Illusory superiority (at least according to Wikipedia) is essentially the belief that you’re better than you are.* Someone in the room is the least attractive person, but you’re pretty damned sure it’s not you even though everyone else would agree it is. And sure, there’s this normal distribution for intelligence, but aren’t we all in the top 10%? You and I certainly are, right?
I have to say that the belief that I am better than I am has been invaluable. It’s allowed me to try things I probably shouldn’t have and succeed at them. (Which then made other people actually believe that I was better than I am. Funny how that works.) If I’d sat down and realistically assessed some of those situations, chances are I would’ve concluded that I was much better off doing something else. And if I were to point by point evaluate my appearance in a mirror each day, there’s a chance I wouldn’t want to leave the house half the time. (Instead I tell myself that people are looking at me funny because they find me attractive. Hahaha.)
To hell with reality. Most of success comes from ignoring the truth and just getting on with it.
Look at the acceptance rates on Duotrope. Assuming this is representative (I’m suspecting it’s more representative of a newer writer rather than a well-established one, but could be wrong), look at some of those acceptance rates: Clarkesworld (.07%), Analog (.17%), Lightspeed (.26%), Asimov’s (.38%), and IGMS (.44%). (Yes, I pulled off of the most selective list. Those also happen to be the ones paying professional rates.)
Think about this for a minute. Less than 1 in 100 stories get accepted at these places. And when they do, they pay $500 or less on average. (I have a spreadsheet with pay rates for ten markets – for a 5,000 word story the average is $415; for a 7,500 word story it’s $550.) So, the odds of acceptance are small. And the pay for that one story are not living wages. The pay for twelve stories are not living wages. The pay for twenty stories…(You get the point.)
If you look into advances on novels and the fact that most advances are all you’re going to earn on a novel and how hard it is to get an agent and get published, it’s pretty daunting there, too.
But that’s where this illusory superiority thing comes into play. Because you and I are clearly not those people they’re rejecting, right? We’re the Ken Liu’s of the world, aren’t we? (He had sales to Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, and Lightspeed all within a four-week period recently. I haven’t read his work yet, but he was a hot topic of envious discussion on one of the boards I lurk.)
Look. My writing probably sucks shit at the moment. But I have to believe it doesn’t in order to write enough to get to the point where it doesn’t. And someday I will hopefully get published and then I can pretend that all of that faith I had in myself when I started was justified. I know I’m not as good as I think I am, but the nice thing about this whole illusory superiority thing is that the minute I think that, the self-delusion kicks in and tells me that maybe I really am that good after all. The mind is a beautiful thing…
*It’s a little more complex than that, but for my purposes, I’m sticking to the basic version.