I write an elder writer the following e-mail with the subject line I am an arrogant asshole, but I am really bad at it:
When I write I pretty much labor under a giant neon sign that reads YOU SUCK. I spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy fretting about how awful my work is. Then I have a bunch of people read it and basically say, “it’s fine,” and I wonder, how can that be? When I was a young spark, I thought that if I ever got good at this writing thing, the YOU SUCK sign would go away, yet here it remains unchanged. Today I realized why that is: I am not holding up what I write against the work of my peers in workshops. I am not even holding it up against most of the stuff that’s out on the market today. I am holding it up against Gustave fucking Flaubert. No wonder I always feel like crap! Immediately I also realized what a hilariously arrogant thing that is to do, and then I thought–wait, don’t arrogant people think that they are awesome? Yet I somehow figured out how to be arrogant while also feeling like shit all the time. You have to admit that is a display of ineptitude bordering on the magnificent.
“If there is an alarming object in this world it is a writer delighted with something he has just written. There is no worse sign.”–William Maxwell
But, does such a writer exist? Trying to understand such a person is like trying to visualize Peace on Earth. My brain just shuts down.
Oh, I encounter plenty of them. Except, of course, they’re not real writers. I’ve seldom met a real writer delighted with anything to do with his work. In other words, don’t stop comparing yourself to Flaubert. That’s the goal; not acing it in a workshop. And it’ll keep you nice and insecure.
You are my new mommy.