The Problem with Hero Worship

Is that it robs you of your own heroism. It’s a psychological crutch. It’s the reason why I don’t have five published books already. I wasted the first quarter of my life worshiping my heroes instead of becoming one myself.

I’m angry about it. I’m sad and disappointed. I don’t blame my heroes; I blame me. Most of all, I want to make sure it doesn’t happen to you. The good news is that it’s never too late (for you or for me).

When you worship your heroes, you ascribe to them an innate quality that you don’t have and never could have. That’s what makes it worship instead of admiration, which is healthy and useful.

For example, you’ll constantly hear writers talk about their favorite authors having a “gift” that makes their work so powerful. A “gift” for dialogue, a “gift” for plotting, a “gift” for descriptions, and so on.

That’s hero worship. That’s the writer saying, “Shakespeare had something that nobody else could ever have, including me.” For the record, academia is especially guilty of maintaining and spreading hero worship.

What if instead you asked, “What did Shakespeare do, both on the page and off the page, that made his characters so rich? How could I do my own version of that today?”

Those are the kinds of questions you should ask about all of your heroes. If you ask those questions for long enough and act on the insights they uncover, you will become a writer of that same caliber. Inevitably.

Here’s why you still might not do it:

You are too comfortable being an “aspiring” writer. Your hobby is to write what feels comfortable and daydream about doing something more with it someday.

We all have our illusions. If that cycle of writing and daydreaming works for you, and you are aware of what it amounts to, then don’t let me tell you what to do.

If, on the other hand, you want millions of other people to read your work, or you want to reach readers around the world, or you want to reach readers for decades after your death, then you need to change how you think about your heroes.

You need to eliminate the idea that your heroes are innately different than you are. You need to eliminate this concept of a “gift” from your thinking.

Your heroes do not have gifts. They have skills. They worked long and hard to develop those skills. They made enormous personal sacrifices to get them, including money, relationships, and time. They pushed through the exact same feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, and confusion that you have right now.

Your heroes are your heroes because they did the work.

Don’t insult them by calling it a gift. Acknowledge them for doing the work and start taking notes. The only gift involved here is the gift of extraordinary writing, which your heroes gave to the world knowing that the world would never quite manage to pay back their contribution.

So now, because the world couldn’t pay them back then, it’s our job to pay it forward by writing and publishing masterpieces. And yes, it’s our job to push through the years of struggle it takes to make that happen.

Because we’re heroes. Heroes don’t worship other heroes. They either walk right beside them or run to keep up.