Do You Like Your Own Work Too Much?

Success

Recently I heard a podcast (this isn’t surprising; I go through three or four podcast episodes a day) wherein the host, an accomplished fantasy/sci-fi author, was debating her guest, an equally accomplished author in a genre (was it YA?) I’ve forgotten, on the subject of the downward pressure exerted on writers who seem to like their own books too much. 

In order to be an artist, the guest observed, it was expected that she be always mindful of the weakness in her voice, the flaws in her work, the dents she must straighten out of her prose. And in so keeping her work’s rough spots at the forefront of her mind, she would be forever driven onward to attain new artistic heights, laying her own pages beneath her feet as she walks heavenward.

“I happen to really like my own books,” the guest author said, with just a shade of defiance, the heat of Icarus in her voice.

The podcast host challenged her guest and laid out a different problem: She was truly not always satisfied with her work. She’d tripped and fallen into a kind of artistic self-reproach and had remained in the ditch for many weeks at a time, forgetting that it was probably normal and healthy to appreciate one’s own creative endeavors from time to time. She felt upward pressure, then, to be more positive about her (award-winning) work than she often felt it (or she) deserved.

What’s Healthy, and What’s Hubris?

Which author has it right?

The wise answer is that the correct approach to one’s own work lies somewhere in between pride and shame, in a kind of robustly objective, arms’-length warmth and regard. Balance is key to reigning in your art and keeping it flowing at a proper pressure.

And honestly? My answer’s a little different.

identify strongly with the second author, the podcast host, who has to sometimes fight to get back on level with the amount of esteem her work actually commands (a considerable amount). I’m all too aware of the flaws and foibles, the small compromises and the big ostriches with all their heads planted firmly in sand. I get her. I feel that.

But.

Liking one’s own work, and in a passionate, educated and articulate way – the sort of way that crushes an elevator pitch, that shows up ready to defend itself against clueless marketing interns, wayward copy editors and one’s own internal critic, is one of a writer’s greatest allies in the quest to make wordsmithing her career. Especially in the world of women authors, where being your own cheerleader is looked askance at in nearly all quarters of genre and literary work (don’t ask me why; you can just feel this to be true), confidence is the single best writing accessory we have.

Next to coffee. Obviously.

So, to sum up: I feel the host’s own pathos toward her work. I’m just like her. And I admire all the authors who can just show up in public and say, “I happen to really like my books, and hope you do, too.”

This thought puddle brought to you by mint brownies, brown butter whiskey banana bread and spiral ham. 

 

 

  • http://www.erinfanning.com Erin Fanning

    Excellent posting! I think your summation captured how many writers feel.

  • Lynda Panther

    Naturally a writer likes their own work… why would we spend our hard-earned cash publishing them else? And yes, later, our past work falls short of our newer ability: we learn as we write. Has anyone ever written a perfect piece of work? No. I’ll listen to critiques, but I’m the bl***y writer: I’m the one who tries to make the words sing. I’m somewhere between the two protagonists, but I’m not an art writer. I’m telling a story. And if the story entertains, if my readers want more -and they tell me they do – then I’ve done okay.

  • Krista Quintana

    It’s such a delicate balance, and it takes practice to appreciate your own work, yet still see the flaws when it’s necessary. Thanks for the post!

  • Adventures in YA Publishing

    You definitely can’t have a huge ego about your work (“I’m the best writer this side of the Milky Way!”)–because, news flash, no matter where you are in your career, no matter what you’ve achieved, writing is art, and there will always be room for improvement and growth. But if a writer doesn’t like her own work at all, if she doesn’t think it has any merit or value, it’s going to be really hard to have the stamina to keep it up. The times when I’ve been hardest on myself and my work, my writing suffers. The times when I love what I’m writing and get swept away in the story is when my work really glows. (At least, I think it does.)

    –Sam Taylor, AYAP Team

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