PRIDE. It seems right that way, on its own and in all caps, as if that’s how it would like to present itself. It’s the root of all sin, the cause of war, broken friendships, murder, and lack of content. One place pride is an ever present beast on our shoulder, like a gargoyle gnawing on the top of our ear, is in the arts. That gargoyle is heavy, and he alternates breathing fire and ice on our faces. Fire that makes us want to chew people out for not “getting” our work, ice telling us to not respond to a personal, complimentary rejection letter with a “thank you for your time.” This beast is dangerous, and he is difficult to ignore.
By all means, we need to feel secure in our abilities as artists, to be passionate about what we do and excited by what we create. Confidence is essential. However, confidence is not the same as pride, and we must keep the pride beast in check. We need to turn him from a stone weight digging into our collar bones with his talons into a purring pet of confidence, content to curl up and sleep in the crook of our neck.
During my years in the arts as writer, publisher, and editor, I’ve come across many pitfalls of pride. As a writer, I’ve felt pride threatening to shove words up my throat, and have experienced the difficulty of keeping my mouth closed around them. As publisher and editor, I’ve seen how the pride of artists I’m working hard to support destroys what could have been. And let me tell you, word gets around the industry when someone commits taboos—publishers and editors talk, and writers do end up with black marks on their records. It’s a shame, but it’s also entirely avoidable.
I’d like to offer you, regardless of your exact role in this glorious industry, some tips on how to tame the beast of pride. I’ve listed two tips below, with more to follow in parts two and three of this series. These tips will help you maintain a good reputation, make working with others enjoyable, and lessen the weight of that toothy creature on your shoulder.
1. Say “thank you”
If you’re in the writing business, odds are you’ll need someone else at some point to be successful. As a writer, you need an editor to take an objective eye to your work. You’ll also most likely need publishers to get your writing out there. As an editor, you need writers who are willing and easy to work with and, oftentimes, a publisher to work beneath. As a publisher, you need writers and editors to have a business at all.
Get the idea? We all need each other.
Therefore, no matter which role(s) you occupy, a “thank you” goes a long way. Thank people for their time, for sharing their work, providing feedback, or giving you an opportunity. We all rely upon one another to succeed, and having an attitude of gratitude right from the start paves the way for good working and professional relationships. You’d think this is common knowledge, but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t see this attitude as a necessity. Take this truth to heart right now: we’re all in this together. We’re on the same side, and people on the same side say “thank you.”
2. Detach your ego
Believe it or not, your identity should not be in what you create. No, you are not your work. If you fail to make this distinction between creator and creation, you will be in constant pain. If you take it personally every time someone gives you feedback, your ego will either grow to such girth that it can’t be reeled in and you’ll be an egotistical mass of cells, or you’ll feel your spirit getting cut to shreds until you have no desire to make art anymore. Neither can be allowed to happen.
Yes, rejection will always sting a bit, but your reaction to it is what determines the outcome of your work. You must rip your ego from the seam of your art, leaving just a string attached so that you can feel the heartbeat of your creation without being tied to its fate. You are more than words on a page, and your words are more than your wit and skill. As Joss Whedon said, “[Art] grows up and talks back to you.” It can’t grow up if it’s no more than your personality smattered on paper, and you can’t grow as a writer without practice, which can only happen after you’ve recognized that you aren’t perfect, and neither is your art.
More tips to follow in part two of this series; I’m just getting started. Don’t worry, we’ll tackle this beast together.
By Madeleine Mozley