To Write Means To Give Up Vanity

Posted: January 31, 2013 in Reflections, Writing
Tags: , ,

In my creative writing class yesterday we critiqued a story by one of our classmates, the story starring a rather interesting character. The “interesting” part I’ll decline to elaborate too much on in case this classmate edits this story and it gets published or something, but there is something that I can reveal: the main character is one of those writers who think they are the best thing since Shakespeare, that they are destined for greatness and anyone who dislikes or doesn’t understand their work is an idiot who couldn’t find brilliance if brilliance kicked them in the ass.

The funny thing is, every writer has been that writer at some point in their careers. I certainly was. It’s usually at that point where we can string together some semblance of a story together with any coherence to it. For those who discovered the joys of writing young, that’s usually in the teen years. I know for a while I thought all I had to do was write and eventually I’d come out with a novel that would be published within a year of finishing it, sell millions around the world, and I’d have an actress girlfriend whom I’d take to the premiere of the movie version with me.

Thank God, most of us outgrow this phase and realize that writing’s hard, good writing is harder, and writing anything that could be published is an amazing feat. For some, it’s only done once or twice in a lifetime. Others get a bit luckier, and they get published several times. A few of those get famous for it, or at the very least can afford to take up writing full-time (I’ll settle for that if I can’t be famous). All of these people who have been published though, even if it’s only once, were published after they got through this “I’m brilliant” phase.

Now, I know there’s no way I can prove that to you. It’s not as if I went to thousands of published writers, both contemporary and in the past, and asked them what they thought of themselves and their writing. But I have a reason why I think this, and here’s my reasoning: the writers who believe this way look at those who can’t understand or don’t like their work as fools, as annoyances. At best, they should be tolerated, but according to these writers, the world’s better off without them.

Sounds a little sociopathic, doesn’t it? But I’m sure it’s a thought that every writer who’s dreamed of greatness has thought, especially during this vanity phase. And it’s a horrible thought if we let it take hold, because it make others look less than human. Subhuman. Inferior. Weak. And a writer writes stories for these people. Not for fame or for money (though I’m sure some writers do write for those very reasons, and if they have any talent, they are wasting it by writing that way), but for the people. We want to share our work with people, to let them enjoy our fantasies. Maybe they’ll like them, maybe they won’t. But we write for them.

And if we denigrate the common man, if we think our readers and the masses are fools compared to our geniuses, if we writers can’t empathize with the persons reading our work, then we can’t expect them to like our work. At some level, they’ll see the emotions we’re trying to portray through our work are false and that we don’t really feel them like others do and they’ll reject the story.

This came up yesterday in class. “If the writer can’t empathize with the readers, he can’t make a good piece of fiction.” That’s something like what my teacher said, and I think it’s true. The writers who let go of this egotistical, self-centered vanity, who don’t let it take hold of them, they’re the ones who end up published, who are in the bookstores or in the magazines or on the e-readers. The ones that don’t…well, if we could tell what they think when they think about themselves and then think about you and me, I think we could really learn to love to hate them.

Of course, you can be a little vain about your first published work or something that’s gotten some success. But for God’s sake, don’t go around thinking you’re all that and a bag of chips until you’ve sold a million copies of your novel, and even then, resist those thoughts! Not even the prettiest gold digger will want to be near you if you make it obvious that you are only interested in yourself and she’s just another planet revolving around your light. There’s a reason pride’s one of the 7 Deadly Sins.

Well, that’s all for now. If I don’t post anything tomorrow, have a good weekend.

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