In response to previous posts on humility, Liz Ward asked, “Could I be humility on steroids? If someone compliments my writing, I dismiss them because I KNOW I’m merely an adequate writer with only a hope of being better–it doesn’t matter that I’ve been trained and have made writing a part of a 30-year career. Despite my lack of confidence, I continue to write…, but I am convinced that others can do it much better. There must be a healthy balance between conceit and denigrating one’s own work. What does that look like?”
Whether you struggle with excess humility like Liz or the excess pride David Brooks talks about or waffle between the two, the same three recommendations (that I’ll detail in this and my next two posts) will lead you to the healthy balance Liz asks about. All writers need to:
- Put pride and humility in their proper place
- Develop discernment and jettison judgment
- Ask the right people for the right kind of feedback.
Take Pride in Your Work, Not Yourself
Pride, like so many things, has a positive and a negative side. David Brooks cautions against too much pride of self where your ego is over-inflated and you are convinced that you are supremely wonderful just because you are you.
What Liz calls “conceit” is pride without evidence to support it and this brings you all the negatives of pride: self-centeredness, closed-mindedness, arrogance, disrespect for others and denying yourself the opportunity to empathize with and learn from others.
But when we take pride in our work and see our work as both an expression of our talents and way of being of service to others, we gain the positives of pride.
In I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett’s character Tiffany Aching realizes that pride is one of her most valuable weapons against evil. “Oh, you hear them say it’s a sin; you hear them say it goes before a fall. And that can’t be true. The blacksmith prides himself on a good weld; the carter is proud that his horses are well turned out, gleaming like fresh chestnuts in the sunshine; the shepherd prides himself on keeping the wolf from the flock; the cook prides herself on her cakes. We pride ourselves on making a good history of our lives, a good story to be told.”
When you take pride in your work, you’re motivated, even compelled, to do your best to make the work the best it can be.
Take pride in showing up for your writing everyday you say you will. Take pride in surrendering your expectations and mastering your fears to move through whatever resistance arises. Take pride in being a professional – doing the best you can everyday, not because someone’s judging you or rewarding you, but because that’s what feels right and good and true.
Be Humble About Your Work
Humility also has both a positive and negative side. Denigrating your own work is not only unnecessarily painful, it will demotivate you, which makes it harder to do the writing that could be a real service to your audience.
Thinking too little of your abilities also interferes with recognizing where your work is strong and where it needs improvement. This in turn makes it impossible for you to continue to develop as a writer.
The right kind of humility recognizes that writing (creating) is a mystery. We get an idea, but we don’t know where it comes from; we do research, which is reviewing what other people have thought, discovered and recorded; and somehow, through some process we don’t consciously control or fully understand, the bits of information we acquired through research and our life experience combine into a new whole.
If we’re lucky (not if we’re good) and if we take pride in showing up, somehow we go into a kind of trance state that translates our thoughts into finger movements that cause letters and words to appear on the page or screen. Even more miraculous, the letters on the page or screen convey meaning in the mind of another person.
So much of our writing is beyond our conscious understanding and our conscious control, how can we not be humble about that?
When we’re at our best, the writing comes, not from us, but through us. Good writing comes not from our ego-self, but from something greater – the True Self, the Wise Self, the Collective Unconscious, perhaps the Divine. We cannot be open to that something greater without surrendering our ego-self. But we cannot be open to that something greater if we think we’re worthless either.
Opening ourselves to see, hear, feel and discover what we need to write something meaningful to ourselves and others happens only when we put pride and humility in the right place, when, as the Buddhists might say, pride and humility are in right relationships because we are in right relationship with our ego and that something greater.