This is it, ya’ll—part three in this series on pride in the writing world. Parts one and two are available, should you need to catch up before reading this one. Let’s jump right into the last three tips on taming the pride beast.
6. Seek learning opportunities
This tip is tailored specifically for writers, but it applies to editors and publishers as well. The minute you think you’re the best you can possibly be as a writer is the minute the pride beast wins. Whether you’re an unpublished beginner or Hemingway, there are always things to learn. Accept that someone will always be better than you as a writer in some way. Accept that learning and growing is as much a part of the life of a writer as shaping character, editing, and the like. And please, accept that it’s okay to not be perfect.
Practically speaking, there are many ways to seek learning opportunities. Firstly, find writing buddies. I don’t mean inexperienced writers, or your family who will likely tell you everything you put on paper is amazing. I mean a group of writers that you admire and trust, that will be honest with you and help improve your craft. Request feedback from them, and be specific with what you’re looking for. Secondly, read about writing. There are dozens of wonderful books out there about everything from crafting the perfect first sentence to editing your completed novel. Good writers read. Thirdly, submit your work for publication. You’ll learn about the submittal process and, more than likely, what it feels like when your work is rejected. You may not always receive detailed feedback about your work, but the feeling of being rejected is itself a valuable learning opportunity. Over time, rejection files down the teeth of the pride beast. It’s good for you, I promise.
7. Think before you speak
Think of how others will perceive what you’re planning on saying or doing. Before you respond to someone, consider if you’d be ok with your statement showing up in a news article or being blasted on TV—you should be ok with the idea. This is especially important for publishers who are not only representing themselves, but their publication(s). In this digital age, no words are fleeting, no comment without possible repercussions. We can’t take back what we say over the internet. Even if we delete it, it was out there. People saw it and maybe even saved it on their hard drive; there’s no Control+Z for this. Make sure there would never be a desire to undo your statement.
Does it feel good in that instant of anger to stick it to that person, to jab a knife right in their soft spot and twist it with your words? You might think it does. You might even think that you want other people to see how you showed them, how you shut down their idiocy. But I promise, it won’t feel good for long, and you will be doing irreparable damage to your reputation. If you’re a publisher, you’ll also be hacking the legs out from under the publication you’ve worked so hard to grow.
8. Have ambitions rather than expectations
You need to know as a writer/editor/publisher what your goals are. You need to know your goals for your current project, your work over the next year, and even your work over your lifetime. Goals often masquerade as two different things: expectations and ambitions.
Expectations make certain assumptions about your skills, the market, and how people will respond to you. Expectations are held by those who think they “deserve it,” that they should be handed success rather than working and sweating for it. Expectations are pride at its ugliest. However, ambitions are different. Ambitions are held by those who want to “reach for it.” Ambitions do not make assumptions; they encourage us to work harder, to grow and learn as we strive toward our goals.
If you have expectations, you’re bound to either be disappointed or friendless. You’ll either be unsuccessful and resentful, or you’ll succeed but be alone at the top of the mountain because nobody likes to be around someone who believes they’re God’s gift. By all means, have ambitions. But keep your pride in check lest those ambitions turn into expectations of something not earned.
For those of you that stuck with me through this series, I hope you’ll start to find it easier to take your pride by the horns rather than letting it rule you. Pride is a scary thing; it’s insidious and at the root of all sin. It creeps up our backs, and if we ignore the feel of its talons in our flesh, it can take control of us before we feel its warm breath at our ear.
In the arts, many feel we have an excuse to be prideful—we’re creators, we’re original, we’re freaking magic! But alas, we are human. We all have room to grow, and we’re all in this industry together. Let’s make this an enjoyable journey of discovery, not a miserable ego-comparing-shout-and-scratch-fest. Okay? Okay.
By Madeleine Mozley