Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Self-Doubt and the Ego and All That Gubbins

Writers and their egos, aye? I mean, blimey. Yowza. We’ve got ‘em, all right.

            There have been a few flare ups online recently, a few megaton drama disturbances in the force set off, shall we say, by a writer’s ego. There was the very recent self-publishing hoo-ha featuring the author now referred to in our household simply as 92K (a drama that has probably actively harmed the profiles of all self-published writers, so thanks for that). And there was the infamous blog post by Christopher Priest concerning the Clarke Awards; say what you like about him, but Mr Priest clearly isn’t burdened with a howling lack of confidence in his own abilities (I loved The Prestige, didn’t love the blog post so much, mainly because it was a bit rude, and the need to be polite at all times is written in big bold letters on my British DNA).

            Self-belief is good, I think. It’s important even. There are times, of course, when it tips over into a slightly obnoxious belief that you can do no wrong, but I suspect you need a strong core of self-belief just to keep going with writing; the road is long, and the set-backs are many.

            Which worries me sometimes. Where others have self-belief, I have doubt. Lots of it. You know, I think I’m pretty good, and I’m proud to have earned compliments from readers and writers I admire for my work. But I doubt everything I write (I’m doubting this right now), I agonize over every line, even continually reassessing the current project to make sure I’m not thundering off in the wrong direction. This doubt, this lack of confidence, can make writing very hard sometimes, because the sense that I might be writing a load of old gibbering rubbish is always there. And maybe it would be easier if I just believed that every word dripped from my pen was glittery deep fried genius. It probably stems partly from shyness, a general dislike of blowing ones own trumpet, and partly from feeling that super over-confidence is unsightly and rude (that British DNA again).

            The writers I most admire are not, I believe, towering ego monsters. Writers like Neil Gaiman, Michael Marshall Smith, and John Connolly are always gracious, witty, wise. They are extraordinary writers, which I am sure they are aware of, but always you sense that their feet are planted safely on the ground somewhere, and there is no danger of any heads disappearing up buttholes. I admire writers who behave with grace and charm, and twitter is gratifyingly full of them (you only need to scan the list of people I follow to find a ton of them). Terry Pratchett, who I sense probably doesn’t suffer fools gladly, radiates kindness and wisdom, and at no point can I imagine any of these writers having a hissy fit online or banging on about how everyone else is wrong.

Perhaps my discomfort with writers who are utterly convinced of their own genius is my own problem, and perhaps I need pump up my own ego, but there is a kind of wisdom, I think, and even a joy, in knowing that you haven’t quite learned everything yet. 

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