There’s something that every writer I’ve ever met has, at one time or another, said to their friend, writing buddy or critique group. It’s the dreaded Writers’ Generic Disclaimer, or what I like to call the WGD. The WGD goes something like this:
“I had trouble with this piece. It still needs a lot of work.”
Another common variant is: “It’s only a first draft,” or possibly, “It’s still pretty rough.”
Occasionally you’ll hear: “Promise you’ll tell me if it’s no good, but please, be kind.”
There are hundreds of variations on this theme. We all do it.
In the vast majority of cases, use of the Writer’s Generic Disclaimer indicates a certain lack of trust in the writer’s own talent and skill. Even published authors seem to find it necessary to say something like this whenever they offer their first draft to a friend or editor.
On occasion, there may be the rare case in which the author is either arrogantly confident of his or her own ability or completely delusional, uttering the WGD in order to appear modest. (Fortunately, I don’t know any of these paragons, nor indeed, would I even want to.)
Some authors, in the optimistic belief that it will soften a publisher’s hard-nosed opinion, even include a variant of the WGD in their cover letter. This is always a mistake, as it merely indicates to said publisher that the writer has yet to develop an essential trust and belief in the value of his own work.
In my weekly writing group, we used to have a hat in the middle of the table. Every time someone issued a variation of the WGD, they were required to put a quarter into the hat. It was all in fun, but over time, it tended to point out the insecurity of some members, so it was retired in order to avoid causing unnecessary pain to the more timid of the group. However, even now, if a particularly lengthy WGD is declaimed prior to a reading, the threat to reinstate The Hat may be issued.
On the plus side…
The Writers’ Generic Disclaimer indicates a kind of reluctant heroism as well. If we’re writing purely for our own enjoyment with no intent to publish or even show it to others, we’ll never really know or care about anyone else’s opinion. However, it takes a certain kind of bravery to offer up the thoughts in our head and the contents of our soul for public perusal.
I believe all creatives feel this way. The first time I sold a piece of my art, I felt like I was on top of the world — “He likes it! He really likes it!” It also felt like I was selling my newborn baby to the highest bidder. Eventually I came to terms with the sense I was prostituting my art, but I still feel a qualm when I write a piece and offer it up to be read. It’s all I can do not to say, “It’s just a first draft, needs work, don’t judge me harshly!”
Only fear of The Hat keeps me quiet.