I’ve seen many quotes that speak to the confidence, the perseverance, and the will that it takes to reach publication. Some tell you not to listen to anyone’s criticisms when you believe in your story. Others tell you to be jealous of your time. Still others tell you that you have to know your writing is the absolute best there is. All of this “writer’s arrogance” advice makes me think of Kanye West, and how one can avoid becoming the literary Mr. or Ms. West.
I used to be a Kanye West fan. When Kanye West debuted, while I thought his albums were unique and had good content, I was more interested in and intrigued by his story. He was this curious mix of grateful and entitled that was almost charming. He spoke about how hard it was for him to be taken seriously as a rapper and about deals that fell through. He also talked about how no one believed in him and how he had to convince everyone of what he already knew. He famously wrapped about using his self-esteem to power his dreams. That’s the good part.
Then things took a turn from grateful and arrogant to just arrogant. He became a jerk. This is the Kanye Effect: when all of the confidence and arrogance you’ve used attract an audience and publishers tips over into entitlement, arrogance, and a major superiority complex. When you stop feeling grateful for what you have been able to accomplish and start spending more time proclaiming how great you are than writing your next book, you may want to reevaluate your writing life.
There’s a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance, and creative people are some of the biggest line straddlers and crossers the world will ever know. Americans in general have an issue with entitlement and a desire for instant gratification, and creative American can really tip the ego scales, both published and unpublished. There’s something about creating, having to prove yourself, and the need to be your own biggest cheerleader before anyone joins the team that makes a creative heart the perfect breeding ground for the Kanye Effect.
My solution to this growing epidemic is simple: realize that no one owes you anything. While you have to believe in yourself and your craft, never stop being grateful that you’re able to do what you do–whether you’re languishing on Unpubbed Island, seeing dismal sales, seeing moderate success, were able to quit your day job and write full-time, or are on the level of the Nora Roberts, James Pattersons, and Steven Kings. While querying and marketing involve selling yourself as well as your work, it’s ultimately the quality of your product that will determine your future success.
As sensitive, creative types, we may feel the need to insulate ourselves from harsh criticism and judgments. People make judgments about our art all the time, and some of them are spiteful, hurtful, and unfair. But arrogance is not the answer. Be grateful for those who believe in your art and support it while understanding that everyone won’t. Screaming “I’m the best to ever do it” from every rooftop won’t change the fact that someone somewhere will disagree. A popular saying of today is what you focus on will grow. Focus on the people that adore your work, on honing your craft to put out the best work you can, and on the things you know you were called by name to do.
That’s my two cents, anyway. Feel free to leave yours in the comments section.