Why are Writers Self-Deprecatory?

That’s my question for today.  It’s a question that’s been bugging me for a while.  Writers seems to lack confidence in their very natures.  They wear masks of humility to spare themselves criticism and pain.  Occasionally, an arrogant writer surfaces from the depths of the blogging circles, but the arrogance seems only another mask meant to cover a defensive and self-protective nature.

Where are the confident among us?  Why must writers live this way?  Why can’t we boldly step up to our laptops and say, “I’m going to break the rules.  I’m going to write the story of my heart.  And I’m going to do it because I know I can.  Damn those negative thoughts that tell me I can’t!”

I wonder if my writing would improve if I were to take on this air of confidence–if it would bring zest and life to every story.  I wonder if writer’s block is simply another form of self-deprecating nonsense, in which I tell myself all the reasons why I can’t, instead of why I can.

Humility is a virtue.  I get that.  But, for heaven’s sake, I’m tired of reading the humble entreaties on writers’ blogs– including my own.  I’m tired of living in my self-deprecating mind, cursing myself and my own work.  Just to clarify, confidence is not the same thing as pride.  Pride says, “I don’t need improvement, so don’t even bother to criticize me.”  Confidence says, “My work needs improvement, but it’s better than it once was and, by gum, I know I’m capable of bringing it to that final level!”

I want this to be my year of confidence.  What about you?

p.s. In case you can’t tell, the image above is supposed to be of Sor Juana’s hand.  She was one of the greatest writers and poets of Mexico, and yet she renounced her writing and books, and signed this renouncement in blood with the words yo, la peor de todas!  Translated, that means, I, the worst of all!

p.p.s Sor Juana was forced by the Inquisition.  The only Inquisition forcing us into self-flagellation is ourselves.

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6 comments

  1. I think sometimes the craft itself points us to these negative emotions. But you are right about us all needing more confidence (or at least, needing to express it). That is something I definitely want and need to work on.

  2. I know what you're talking about here – negativity and humility (false or otherwise) does seem rife in writing circles. But I don't think confidence is the cure. In fact, if you read the blogs of agents / editors who are in the industry for a long time, they seem to feel most writers are far TOO confident in themselves and unaware (or unwilling to admit) the need to learn and grow.

    Personally, I know I'm a good writer. But I also know I have a lot to learn before I'm great. That isn't a lack of confidence. That's the confidence to understand and acknowledge my own weakness and work to improve it.

    Don't let the negativity get you down. Charge forward exactly as you talk about here – you are a writer, dagnammit! Just don't let enthusiasm overcome the learning curve.

  3. Good question–the balance of humility/modesty and confidence is, I think, hard for anyone, but especially hard for writers. So much of what we do is solitary, and there are few guideposts to tell us, "Doing well" or "Eh, needs work" like there are in other fields. So it's easy to inflate our confidence to ridiculous levels to compensate…or fall into negativity and put ourselves down to avoid getting hurt by others. Hard questions, thanks for raising them, Jill!

  4. Saumya, yes, we need to express it in order to feel it! I hope you find yours.

    Aimee, even if you do need a lot to learn before you're great, you don't need to say that. Don't limit yourself like that. After all, you could be wrong. I think what agents get annoyed at is the prideful, foolish arrogance that is self-protecting more than anything and can't take criticism. A confident person can take criticism. That's the difference.

    Rowenna, I think what is needed is a deeper, innate confidence that doesn't flag when it faces obstacles. But, yeah, writing is perhaps too introspective.

  5. Honestly I think there's a fine balance of self-deprecation and cockiness necessary to being a writer. After all, it takes a certain level of self-confidence required to tackle something like a poetry collection or novel. There's no guarantee anyone'll ever read it, and there's no guarantee that the ones who do read it will like it.

    Unfortunately, those very same things that require confidence/cockiness can lead to the self-deprecation that you're talking about. But the great news is, in my experience, writers are people who actively *help* their competition. Look at how many blogs we post on, look how many groups are created to support one another, and look at how many sites are out there designed to talk books/publishing/writing! It's really kind of a love fest. =)

  6. Jenny, I like that. It's a love fest. It doesn't always feel that way, but I suppose you're right. It can be. It depends on our attitude.

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