Anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is no part of it, for nothing is made worse or better by praise.– Marcus Aurelius
Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also. – Marcus Aurelius
Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it. – The Buddha
While thinking about confidence in writing, and trying to practice it with a little more gusto (and convincingly!) I’ve also been thinking about the abundance of confidence: arrogance. And I don’t mean simple bravado or bombast–I mean the kind of confidence that perverts the idea entirely and becomes a well of selfishness.
Believing in yourself is one thing, but you must be able to be your own critic if you’re going to be a successful writer. And by and large, arrogant writers do not fall into this category. I have met a few. Instead of accepting comment and criticism, they rise against it in argument, trying to dissuade the critic that they are wrong. Instead of change a single word of what they’ve written, they insist it is holy, perfect as it is.
You’d think that these people don’t get published, but arrogance is a strange chemical in the well of personality. Arrogant men often attract women, and arrogant writers can often find (other arrogant, perhaps) agents. They can be successful. And maybe they’re arrogant from the beginning… but we do all start somewhere.
Where does arrogance come from, anyway? It seems so utterly foreign to me. No, I’m not the world’s most humble person. I do think my writing’s worth a read. I clearly care enough to put together two websites. But the concept that I’m the best there is, or beyond improvement, or whatever is just… plain weird to me. But I’ve seen it! Even in new and unpublished writers. It boggles the mind.
I think a huge part of finding any modicum of success in writing is being part of a writing community. Slowly and surely I’m becoming part of one, myself. And in order to do that you have to be willing to go out on a limb and work with other writers, read their work, and be an active member of the community. Whether that’s online or offline, it doesn’t matter. As beginning writers we have a habit of spinning our wheels, because the writing and publishing industries are really difficult to navigate alone. I’ve learned more in the last year about such things by simply being engaged in other writers’ processes. I never knew how the process worked; I mean, I’d read about it, researched it, but had never seen it in practice.
When I worked at Big Bookstore Conglomerate in grad school, I often trolled the aisles of the SF/F sections. At first it made me feel extremely overwhelmed at all the titles, rather clueless to how you get from a text file to the shiny-spined editions in front of me. Then I started reading more of them, started critiquing them. I began to realize that publication is possible; it’s about timing, about hard work. But that was the approach I took.
I think other fledgling writers respond differently. Arrogance is one defense mechanism, i.e.: “I write better than that. I’m doing something completely new and different and groundbreaking, and publishers will bend over backward for me.” The other? The hedgehog response: “I’m going to curl up into a ball and go away. I’m never going to do this, no one cares, and nothing I’ve written is remotely original.”
You’ve got to find a balance. Be confident, but not arrogant. Be humble, but not spineless. If you love what you do, nothing should stop you. If you need to be a better writer (most people do… myself included), practice. Read. Immerse yourself in film and music that inspires you, and work at it. Publication doesn’t magically happen to anyone. Audiences don’t grow up out of nowhere.
The big problem with Arrogance and Passivity is that each inspire non-action, and non-action means you’ll likely fail. Success comes to most people through action… really as simple as that. Especially in a publishing industry and economy as this, new writers really ought to consider such temperaments…
Agreed. I tend to move pendulously through these extremes. Like, right now, I’m totally a hedgehog. But a month ago I was feeling pretty cocky. That’s how the whole of my life is now, however, and maintaining balance at a middle point seems so unlikely (at this very moment). This is good advice, and my heart knows it. Thanks for “just sayin’.”
@Jenn I am by no means innocent of either, and I used to be much worse. I would be a hedgehog for months, then cocky and arrogant for a few weeks and write the hell out of something, then leave it alone. These days I spend a lot of time talking to myself: “Natania, get over it. Just get over it. Sit down, and write. Even if it sucks.” Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Springtime is distracting me as of late!
Personally, I think I’ve been humbled by the lessons I have learned from being married and having children. Perhaps without these reminders that I always have to try, nothing is perfect, you can always learn and I am human, I could become disconnected with the reality of who I am and begin believing in my own hype – which would, I feel, destroy my passion for writing and turn me into a literary robot looking for a sale, instead of a quality story.
@RG Yes, I agree. Family makes a big difference. Keeps you in check. The biggest inspiration to me, and the reason I push myself (sometimes to the point I’m… a little over-extended) is my son. I look at him, and want to leave something important behind. Something that proves–even if he doesn’t read it–that you can do the things you dream of, if you just put your mind to it. Corny? I guess. But I’m allowed. I did give him life.
[…] a secondary world and I’m freaking out about pacing and style and magic). I wrote about confidence before, but I thought I had a handle on it. Yet the word count for the year tells me otherwise. The […]
Very nice article, Natania.