Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Fine Line (Between Modesty and Self-Deprecation)

Recently I read this post at Nathan Bransford's blog about lacking confidence in your writing. Based on something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, it's possible that thinking you're incompetent may actually be a sign that you ARE competent. An interesting thought.

Here's the question I have, though: can you believe you are competent without being a smarmy little jerk? To what extent is it okay to say "I like my book. I think it's good"?

I propose this: in our attempts to be humble, we writers often act falsely self-deprecating. And it's a little annoying. (I mean, I definitely do this, and I get annoyed with myself.)

I mean, just look at the process. We write our books, we polish them, and then we send out queries. Here's the thing about querying, though: the very act of sending out a query letter says "my book is worth reading." And that is okay.

We spend all this time querying, telling the agent world that our books are worth looking at, yet when we talk about our work, or when other people talk about our work, all we can say is "I'm scum. I suck! I will never get an agent/get published/get elected president of the world." (Okay, that last one may not be that far off base.) And we can't even take compliments anymore because we're so determined to be humble.

I've been thinking lately about what humility really is. I heard once that humility is seeing yourself as you really are. I don't think that's a perfect definition, but it is worth thinking about. If I see myself as I really am, I know that I am not a bad writer. BUT I also know that I am not perfect, and I have a lot to learn. So do I need to insult myself? Um...no. Do I need to prance around the internet talking about how kickass I am? No. Not that either.

My problem is: if you're querying, you believe that your work is good (or you should, anyway. Why send out something that even YOU don't think is good? That's a waste of everyone's time!). So you don't have to pretend that it it's bad for the sake of the people around you. Honestly, they don't want to hear that any more than they want to hear the opposite. I cringe at the comment "no agent would ever want me" as much as I cringe at "my book's going to be a NYT bestseller! Want to shine my shoes and bask in my presence?"

I really just want to say this: don't step on yourself. The world, especially the publishing world, will probably do enough of that for you. If you believe your book is worth reading, then stand behind that. It isn't egotistical to say that your work has merit, as long as you acknowledge that it also has flaws. See it as clearly as you can. That includes the good AND the bad.

Plus, stepping on yourself is probably not good for your joints. How do you even bend that way?


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