Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Audacity of Authors

While attending a recent writers conference I overheard a woman say “That author's ego is really out of control.” The catty remark was aimed at an author who did seem pretty full of himself. But it got me to wondering: Is there room for humbleness when it comes to writing?

The dictionary definition of “humble” is “Not proud or haughty, not arrogant or assertive; offered in the spirit of deference or submission; ranking low in a hierarchy or scale; insignificant; lacking all the signs of pride.” Does this sound like the traits a successful writer?

The simple act of putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard announces to the world, “I have something to say. My thoughts are unique. My words are important!” That mindset is what drives writers, convinces them every day to sit in a chair and hope for the flow of ideas that will translate to the right words on the page. This is what deprives them of family time, TV time, sleep, and their favorite past time, reading. This is what makes them snap at people, growl at interruptions, overeat and add fat to their butt.

So, from where does this “arrogance” spring? I can only speak for myself: I'm inspired by the scribes before me. Shakespeare, Chaucer, Homer (not Simpson—Doh!). Their words lasted centuries—will mine do the same? In the lightening pace of today's plugged-in world, is it possible for my words to last longer than the next tweet?

Writers have to be overly proud of what we're doing—and yes, I'm in the non-humble crowd. We are out there trying for truth and recognizing it our fellow authors. Ego and belief in ourselves is what shores up our confidence when family members look skeptical at our efforts. Friends encourage us with pats on the back as if we've just escaped from a mental institution. Authors are strangers, not people they know.

We struggle alone and wait for the spark, that “Aha!” moment when our consciousness takes a giant leap onto the page. That's the moment when the pleasure of writing is transformed to the power of writing. There's no turning back.

The next hurdle is ignoring the censor in your head that says “Can I write what I really feel and get away with it?” Don't look for the green light from family and friends. They're already worried you're going to spill the dirty laundry. You can't wait to write until Granny and her church friends die.

On my list of the most daring, soul-barring authors I've come across are Philip Roth, who never let me look at liver the same way again. James Joyce, whose run-on sentences go on for pages. Joan Didion slouching toward Bethlehem. Erica Jong diminished my Fear of Flying. I never understood a word of Henry Miller's Cancers but am incensed that he was censored. Anais Nin who opened up her sexuality for public viewing. And my favorite author, Chuck Palahniuk, always makes me want to write brave, to bare my soul, not bar it.

I tell beginning writers that they must always stand by their words because critics are out there ready to tear them apart. Break new ground, break down barriers. Take old ideas and turn them around like a prism until they see light from another angle. Find their voice and use words that excite. What I don't tell them is in the process they're going to cut their emotional wrists and bleed all over the page. It's messy and some aren't going to survive.


I used the word audacity in the title of this piece. Definition: Bold. Disregard for normal restraints. Intrepidly daring. Marked by originality and verve. Exaggerating one's own worth or importance. Writers should be all that.  

15 comments:

Linda Thorne said...

This was a different post and very interesting. I enjoyed the snippets about other authors I've read such as Erica Jong and James Joyce and you really hit-the-nail-on-the-head with some of your remarks about their work. I usually don't look at other authors pushing their work as anything more than their belief and pride in what they write.

Ronnie Allen said...

Excellent post and so true. I was more daring in earlier stages of the work, then closer to publication I pulled back a teenie. My protagonist's beliefs are my own and in my first time out as an author, after discussing a particular issue with my husband, I agreed that I didn't want to offend anyone.

Sunny Frazier said...

Well, Ronnie, I thought I would wait until all my relatives died so I could write what I wanted. My sister was a nun, for God's sake! But hey, you just have to be brave and put it on the line. Getting everyone's approval is wasted effort.

Ronnie Allen said...

I know that Sunny. The issue was something prevelant down here where we live in rural central Fla. Where Gemini takes place half the time and most of my friends and people poolside who've told me they can't wait to buy the book, fall into this category, obesity, so for me it was a marketing strategy, that would have destroyed sales and dissolved friendships and acquaintances. I realized it could be offensive to some when I was reading galleys. I was able to view the ms as a reader as well as the writer. I could get the same point across without referring to weight issues. It want essential to the plot or characterizations.

Melodie Campbell said...

Sunny, this is your best post ever. Brilliant.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I haven't liked the word "humble" since Uriah Heep, but I do like the word "modest." I think you have to have an ego in order to write, but you don't have to brag about what yore doing. Just sit down and write. And if we all waited until so-and-so died, well, that would be the end of all art. Good post.

Liane Spicer said...

I also like the word 'audacity'. Egotism can be a real turn off for most people, whereas simple pride and belief in one's work is admirable. We have to be audacious to even think of putting our thoughts/words/imaginings out there and have people pay for them.

Charles Gramlich said...

Whatever it is, I used to have a lot more of it than I have now.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Interesting post. There is definitely a difference between audacity and egotism. Yes authors should be audacious but I still believe in humility. I believe we should be humble in spite of our achievements no matter how great or how small.

Sunny Frazier said...

Charles Gramlich, how do we get you out of this funk???

sandy gardner said...

Hi Sunny,
Great post! thanks!
sandy gardner
sgardner2@hvc.rr.com

Eileen Obser said...


This is a great blog, Sunny, and one I'll hold onto. Audacity is a necessity, I feel, but there's a way to temper that with a bit of humility, as Jewel says, and by keeping the ego in check when it could work against us.

Kathleen Kaska said...

I had to learn to be bold about my writing. I've also discovered I can keep me ego in check by being grateful for my accomplishments and by being grateful to my readership. Great blog topic, Sunny.

daytonward said...

Another thing about carrying yourself with confidence: Don't get caught up in the reviews of your work.

Accept both good and bad reviews with grace. Don't buy into the hype from a good review, don't let a negative one bring you down, and for the love of all that's holy, never ever EVER get into an argument with someone over a negative review. Be a duck, and let all of that just run off your back like water.

This can be difficult in the chaotic, "punch you in the face in real time" world of Twitter and Facebook and other social media platform, but being able to do so is -- in my mind, at least -- a critical component of any writer's toolbox.

Joyce Ann Brown said...

Going public with your creativity is like appearing on the beach in a bikini, isn't it? All the beauty and all the flaws are out there. We can slink around or walk around with confidence.