So, let’s talk about arrogance.
Writers are arrogant. There’s just no getting around it. Now, some people prefer to make the term sound a little more benign, using euphemisms like ‘self-confident’ or ‘self-assured’ instead. However, I don’t really think these terms work as well. Writers aren’t really self-assured—most of us are terribly insecure about our work in one way or another.
That doesn’t stop us from being arrogant, however.
Lets dig a little deeper. Why is arrogance such an important attribute to a writer? Well, consider the process it requires to get published in our current market. Assuming you haven’t achieved some incredible feat—such as marrying the president or winning seventy-four games of Jeopardy—you’ll spend most of your time in the slush pile. You will spend years being told that you’re not good enough. You’ll be rejected time, after time, after time.
The writers who get published are the ones who can stomach all of this. Despite their insecurities regarding their writing, they keep submitting. They keep writing. Part of this is the compulsion I mentioned in an earlier essay. Part of it, however, just comes down to pure arrogance. (After all—if it were only about the writing process, why would authors care if their work got published?)
To be successful as a writer, you have to believe that people should pay a great deal of money for the privilege of reading your stories. There’s just no getting around that. You have to believe that your work is better than—or at least as good as—novels currently being published. And, you have to be certain enough about these things that you stare down rejection slips, and that you keep writing even when everyone logically explains to you that you’ll never make any money at it.
So, when people ask me what kinds of things they need to learn in order to get published, I tell them to work on their arrogance. Authors need to be able to trust in their abilities. When readers tell you something about your writing, you need to be capable of deciding “No, I like it the way I did it.” You need to be able to get rejected and still believe “No, that editor is wrong.” That’s simply what it comes down to. They were wrong, and you were right. Arrogance.
Now, there’s a fine line here to be walked. The problem with arrogance is it won’t actually make you a better writer. It will keep you going, help you to survive long enough to get published, but left unchecked, it could also destroy you. When you get that rejection letter, you have to simultaneously be able to believe that the editor was wrong to reject you, and that you need to work on your writing to make it better so that it won’t get rejected next time. Think of it this way: You are a nobody, so your writing has to be ten times better than what is getting published if you want to get any notice. If, say, you’re only eight times better, you’ll still get rejected. They shouldn’t have rejected you. However, you still need to improve. Make sense?
This is all, obviously, a way of thinking. None of it may actually be true. However, without that determined self-confidence—which is, admittedly, partially a self-delusion—an author just won’t stick around long enough to make it in the field. So, when you meet one of us on the street, try not to be offended by our sense of arrogance. It’s actually just an occupational hazard. We can be nice people.
We’re just always right.