I was at a library author appearance recently (Catherine Friend–funny funny writer, go buy her book Hit by a Farm). She said that when she was younger she’d never really been interested in being a writer. Further she said that this was at least in part due to having read about writers and determining that (at least according to their bios) they were pretty much all insecure neurotic drunks. She then gave the punchline–she was here to tell us it simply wasn’t true and she was living proof…she didn’t drink. Then she went on to detail her insecurities and neuroses. It was funny and it did a great job of selling her most recent work–a humorous memoir.
On that level the joke and the related anecdotes worked great. On another level they grated on my nerves a bit. I won’t argue with the neurotic bit, I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who wasn’t a bit neurotic in some way, but then I don’t know that I’ve ever met any human who wasn’t a bit neurotic in some way.
It was the insecurity thing. There is a school of thought, much reinforced by writer blogs, that suggests that all writers moan about how their work is crap much of the time…except for those writers who are egotistical monsters. Now, it is certainly true that some writers are insecure wrecks and some writers are certainly raving egotists, but there’s a lot of ground in between. And really, I suspect that most writers spend most of their time in that middle ground. If we didn’t believe we were doing pretty good work most of the time we’d never send it out. I certainly believe that I mostly do pretty good work most of the time.
I’m sure there are people who will argue with me on this, and that’s fine. There are 1,001 ways to write a novel and every one of them is right. If being an insecure wreck is your method and it works for you, I’m not going to try to say it shouldn’t or try to make you stop. I just want to provide a counter-example. It is perfectly fine to be happy writing most of the time and be happy with what you have written…as long as it doesn’t prevent you from seeing flaws and correcting them.
So, consider this official permission to enjoy yourself and give yourself the occasional pat on the back from a real live professional author (yes, that is tongue firmly in cheek, but it’s also sincere). If every time you write you enjoy it, and every time you reread your work you go “Hey that mostly works,” and sometimes you even say things like “I rock!” Or, “I’m a genius!” It’s all fine. Just don’t let it stop you from improving. It’s perfectly acceptable to be a happy and secure writer. You can even do that and sell books.
This message brought to you by the Kelly McCullough People Like Me, They Really Like Me, school of writing.
(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog May 17 2008, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)