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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2010-12-16 05:09
Subject: [process] Shameless narcissism and armor for the writer's soul
Security: Public
Tags:process, writing
cathshaffer talks about the essential madness of being a writer. Specifically, handling the nigh endless stream of negativity that accompanies any insertion of one's self into the public square. Her approach is a version of the classic "fake it til you make it" strategy. Though, as she says, for some writers it might just be shameless narcissism.

In her comments section, I remarked:
I vote for shameless narcissism.

And for reals, there is an immense amount of ego involved in believing that anyone else actually wants to read what you have to say. That ego may not translate to self-confidence or any of the other social characteristics we often associate with the idea of 'ego', but down at the bottom, I don't see how anyone who writes professionally doesn't *believe*.

Tapping that belief, that's what you're doing.

Do you believe? Do you even share her analysis? How does it work for you? Where does your armor come from?

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russ: lyles constant
User: goulo
Date: 2010-12-16 13:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:lyles constant
What about non-public types of writing? E.g. journaling. Or by "writer" are you talking only about writing explicitly intended for publication?

There can be satisfaction in solving the problem of the text for oneself, even if there is no desire or intention of publishing. An interesting subcategory of this is translation work. I sometimes enjoy translating things with no clear intent or idea whether I'll show it to others - the process of translation is often its own reward.

Another interesting situation is writing or translation that will mainly only be seen by computer programs, e.g. as part of a research project. (Yes, this actually happens sometimes...) If your readership is computer programs, are you still writing for an audience? :)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-12-16 13:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Generally speaking, when I use the term "writer" on this blog, yes, it's short hand for "genre writer aspiring to publication or already publishing". That being said, you raise some good questions. I will point out that someone who journals or otherwise writes primarily/only for the self is not inserting their work or their ego into the stream of external critique, editorial response, review and reader reaction to which cathshaffer was reacting in the first place.

Edited at 2010-12-16 01:25 pm (UTC)
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2010-12-16 13:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think I have any armour. I sidestep, I hide, I shy away from being that scary thing, A Writer in Public. And I do what I have always done, which is give things away -- the book is no longer mine in my head, and my writer-self is riddled with anxiety that I may offend or misdo. Writing -- the bit when it's just me and my words -- feels like something completely separate from all the rest, a fugue space that doesn't exist in the real world.
I am so not a good role model.
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The Dreaded Night Turtle
User: funkyturtle
Date: 2010-12-16 14:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm in the strange predicament of having 1.5 degrees in English Lit. I don't have people telling me I can't write. There is no target on my head. I wish there was. My opponent is not the slings and arrows of negativity. It is silence. A whole lot of it. Negativity would be nice. It would mean someone had actually read something I wrote. I'm in a constant search for people who will just read my stuff and give me feedback - any feedback - at all. I'm on critique groups, but I get the bare minimum responses and when I make the changes that are suggested, I get responses telling me to change it back. The problem seems to not be one of details or specifics or mechanics, but of soul. Somewhere along the way, I lost mine. I would love a vicious critique filled with acid and bile. It would mean someone had been emotionally moved enough by my writing to say something. I've received money from university lit organizations to write speculative fiction, so my bullshit meter must go to eleven. Sadly, no one (lit or not-lit minded - it doesn't seem to matter) wants to actually read what I write. I'm still writing. But the writing is performed in this weird dualism-dance of confidence and despair. I seem to be a creative atheist - I keep going with no belief in myself because to stop is a kind of cessation of existence, and if writing and not-writing are the same, it makes more sense to write than not. I have the external shell of a writer, the mechanical puppet who types and words come out, but inside there is nothing. It's all been burned away by the silence.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-12-16 14:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For whatever it's worth, this comment has soul...
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-12-16 16:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is brilliant. You are a true writer. I must admit that I also prefer negative attention to no attention. We are all sick. LOL.
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2010-12-17 01:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:white horse
Yes. Exactly. I'm in the same place. I would kill for someone to want to read what I've written.
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Sherwood Smith
User: sartorias
Date: 2010-12-16 14:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My armor comes from not looking at reviews until way after the fact, and then reading them all in one swoop so I can see if there is a general trend that I need to address when I get to the rewrite stage of the next.

I didn't stop and ask myself why I was doing this until relatively recently, it was just that strong of a drive ever since I was about eight, when I just couldn't not. When I try to winnow out the impetus for that drive, I wonder if it was my brain's way of avoiding the schizophrenia that runs through one side of my family. I do realize that it's also a way to channel the fallout of childhood . . . experience.

I am addicted to that parallel track, finally.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-12-16 16:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My mother has schizophrenia. I do think creativity and hereditary tendencies to mental illness (and substance abuse) are linked, and there's some science to support that.
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Matthew S. Rotundo: Typewriter
User: matthewsrotundo
Date: 2010-12-16 14:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Typewriter
Definitely with you on the ego thing. It takes a considerable amount of arrogance to believe that what you have in your head is so important that other people need to know about it. And yet, without that arrogance, we would not today have the works of Shakespeare.

That said . . .

Armor? What armor?

I have long since given up growing that "thick skin" everyone says a writer must have. Rejections and negative reviews sting, and they always will. I accept that. I just don't let it stop me.
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Renfield
User: cuddlycthulhu
Date: 2010-12-16 15:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have long since given up growing that "thick skin" everyone says a writer must have. Rejections and negative reviews sting, and they always will. I accept that. I just don't let it stop me.

I agree. The reason I gave up armor was that I'm not that type of person and also I was worried that I'd grow such thick skin I couldn't feel the critique that might be included in the negativity. Rejection sucks but if you simply shrug off rejection you may miss the advice attached with it.
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mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2010-12-17 02:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Right there with you.

I kept hoping that I would be able to just get an emotional callus or something and stop being generically terrified of things like rejections and bad reviews. I thought that I could build up the armor by things like the Power of Positive Thinking.

But I think trying to build the armor has become, in a way, just another barrier to success. By now I'm pretty sure it's never coming.

I just have to ignore the terror and do it anyway. I guess we all have our crosses to bear...

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Tom
User: voidampersand
Date: 2010-12-16 15:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Narcissism is feeling that you are a writer because you think it would be really cool, and so you decided you are one. They think writing is easy, fun, and lucrative, because, well, they're entitled to something like that. There are plenty of people who think this way, but most of them aren't writers, just wannabes.

If you actually do the work of writing, it requires trying over and over and learning from failure until you're good enough to get published. This is hard and you have to be pretty smart and talented and driven to succeed.

We're talking about the Dunning-Kruger effect. Incompetent wannabe writers think they're fantastic. Competent and accomplished writers think they're shams.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-12-16 16:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That's true. And I think everyone understands that Jay is not recommending that we be or attempt to be a person literally afflicted with clinically diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder, but rather a more metaphorical practice of narcissism.
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Chris McKitterick: typewriter monkey
User: mckitterick
Date: 2010-12-16 18:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:typewriter monkey
Yeah, I came here to write something similar. I wouldn't call it "narcicissm," but rather belief in whatever it is that we have to say. However, as you say here, we all fear that we're failing to write the Platonic ideal of what we meant to convey. So we write another piece, trying to triangulate on our One True Story.

Once in a while, I write a perfect phrase or sentence or even scene, but achieving that for a full chapter or story or novel... well, I can hope that one day I'll manage it, but I'm not narcissistic to believe it ;-)
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User: beth_bernobich
Date: 2010-12-16 16:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have no armor. I keep doing it anyway.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-12-16 16:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Everybody sing!

The greatest loooooove of alllll, is easy to achieve, learning to loooove yourself, is the greeatest loooove of allllll...
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2010-12-16 17:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This post is of interest to me -- my first book just came out.

I don't think I have armor either. I'm really trying to use my yoga and simply try to be non-attached to any outcome. I liked Jay's previous post about being sanguine about bad reviews (because it's the reader's experience) and I like the idea of not looking at reviews until way after the fact. I know that things will probably always sting. You gotta be a little crazy to do this...

I'll be following this post. Thank you. I also blogged some thoughts on my own blog about this, a few days ago... http://catherineholm.com/blog/?p=20

Peace,
Cat
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kellymccullough
User: kellymccullough
Date: 2010-12-16 18:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Love.

I love writing. I love storytelling. If other people love what I write too, that's great. I'm happy that what I'm doing makes others happy in that way. If they don't, well, no worries. It has no real impact on my love for the work in much the same way that someone not liking someone I love has no real impact on my love for that person.

Doesn't that make it hard for me to accept critique and learn and improve my craft? It might if it was the individual stories that I loved. But it's not, it's the process, the writing and storytelling and the better I get at it the more joy it brings me.
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Sue Burke
User: mount_oregano
Date: 2010-12-16 20:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Wonderfully put, Kelly. That's why I write, too.

I've also worked as a newspaper editor, though. I don't know if I have armor as much as callouses.
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User: tillianion
Date: 2010-12-16 21:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The issue I'm having at the moment is in the public face of being a writer. I'm becoming more confident in myself and my writing, but I'm well aware I'm not da bomb and I don't have all the answers. So how to speak about my experiences with wannabes who are desperate to know what being published is like without being arrogant or 'I know all'?

Honesty? Self-deprecation? Or perhaps, not caring what they think and answering their questions how I see fit?
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oaksylph: cypress
User: oaksylph
Date: 2010-12-17 01:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:cypress
Hm. I've got the calluses too - years in retail, even if it's bookselling, force thick skin. Besides, most of my published writing is on editorials pages. I write to express a point of view on an issue that seems to need further clarification, and I read the reactions and respond in order to engage in dialogue and to change or refine my argument. Some of the responses are stupid, personal, hurtful jabs. One editor sent a longer piece back with notes from multiple editors who all really needed for me to know how provincial my point of view was (the article was about a publishing trend, and they are from the Northeast US, while I am from farm country). It hurts, but I guess I tell myself that it's like voting; not everyone makes informed choices, and I can't make them try.

Why am I still working on the novel? Well - for the same reason, really. The novel isn't didactic or anything, it's just a story that brings some (I think) prevalent themes together with a somewhat imaginary world in the background to silhouette the action in a certain way. I can't pretend to be in a league with you published people, but I can't imagine that you sit down and decide you will manipulate people by using these characters in this situation with these devices - there must be something intuitive that makes you come up with characters and stories out of the stuff of life and imagination - and if other people attack those intuitions, it could be that they have intuited differently, or that they don't really get your intuition (because they don't see it clearly or you didn't write it clearly, not saying anyone here falls in the latter category), or that they are intuition-haterz (lot of that going around), or that they haven't learned how to see another person's world as real, or that they have that funky editorial form of metaphorical narcissism that makes them want to impose their sense of style on other people's work, sometimes regardless of the importance of the author's style to the story.

That doesn't make the story unnecessary or wrong. It might have a limited audience - lord knows not many people have actually really read Finnegans Wake - and it might need revisions to be clearer or more meaningful to more people. But it's real, it's yours, and it's meant to reach out to others using a socially accepted form of expression. You need a certain amount of luck as well as panache to get published, and anything has detractors, especially in the DIY, oops, I mean, the USA, but that doesn't make the process any less meaningful for you or the people to whom you're communicating, does it?
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