November 16, 2010

The Forest for the Trees

There's so much to like about this book, from editor/agent Betsy Lerner's wit to her generosity in pulling back the curtains on how publishing works. What I like best is her thoughts on what makes a writer.

There's the love-hate relationship with writing itself, the agony of self-doubt, the burning desire to put your story out there, the discipline. The need for solitude in a society that mistrusts loners. An ego big enough to pursue your dreams and strong enough to battle the demons that will rise to thwart you. And they will rise, oh, how they'll rise!

Frankly, the part about ego caught me by surprise. I thought anyone plagued by feelings of notworthiness (is there such a word?) lacked self-esteem. But that's exactly what keeps us going. We're convinced our stories need to be told, that no one else can tell them the way we can.  We brave the blank screen, we never give up. And perseverance, in Lerner's opinion, is the best predictor of success.

Whatever the catalyst (anger, pain, joy, curiosity, payback, obsession) writing is a way we prove ourselves to the world. Remember that mousy girl who hid in the back row at school? The one who blended with the walls in a crowd? Under that shy exterior, a writer lurked, watching and waiting. Now she's ready to share her stories.

So, how's your writing ego these days?


  1. It is a bit of a paradox. I tend to be shy and not too bold. But I guess even I have vanity, like we all do to some extent. I think my writing has worth. I just have to accept that others may not feel the same way.

  2. Wendy: Yes, it is a paradox, isn't it? But we shoulder on anyway, trusting we'll find our audience.

  3. Definitely have to have ego to write and let your work be seen, but the matching confidence isn't always there.

  4. Each and every one of us, writer or not, has a unique voice and a story to tell. If you aren't a loner, and you share large portions of your life with family and friends, there may not be as strong a need to have your story heard. I suspect this is indeed why so many writers are introverts.

    My ego's gotten smarter. I now make sure my betas and CPs understand the story I'm trying to tell. If someone tries to turn my tale into a romance or women's fiction or a procedural or LGBT dystopian, I run the other way.

  5. Stephanie: It's amazing how many published writers still say they lack confidence each time they pen something new. Guess it goes with the territory.

    VR: I think writers who consider themselves introverts (and some can be social gadflies like Lisa Yee) are basically people who are comfortable being alone, whose own thoughts and imagination provide ample stimulation. That may explain why so many find refuge in writing.

    Funny thing about readers. I was taken to task by one who insisted I explore the "evil sister" plot in Ch. 1 before delving into subplots in Ch 2. Since siblings were never mentioned, I crossed that reader off my list. ;-)

  6. So true, so true. I don't know where the confidence comes from but even through all the rejections, introverted and shy writers keep sending things out.

  7. Catherine: Ambivalence is certainly part of the whole process, isn't it?

  8. I love this post. Writing is such a war--there's the doubt, the questioning, the worry and the bleak hopelessness, but it's balanced by the certainty that we have something to say, and it must be us who say it.

    You put it so well. I haven't read this book but I'll look for it. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  9. Angela: Thanks! Lerner's book struck so many chords with me. I hope you enjoy it.

  10. Wow. I really do need to get this book!

    I just finished my second book, and I'm still not sure what to do with it. I worry mostly that no one will connect with it in the way I have, and so it will languish beneath my bed with the dust bunnies.

    Good thing I'm too stubborn for that to happen! :)

  11. Heidi: Congrats on finishing the second book. I think it's a good idea to set it aside–not under the bed–and come back to it after the holidays (or sooner). I have no doubt readers will connect with it, too. ;-)


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