This is the second in a short series of blogs, looking at the three personal qualities you need as a writer to keep going and retain the determination to achieve the best you can. The first quality was perseverance, the second, which we explore here, is humility.
We should start by saying that exercising due humility does not mean humiliating yourself. In fact, you need to retain your self-respect and your sense of self-worth as a writer. It is from this position of inner strength that we find the humility to learn from all kinds of people. When someone has trashed your work, when you hate what they are saying, even when you are disheartened – you must be able to apply the intellectual and emotional discipline of sifting through the criticisms and extracting the comments that you can actually learn something from.
In this sense it doesn’t matter about other people’s writing, this is about your work and how it can improve. Ernest Hemmingway, who was certainly a man with an ego said this:
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
And that’s what we are aiming for. Don’t get upset, don’t compare yourself to others, just get better at your craft.
Sometimes we can even learn from a lesser writer, someone who, if you were being honest, you could confidently say is not as good a writers as you are. On this subject, Winston Churchill said:
“The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.”
We shouldn’t underestimate the difficulties involved in this kind of self- examination and self-criticism. One way to help you survive the process, and to focus on improving rather than feeling pulled apart is to make sure that, in your mind, you separate the value of your work from the value of you as a person.
This might seem like a slightly abstract point, but it is very important to understand the distinction. For all artists, and this certainly includes writers, there is a huge temptation to bind up the value of the art we create with ourselves as people.
But as a person you will always have value. Always. Whatever you produce. Quite separately, your work has value. That value can vary, and so whatever state it’s in, whatever abilities you have as a writer, your work can improve.
So we seek to have the humility to learn, and in the process, we resist both despair and arrogance. As the author J M Barrie said: “Life is a long lesson in humility.”
Norman Vincent Peale, the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking” said this:
“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
I would encourage you to have the humility to be saved by criticism.
© 2015 Andrew J Chamberlain
Andrew J Chamberlain is a writer, speaker, and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt a podcast that offers practical, accessible advice on the craft. Andrew has worked on a number of ghost-writing collaborations for Authentic Media, including the bestselling ‘Once an Addict’ with Barry Woodward. He has also self-published a number of science fiction short stories. Andrew will be speaking at the First Page Writing Course this November in Cumbria, England.
If you missed the first part of this series, you can still catch it here
Part 3 of this series is titled: Imagination. Don’t miss part 3 of this series here on SolaFide next Friday, July 3, 2015.