I have been employed as a writing tutor for about six years, and during that time I have worked with writers from all across the talent spectrum. There are times when I admit I sort of coast through some sessions, especially when I happen to work with four or five students in a row with the exact same paint-by-numbers assignment from a freshman composition course.
By the way - writing centers on college campuses are not necessarily remedial in nature, and some of the best writers on any given campus make use of writing tutors in the same way that golf aficionados seek out course professionals for advice. So, to college students reading this: visit your writing centers and polish your skills.
When I work with advanced undergraduates or graduate students, I generally learn about topics with which I am otherwise unfamiliar. Still, academic writing is generally not the most exciting prose, and it is somewhat rare that I come across a college writer with a flair for the written word that makes for enjoyable reading during a tutoring session.
Even rarer still is a writer like the one I have been working with for a few weeks now, someone who has the sort of talent that jumps off of the page and grabs the reader by the lapels, demanding to be reckoned with and slapping the reader around if his eyes dare to leave the page.
This writer, though, has exactly zero self-confidence, and she is so insecure about her prose that she does not allow me to read aloud her work for fear that someone else in the center would hear. Instead I read silently, pausing to write on paper any suggestions I might have for her work.
These comments, of course, are quite limited in number, and mostly focused on reining in her wildly creative passages - those with ebullient word-play and extraordinarily complex structures - in order to better fit the modest expectations of analytical writing. Imagine that: reminding a writer that her academic audiences might not be able to keep up with her rhetorical gymnastics.
I am not in awe of this writer's considerable talents so much as I am baffled by the crippling insecurity this writer exhibits. Working with this student is akin to rehearsing with someone of the talent level of a Paul McCartney, only to hear the hypothetical Beatle shrug his shoulders and say: "my songs pretty much suck."
I have been working to get across to this student that her writing is not just competent, but rather bordering on the brilliant. However, I see the resistance to my effusive praise, and though she wants to believe the words, deep down it is apparent that her deep rooted self-doubt keeps her from really accepting compliments.
Yet there is only so much that a person like me can do for someone whose wounded psyche hobbles her ability to bring her work to a wider audience. The fear of either failure or rejection can be paralyzing, and external forces like sympathetic tutors pale in comparison with the internal voices that can be the harshest critics.
So, to any other insecure writers reading this post: the surest way to polish your craft is for other people to read it and offer feedback. Hide behind a pseudonym if the worries about criticism terrify you, and seek safe audiences to get used to the process of opening up your work (and your soul) to other people. The more you share your work, the less frightening this experience becomes.
Could there be a sadder fate than to be blessed with creative genius but be cursed with crippling self-doubt?