Writers are simultaneously the most arrogant and the most insecure people I know.
Seems like it should be a paradox, right? Seems like the subject should collapse in on themselves, a ball of forces creating social anti-matter. Or anti-social matter. Which makes more sense, given the stereotypes of writers.
On one hand, we feel that we have something interesting to say. Something other people should stop whatever they’re doing and listen to. We’re like a street corner preacher standing on a crate and yelling at passerby: “Hey you! Yeah, you. Have you read this? You should. It’ll change your life, man! It’s good! You should—hey, where are you going? Don’t walk away from me! You’re missing out, asshole! You’re missing out!”
And on the other, we’re so dependent on the validation of others that we might as well not exist without it. After all, a story needs to be read. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in mental masturbation. So after we’re done haranguing people to read our stuff, we abase ourselves before them: “Hey, did you like it? Can you tell me why? If, you know, it’s not too much trouble…” And we’re hungry for the comments.* Oh, the comments. The ego-boost that pushes us back up towards arrogance, or points out places we can get better.
Even this blog exists as an exercise in arrogance and insecurity. I have something to say about writing, something that I think people should hear. And when a new post goes up, I’m so fucking proud of myself. I said something. I put words around my brain squeezings and made a thing. I am a word-god, creating out of nothing.
For about five minutes. And then I’m relentlessly updating the stats page to see how many people are reading it. And waiting for comments. Because I need the validation, man. Just one more page view. One more hit. Just to get me through to the next post.
You might think this little chaotic vortex of emotion is unhealthy. No arguments there. But I would argue that it’s also necessary. We have to believe that we have something worth saying, or we’d never say it. We’d just sit around and daydream about it. We need a certain amount of arrogance, a certain amount of ‘I am important and you should all listen to me’ to sit our asses down and write.
And we need the insecurity, the humility, to know that without an audience we’re just talking to ourselves. And to know that, as good as we think something is, it can usually be better. That drives us to seek criticism, to make changes, and to not pitch a fucking hissy fit when someone points out a flaw in our work.** Because there are flaws, and spelling errors, and plot holes you could break a leg stepping in. And you know it, deep down.
That’s writing: knowing you’re good, and fearing that you’re not good enough.
And people wonder why writers drink.
*This is actually a thing a friend and I have going: one of us writes a scene, and that scene is not considered complete until the other person comments on it. Like, real, typed-up comments. A little unhealthy, I know. But I still want those damn comments.
**Most of us, anyway. Don’t be that guy.