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.
I 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.
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.