In response to my recent post about the David Brooks “Modesty Manifesto” video, Rachel V. commented: “I think I see a lack of modesty in my writing when I feel unwilling to change something (like a scene or dialogue) that doesn’t work for my reader. Even if I know that my readers are giving me valuable feedback and even if I (secretly) know they are right, my ego doesn’t want to consider that I could be wrong. The perfectionist in me thinks that if I wrote it, it ‘must’ be right.”
Boy does that sound familiar. I received feedback from Gaby, my editor at Tarcher, last Friday. What a gift of synchronicity that I had heard David Brooks talk the day before because my initial ego reaction was pretty much what Rachel described.
I appreciated the minor word changes Gaby suggested, but when she suggested a significant, structural change, I thought “I don’t want to change that. I wrote it that way for a lot of reasons.”
Only the Humble Can Hear
But my second thought was tempered by the warning Brooks gave that thinking too much of ourselves makes it impossible for us to benefit from different opinions. If you’re perfect just the way you are, why would you entertain opposing views? But when you have a healthy sense of humility, you realize that someone else might be able to see something you need to see but can’t.
So my second thought was “There’s a reason I want a professional editor on my side. She knows volumes about publishing that I don’t. And she’s reading the complete manuscript for the first time, so she knows far better than I how it looks and sounds to a reader.” I’ll be making the change.
Gaby also suggested we consider a different subtitle for the book. Again, my first reaction was “I like the subtitle we have. I don’t want to change it.”
Then I remembered what Brooks said about our unconscious tendency to choose something just because it’s familiar – which is why men named Dennis are disproportionately likely to become dentists and men named Lawrence are disproportionately likely to become lawyers, and why, Brooks added, his daughter is named President of the United States Brooks.
So I opened my mind to other possibilities and listened to Gaby’s reasons for changing the subtitle. Together we decided to go with a variation on an option I’d proposed earlier.
My book is now titled Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance* with *Including Writer’s Block, Procrastination, Paralysis, Perfectionism, Postponing, Distractions, Self-Sabotage, Excessive Criticism, Overscheduling and Endlessly Delaying Your Writing in smaller print somewhere on the front cover. I like the new subtitle as much or more than the previous one and I’m excited to see what the cover designer will do with it next.
To maximize what I’ve learned about the power of humility and the gift of multiple perspectives, I humbly request your comments on what you think about the new title and/or what you’ve noticed about ego and resistance.