Like some of the other writers at ELEW I’ve been thinking a lot about etiquette this month and I’ve decided I’d like to address a side of writing etiquette that’s not often covered and one I’ve been guilty of breaking on more than one occasion. It’s not what we normally think of as an etiquette matter but it is and it’s something we do out of a desire not to be ‘that writer’ or possibly ‘that asshole’. In both cases a lot of the nicer writers I know are still of guilty of being dicks…to themselves.
I’ve done it a lot. I’ve said a story was average or even terrible when I believed it was at least pretty good, I’ve mocked my own abilities as a writer when it’s not what I actually believed. I’ve put some of my successes down to pure luck when luck was only part of it, and the rest of it was down to me working really hard and getting help from gifted editors.
I did it all out of the fear that people would think of me as being some sort of arrogant jerk and I still live in fear of being that guy as I’ve had situations in the past (and almost certainly have some coming in the future) when I’ve been way too full of myself.
I didn’t realize how grating that could be on other people, especially if they’re trying to say something nice to you. A couple of friends have told me off about it, and it’s taken several months for the lesson to sink in: false modesty doesn’t help anyone and it’s almost as annoying as arrogance.
Almost, not quite, but almost.
Of course this isn’t a license to abandon all humility. Realising that your work isn’t perfect is a big part of getting better as a writer. My writing is so far from perfect it’s practically in another universe*, but it’s far better than it was and I’m proud of some of things I’ve written.
I don’t like talking about ‘being an artist’ for much the same reason I was afraid of taking any pride in my work, but if you write you are an artist and at some level art is about truth, even if the truth is buried somewhere underneath several layers of vampires and dinosaurs**. And as artists, if we want to be good, we have to be honest. Honest with ourselves and honest with our audience.
Honest about what we’re proud of, what we’re afraid of and what needs more work.
If we’re dishonest with ourselves or with others, whether that dishonesty leads us to bragging about our stuff or slagging it off, is being a dick and as many people have said before me: don’t be a dick, not even to yourself.
* Andrew writing flaw number 2878: Over reliance on grandiose metaphors.
** Andrew writing flaw number 2879: REALLY long sentences.