Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Writing: Humility vs Blindness

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A few days ago, my MuseTwin Mirriam and I were having a conversation about a rather well known author in the world of Christian fantasy- someone whom I have admired and whose skill level I've aspired to reach some distant day.  In the course of the conversation, Mirriam said I wrote better than this author does.  Now, Mirriam is not usually someone whose evaluations are influenced by her love for a friend.  I said I was most assuredly NOT a better writer than this author and Mirriam outright disagreed with me.  'No, you're the better writer.'

Something occurred and we moved on to a different topic for a few minutes but it bothered me so deeply that I brought it up again a little while later.  Because A) if Mirriam was right, then my evaluation of this author's work was flawed.  B) if she was right, then my evaluation of my own work wasn't just low- it was bottom layer of the underworld, insanely, ridiculously, so far out of sight that it might as well be the Planet Pluto low.  Mirriam's reply was: Yes, in her opinion, to A (keeping in mind that it had been 3 years since I had last read this authors work and my evaluations have undergone many changes since then) and absolutely yes to B, but more B than A.  I sat there processing this for a few minutes.  She went on to say that she considered the aforementioned author to be better than average but that I was still better.  She finished by saying was a difference between humility and ignorance concerning one's own work. 

For two days it's something to which I've given a lot of thought.  I knew my estimate of my own writing was low.  I just didn't think it was that low.  Last night I discussed it with another best friend and she agreed with Mirriam's analysis.  This morning, I mentioned it to my mother.  She had read a little bit of the author in question three years ago when I was reading the book, and she agreed that right off the bat, there was at least one thing she thought I did better than this author.  My mother has different literary preferences than I do, but she's almost as picky as I am about most literary elements and is not hesitant to tell me when I need to improve.

One of my pet peeves is when I come across any author with an over-inflated ego that doesn't match the quality of their work.  I've seen it in traditional authors (sorry, Cassie Clare fans) but the last year or so, I've increasingly come up against it in self published or indie authors as well young authors who have yet to be published.  For example, I recently read a book in a fantasy sub-genre.  Now, anyone who knows me knows that I ADORE fantasy in almost every form.  This particular sub-genre is one of my favorites.  This book, written by an indie author, made me want to stop reading it three chapters in and it only grew worse from there.  It was overflowing with cliches, historically inaccurate (a problem for historical fantasy), illogical, shallow and confusing.  In my message to the author, I gently pointed some of these things out.  The author replied, 'Not everyone likes the same kind of books.', implying that I had disliked the book because I didn't like that genre.  In return, I pointed out that in fact, I loved that genre; it was specific issues in that book that made me dislike it.  Not to any surprise, I haven't heard back from that author.  This is only one of several times in the last 3 months along that I've come up against this or similar arrogant seeming behaviors.

Self confidence in one's work is necessary.  But there is a line between self confidence in the fact that you've written something well and arrogance that you're a good writer no matter what anyone else says and that if someone criticizes you, they don't understand you.  There is a standard of quality in writing, and if you don't pass muster, then you need to strive to improve, not brush it off.

As someone who is a rational thinker and often aloof, I've been accused of arrogance before.  Quite frequently.  Often unfairly.  Several times, it's nearly ruined a relationship.  It's made me hyper sensitive to coming across to people as arrogant or supercilious or pretentious in the way I communicate facts or knowledge.  And it's deeply affected my evaluation of my own writing.  As much as it annoys me in others, I  promised myself I must never never become arrogant about my writing.  But in reaction to the arrogance that has annoyed me, and in determining not to become the same way, I went too far in the other direction.  I landed in a place where I can't honestly tell anymore whether what I've written is decent, good, or stinks.  There's a balance line to walk and I missed it completely.  And for an aspiring author, that's a bad thing.  It's incredibly hampering and I realized it's what's been holding me back from moving forward with publishing plans.

I'm blessed to have best friends and a mother who keep me honest.  I'm going to be spending a few months climbing out of the underworld.  It won't be easy and it will take a while, but it's vital for any of us who want to properly walk the path of authorship.

How many of you have dealt with crippling lack of self confidence in regards to your own writing?  Any tips in overcoming it?

(And yes, I'm going back to re-read said Christian author's work and see if my evaluation changes.)

3 comments:

  1. Excellent post, Lody, and I'm glad you've begun to climb out of the underworld! As a beginning writer, I was in love with my own writing and blind to its flaws. And then I encountered my first major (and important) critique. I was upset, but looking back, I'm surprised that feeling didn't last longer. Since then, I've come to love critiques. And these days, I usually waver between two contradictory opinions: "This sucks. You think you can write?" and "This has serious potential, girl. This is awesome."

    If you have beta readers you trust, be sure to take their compliments to heart. If nothing else, it's a sign that there really is a brand of readers out there who love to read the kind of things you write. ^_^

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  2. Great post - one that really makes you think. I definitely think I deal with the lack of self confidence in the writing world. I remember feeling annoyed when my sister first helped me with editing a chapter of a story - mainly because she put almost everything in red! lol. But yeah it didn't take me too long before I realized it was okay and fixed up the stuff she suggested.

    I honestly have no idea how to evaluate my own work objectively (or any thing in my life, hahaha) as I know how very easy it is to not notice your own glaring mistakes. Of course I still try and evaluate it, lol, even if I think my attempts are feeble. Thankfully you have your friends and mom giving you helpful critiques! It really helps us open our eyes when we get another person's perspective.

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  3. Most criticism I've received was the sort I was able to take and turn into uplifting and improving my work. I must say I like my writing though..and enjoy it. Even though I know it's not that good, I have had pride issues with loving it too much.

    But then a couple months ago I was told that something I wrote was horrid. A while later the same person said "Keturah, it's obvious you have a talent for writing, but you don't write anything good with it."

    For a little while I had to force my writing to come out. I hated it .. and that person. I didn't know what to think anymore. I am now a little more confidante about my writing..yet still. :)

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