would have nothing to do with you and me on an individual level because my contract is with the reader, whoever that is.  Some have suggested that my work is gender-biased in that because my work involves a lot of emotions and story it is quite clearly geared toward women.  I feel like that statement in and of itself is blatantly sexist.  My stories are full of emotion because I’m an emotional guy.  I have, on the other hand, had editors tell me that this is an “emotional cop out,” which I find to be strange for a number of reasons.  First off, I find it hard to believe that this same critique would be made of a female author.  I just don’t see an editor telling a female author that her work is too emotional or that she is doing something wrong as a writer by employing feelings in her work.  Emotion is a part of good writing and you don’t need to take my word for it, just try reading something without it and you’ll get my point.

The larger problem that exists here is that someone is making an emotional judgment based off of something that wasn’t written with the intent of wooing someone or sweeping someone off their feet.  This kind of thing happens a lot though and it happens to a lot of good writers.  Reading is, inherently, an emotional experience, but it is not a personal or one-to-one and it’s certainly not intentional on the part of the author.  Some works may have an emotional component, but that emotional component is not there to woo someone over to you on a romantic level it’s there to add to the story and deliver a punch at the end.  The issue that I had with Michelle’s analysis was that she thought that something was there when it wasn’t.  You may feel something after reading an author’s work, but it’s not you alone that is feeling it.  There’s a certain macro quality that writing has.  It is designed to appeal to a mass audience and usually does, however when it is taken in a micro setting it can lead one to false delusions or feelings that were never meant to be imparted from the author to the reader.  The hero complex is thus, in sum, the idea that someone is something that they are not or perhaps something bigger or more powerful than the average, everyday person might perceive them to be.  The hero complex leads to delusions and delusions lead to a wrong reading of a given situation thus both should be avoided with all possible tenacity.


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